Insights from the Frontline: Key Takeaways from the AMS 2024 CEO Panel

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At the 2024 Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) event in New York City, a panel of sector CEOs took the stage, transforming what could have been just another industry talk into a debate on the future of printing everything from car parts to dental implants. If you missed it, you might want to mark your calendar for AMS 2025.

Moderated by Cantor Fitzgerald Managing Director Troy Jensen, the panel featured a lineup of 3D printing’s most well-known CEOs: Ric Fulop from Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM), recently appointed Interim CEO Brad Krueger of Velo3D (NYSE: VLD), Sam O’Leary from Nikon SLM Solutions, and Stratasys’s (Nasdaq: SSYS) Yoav Zeif, who delivered the main conference keynote speech on February 6. Each brought a unique perspective, but they painted an interesting picture of an industry at a crossroads, brimming with potential yet struggling with its hurdles.

AMS 2024 CEO Panel (from left): Troy Jensen, Ric Fulop, Sam O’Leary, Brad Krueger, and Yoav Zeif. Image courtesy of Ashley Alleyne/3DPrint.com.

Growth, Resilience, and Drive

All the CEOs agreed: additive manufacturing (AM) isn’t just a part of the future; it’s making the future. While this news might not surprise those who have been in the 3D printing world for years, this fact is quite interesting for many new to the scene. It highlights the transformative potential of AM, taking it from a niche interest to a critical part of future technological developments and applications.

From dental labs to aerospace, 3D printing is expanding faster than you can say “polymer.” But as Fulop pointed out, “It’s not just about growth; but doing so by addressing specific, impactful needs—solving real-world problems with precision and innovation.”

“It’s a world of haves and have-nots; big capital is harder to get than it used to be. Application-wise, some parts of our business grew by 20% last year, like the printed casting sector. Everyone is doing production; this growth is evident in the production of plane engines and vehicles like BMW and Tesla,” says Fulop. On the healthcare side, he explains that growth in segments like breast prosthetics, leveraging better mechanical properties provided by AM technologies, shows how the industry is growing by addressing specific needs. He concludes, “Overall, I anticipate continued growth this year. It’s also becoming clearer that those in production prefer to purchase directly rather than through channel partners.”

Yet, amid the optimism, the CEOs debated the best way to handle the industry’s tough challenges. The discussion around software development and collaboration highlighted differing views among the CEOs. For Fulop and Krueger, proprietary software can give companies a competitive edge, especially in the aerospace and defense sectors where customization and security are crucial. O’Leary and Zeif leaned more towards an open architecture approach to foster collaboration and innovation and improve customer satisfaction. Drawing from his experience in the chemical industry, Zeif emphasized the importance of working together. He said his company has made software open for others to simplify the 3D printing process for everyone involved.

AMS 2024 CEO Panel’s Yoav Zeif. Image courtesy of Ashley Alleyne/3DPrint.com.

“I think it’s a measure of the maturity of a business. Everybody is with everybody. And the reason is that every byproduct that you have can be the raw material for another molecule. And that’s the secret because without it, you cannot be profitable (…) It’s clear that we need to collaborate. Collaboration has some type of common sense or guidelines because software is also a competitive advantage, and each one of us creates a trade-off to deliver the best quality product. But we need to collaborate, and the only way to do it is to open up our social platform. At the end of the day, we need to find the mechanism to share the value,” stated Zeif.

Scale Challenge

Making a profit is still the biggest challenge for the industry. Even though everyone is excited about what 3D printing can do and is doing, actually making money from it is still challenging. Here, the panelists pointed out the need for scale, operational efficiency, and, more importantly, a clear path to making money. As the industry matures, finding the balance between investing in R&D and keeping the lights on has become a balancing act for many companies.

Jensen summed it up: “To me, there has been a lack of profitability in the space. And now we’re going into a recession, with high rates, and people just don’t want to invest in companies that are burning money.”

So, why is there such a lack of profitability with publicly traded companies? Krueger highlights the importance of not just focusing on increasing revenue but also paying attention to other key financial aspects such as gross margins, control of expenses, and operational efficiency. He points out the need for a “balanced approach” that considers top-line growth and bottom-line profitability.

According to Zeif, achieving profitability is paramount for the industry’s future success. He emphasized the need for significant financial growth over the coming years, stressing that merely discussing changing the world isn’t enough without tangible results. Zeif highlighted the complexity of the industry, noting “the need to balance focus and expansion to achieve scale effectively.” He also stressed the importance of not only “concentrating efforts” but also providing the capacity for growth, pointing out that scale encompasses more than just regular scaling of the business but also the ability to have scale across technologies and applications.

Geopolitical Terrain

The CEOs touched upon several other topics, notably the geopolitical tension with China, which, as Krueger highlighted, is not just a backdrop issue; it’s a significant problem that could completely change the manufacturing landscape.

“I think that the need to develop domestic supply chains is somewhat imperative, and that’s the way the government views it from a national security and defense perspective. It is absolutely a high priority for the U.S. government to ensure that they have supply chains that are decoupled from China and more localized in the US,” remarked Krueger.

The other panelists agreed on the need to strengthen domestic supply chains and avoid relying on uncertain geopolitical partners. Fulop believes China will become a significant player in the industry despite challenges like patent issues and market volatility. However, he also highlights economic concerns in Asia that could affect sustained growth, such as debt issues.

O’Leary remarked that a lot is being done to have less reluctance on Chinese manufacturing, but not enough. “I think there are a lot of technology-focused things that don’t address the political element and the risk that exists. So I think we all need to do more to educate governments.”

AMS 2024 CEO Panel (from left): Troy Jensen, Ric Fulop, Sam O’Leary, Brad Krueger, and Yoav Zeif. Image courtesy of Ashley Alleyne/3DPrint.com.

As the panel wrapped up, one message was pretty straightforward: the world of AM is dynamic and intricate, much like the objects it creates. From the possibilities of collaboration and profitability to the uncertainties of global economics, the road ahead is paved with both opportunities and hurdles. So, if you missed the display of expertise at the AMS 2024 event, don’t worry; you are all invited to attend the next chapter.

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