EOS has been the long-established leader in laser sintering, representing the largest installed base in the market. However, as companies new and old attempt to push the segment, particularly in metal powder bed fusion (PBF), the German stalwart may be facing some important challenges. At the same time, metal additive manufacturing (AM) is transforming into an end part production technology.
To learn more about how EOS is managing this changing environment, we caught up with the company at RAPID + TCT 2022. 3DPrint.com spoke to Glynn Fletcher, Chief Customer Advocate and President of North America. Fletcher heads all three EOS sales regions—North America, EMEA and APAC—as well as its polymer feedstocks division, Advanced Laser Materials (ALM). We were also joined by Maximilian Eils, Senior Vice President of Sales Excellence. To capture the insights of the EOS team, the full interview is transcribed below.
Competition In and Outside of 3D Printing
How is the new competition coming from the rest of the industry impacting EOS in terms of strategy? Are you shifting gears in any way because of that? Are you adding more lasers or automation to take on some of these competitors?
There is a lot of additional competition. You look around this place and you can see there’s typically more competition than there was even a couple of years ago. However, when we think about competition, we don’t focus as much on the additive space. We try to think a little bit more progressively. A good way of describing that is that at IMTS in 2018, there were 2,500 exhibitors and a really cool additive pavilion with maybe 25 organizations.
If you think about the way that we that we need to develop to make it into the mainstream, it’s not the 25 organizations that are in the additive pavilion that we need to concentrate on competing against. It’s the 2,475 companies in the larger IMTS space. What we have to do as an industry is figure out how to be competitive in this wider manufacturing space rather than bicker and scramble amongst ourselves—because there’s plenty to go around.
And I’m absolutely convinced that the secret of success is not a question of getting a big slice of a small pie. It’s having a smaller slice of a huge pie. To do that, we have to understand that we’re competing with very mature industries. Castings, for instance, has been around for 8,000 years. If they don’t know what they’re doing by now, there’s a problem.
So, we are still nascent. We’re still, say, 30 years old. If we talk about real industrial manufacturing, it’s less like 30 years and more like six or seven. So we’ve got to use the experience and expertise that we have been developing over this period, not to add more lasers and not to enable this and to enable that, but to truly industrialize and make sure that the systems that our customers are using are consistent, reliable, robust, can be automated, can do all of those sort of things that you can typically get well as standard by default when you invest in CNC with milling or turning or grinding.
Adding to that: what we see is obviously we’re moving in this market of traditional manufacturing and these companies [that you are referring to], they are new to additive. They might have some experience. Besides really making sure that our machines do have this industrial level and can really run in a production environment and achieve the right part quality, we are also really focusing on taking the customer and helping them to get there because this is also a learning curve for them. And we try to shorten this as much as possible, helping them with the business case implementation.
Okay, so outside of internal competition within the industry, what are some of those things that end users are looking for to get 3D printing to meet their requirements with regards to quality and throughput for a production scenario?
As much as anything, I think it’s about confidence. There’s that old saying that we have to overcome the habits of the present. There’s a huge amount of anxiety. People don’t typically enjoy change. We must reduce this anxiety and de-risk the process of investment. To do that we are investing a lot of time, effort, and resources into building an infrastructure that supports the technology. So, we have a group called Additive Minds that guides our customers through the transition process.
We’ve made a huge investment in our training and enablement resources. AM is still not plug-and-play and there remains a learning curve. We try to make sure that we provide the necessary resources to our customers allowing them to transition with the least amount of anxiety, the least amount of risk. If you had to take a pillar of our strategy, that would be one of those pillars that we concentrate on a lot: improving the customer experience.
Investing in the 3D Printing Value Chain
Through AM Ventures, the Langer family has invested in some technologies that would suggest that there’s more than just lack of experience and confidence that’s necessary to push 3D printing to the next stage. There’s 3YOURMIND for integrating it into the software of a factory, and DyeMansion for post-processing. It sounds like there are still things that need to be done from a technological standpoint to get 3D printing, to fit into an industrial setting.
Well, I think that’s concentrating on the full value chain. 3YOURMIND is pre-process and DyeMansion is post-process. It’s the same with subtractive today. If we were sitting here and we’re going to create a little CNC machining business, we could get on a tablet and, in five minutes, we could have a Haas machining center with the tooling, the programming, and all of the post processing. We find 5,400 potential operators to help us. It’s all there. It’s all mature and available. What we’re trying to do is build an ecosystem that allows our customers to do the same in a more nascent environment. You’re right, though. There is a requirement to innovate in the technology, but there’s also a huge requirement to innovate around the technology.
In the end, if we have all these pieces in place, what really allows more business cases and applications is the productivity in cost per part. If we look at what we’re investing technology-wise, it’s about the interaction between the laser and the process. Obviously, we have our Shared Modules where you can automate, but now we are really thinking that the next innovation is around how to increase the productivity of our existing machines by using new optics and new scan strategies where you can really open up a new window of fine tuning the application to really customize this to your need.
If we talk about casting, for example, there’s a different requirement than if you are talking about milling. You can really define what you need. You need less density, but higher productivity, and now you’ve become more competitive for the consumer industry, medical, etc., where you might need a very, very high density. So I think this is what we look at to get more productivity.
There are really cool parts at this trade show and helps create a lot of interest in AM, but what we need to do is produce a bunch of really mundane parts cost effectively, in volume. And then you start to be in the place where you can say we’ve crossed that famous chasm and are now a mainstream manufacturing technology.
EOS Expands Abroad
Well, it’s twofold. First, we want to be as close as we can to as many customers as we can. Our original facility was in Novi, Michigan because of the automotive industry. We then expanded to Austin to support our growing customer-base in that region. Now we want to be in the Los Angeles area to be close to our space, medical and consumer customers with the goal of giving our customers access to resources, technical support—getting closer to where they are rather than asking them to fly to Germany, Michigan or Texas.
The second part of it is that we are really, really committed to the U.S. market. We are grateful that the U.S. market has one of the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing. We’ve been very successful over the course of many years now in the U.S. market. And we want to give back and make sure that we are not just seen as a foreign supplier, but that we’ve got a footprint and that we’re doing manufacturing, engineering, R&D, and a lot of added-value activities in the North America.
How do you see the increased activity in China, with Farsoon and EPlus as sort of low-cost competitors to EOS?
I have a responsibility for all global regional sales. So, the Chinese market reports to me and we have a facility with about 40 people in Shanghai. What we’ve come to realize is that the Chinese market is quite insular. The Chinese government or Chinese companies tend to buy from Chinese companies. As a consequence, there’s EPlus, Bright Laser, and Farsoon. We’re reconciled to the fact that it’s very difficult to compete under those circumstances because Chinese competition tends to less expensive. So, that’s not our strategy for China.
Our strategy is to be the most important foreign supplier of high-tech, high-level additive manufacturers. We’re building our organization around that kind of strategy. If we were having this conversation about a year ago, I’d be saying it a is kind of inevitable and only a matter of time before these Chinese competitors start to play a more important role in the European and U.S. markets. I’m not convinced that it’s quite the same these days, with the ongoing global situations. There’s a lot more nationalism creeping into every country in the world. The more nationalistic the Chinese become, the greater, the resistance there will be in the non-Chinese markets to their technology.
India is a growing market, as well. Then prior to the conflict, it seemed like Russia was growing a nascent additive industry. How do you see EOS’s position in those two countries for supplying 3D printers to a quickly growing India and to a Russian market that’s trying to develop its own additive sectors
Two really easy answers. We’re only committed to India and we won’t do business for Russian.
Only one element, which for me is fascinating is the change of the global focus. Everyone is focused on their own supply chain. COVID, I think, really had an effect that pushed companies to adapt to this digital age. But also disrupted supply chains, we feel in the market, as well. Additive really is getting a boost here in terms of adoption because companies are realizing we need to take care of getting our parts. If we are dependent on certain, let’s say, casting parts that have a huge lead time, maybe shipped from other areas. However, in-time production was always the case for additive. But, now, with external pressure, it’s interesting to see that becomes more and more of a driver.
Feature image courtesy of EOS.
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