AM has been ‘on the brink’ of a mainstream crossover for several years. Ten years ago, we were excited by the democratization of 3D printing. Five years ago, we saw companies that once experienced high growth start to plateau. And, of course, in 2020, we witnessed in real-time the consequences of globalized supply chains and envisioned the opportunities that offers this relatively young but scrappy industry.
As we look to 2024, I’ve witnessed one major theme in my conversations with business leaders in – and outside – of the additive manufacturing industry: government-led initiatives will trailblaze ‘big-industry’ AM by forcing additive manufacturing operations, OEMs, and vendors to ‘play ball.’
What do I mean by that?
Despite the industry’s best marketing efforts, additive manufacturing is not a plug-and-play solution for most major industries. It takes a substantial effort to determine the applications worth printing and enable interoperability between hardware and software that aligns with the driving company’s workflow. Until now, we’ve seen many different hardware and software vendors be hesitant to integrate for obvious reasons: conflict of interest, intellectual property concerns, etc. As a result, we often see a struggle to push and pull data from these different systems, making scaling AM operations all the more challenging.
By contrast, the Biden Administration, uses financial and regulatory influence to push companies to share data and adopt processes that conform with the developing technical infrastructures spearheaded by organizations like the U.S. Department of Defense and ASTRO America.
The implications of this for AM companies are two-fold:
- AM companies wishing to gain a larger footprint in the government sector will have to be agile and adapt quickly at a potentially higher up-front cost. Those who can’t, or refuse to, will be left behind as these new infrastructures become standardized.
- The need for companies to be adaptable and open will likely not stop at government organizations. Other sectors that serve government operations or provide critical infrastructure will also begin demanding the same obedience from vendors to align with the government’s new infrastructure standards.
Lessons Learned From Working With Government-Led AM Initiatives
Since joining the team at 3YOURMIND more than five years ago, a cornerstone of our business has been working with government-led agencies, such as the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. Working directly with branches of the U.S. Department of Defense has been eye-opening regarding how disruptive technologies like additive manufacturing can become mainstream via government vehicles.
Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned so far:
Government agencies and many government-adjacent contractors benefit from big budgets, large resources, and the sheer willpower to transform operations. However, size can sometimes be a disadvantage, delaying the ability to react and pivot. As a smaller technology provider, 3YOURMIND has a lean team of proactive and driven employees, which gives us the advantage of deep focus, speed, and agility to tackle challenges and feature requests in shorter timelines. Together, we offer complementary skill sets that help make transformation possible.
Constantly listen to the market.
In the early days of 3YOURMIND, our vision was to be the eCommerce platform for 3D printed parts. We quickly realized that although ambitious, that’s not what our customers needed. Since then, we’ve pivoted to be a workflow solution that helps companies with additive manufacturing strategies not only determine which of their traditionally manufactured parts are the most technical and economically feasible but also give them a pathway via software to manage their part libraries, order parts from suppliers, or produce them in-house.
Create meaningful relationships.
Business decisions rarely happen in the boardroom; they’re made via meaningful conversations, a desire to understand a customer’s problem, and a willingness to go above and beyond to find a solution that’s not only for your benefit but for theirs. Few additive manufacturing solutions are ‘out-of-the-box,’ so prioritizing a friendly and highly collaborative relationship is critical to success.
Be courageous to believe in a vision and follow it.
Government agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense don’t act on theory alone. Which sometimes means being courageous, believing in a vision, and going into the field to learn first-hand what defense operators want and need.
At 3YOURMIND, we co-launched the ‘Stand With Ukraine’ initiative in March of 2022 in solidarity with the 3D printing community and Ukrainian defense forces. As part of the initiative, we worked with the maker community to donate 3D-printed medical applications to Ukraine. In 2023, we doubled down on the idea of finding concrete defense use cases by interfacing directly with armies to determine what infrastructure existed, what still needed to be developed, and learn what types of applications fulfilled a critical need. In 2024, we’ll see some of those use cases utilized in theaters of conflict, proving that 3D printing on-demand is a feasible initiative for defense organizations.
Think about the ecosystem.
None of us can do it all. Keeping it simple is critical to successfully working with government-led initiatives. Whether that means honing in on your services or developing a partnership with another vendor to deliver auxiliary services, fleshing out precisely what your AM company can offer and doing it well goes a long way.
Alexandre Donnadieu is the chief commercial officer of 3YOURMIND, a software provider for on-demand manufacturing. Alexandre has worked his entire career in digital transformation for industrial operations. Prior to 3YOURMIND, Alexandre was an advisor to CEOs and COOs of major industrial firms regarding Industry 4.0 and especially helped them define their business case for additive manufacturing.
For the past five years, Alexandre has contributed to 3YOURMIND’s global strategy and helped to position itself as a leader in on-demand manufacturing software. In addition, Alexandre has used his expertise to advocate and lead advanced manufacturing digital transformation initiatives in industries like defense, automotive, and energy.
Catch Alexandre at the 7th annual Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7, where he will speak on a panel regarding Workflow Software for AM
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