By Fanindra Tibrewal, Research Analyst Level II at Ken Research, India
“In my opinion, in the next 5 to 10 years, prototyping will be reduced to one of the many applications of 3D printing. The main applications will be medium to large scale manufacturing which augment conventional manufacturing techniques.”- Mr. Deelip Menezes, Managing Director, 3D Systems India
How and when did you get associated with 3D Systems? How has the 3D printing industry evolved over your tenure?
Response: I joined 3D Systems in April 2011 when they acquired two of my companies. One was an Indian company called Sycode and another was an American company called Print3D. Back then 3D Systems did not have any operations in India and was working indirectly through partners. My first task was to set up and lead the Indian entity and start an R&D office, which I what I did. After a few years, I moved into a sales role in managing our key accounts and our channel partners in India.
The journey has been extremely interesting. After the acquisition, the R&D team I created built a consumer 3D printing platform called Cubify which served our consumer-level 3D printers like the Cube and the CubePro. However, after a few years we decided to step out of the consumer 3D printing space and concentrate our efforts on what we did best – professional and production 3D printers.
As regards the evolution of the industry, back then, whenever I used to discuss 3D Printing with people, the conversation was as quite a rudimentary level. But over the years the conversations have started to get advanced as more people understand 3D printing and what it can do for them. I believe in the next 5 to 10 years these conversations will begin to translate into proper additive manufacturing workflows which will be implemented in the companies across different industries.
The technologies in the 3D Printing Industry has been constantly evolving. What are your views regarding the same?
Response: The main 3D printing technologies like SLA, SLS, MJP, CJP, FDM, DLP and DMP have largely remained the same. However, there are two kinds of new companies entering the industry. There are those which actually innovate and implement an existing technology in a better or more efficient manner. And then there are those who try to do the same thing but at a lower price. It is important to differentiate between these companies. The companies making clones of existing products hardly do any process engineering. In fact, they pride on the fact that their customers can use any material in their 3D printers. This goes to show how much research has gone into tweaking various 3D printing parameters to result in high-quality parts. These companies end up adding noise to the industry and confuse customers. As 3D printing is new to most customers, they are not able to differentiate between a product that is well engineered with years of research behind it and something which is half-priced involving little to no research. The better 3D printing companies are busy finding gaps where the established technologies are not able to provide a solution and are filling them with innovative solutions. There are companies coming up with new materials and widening the reach of 3D printing. Such companies add value to the 3D printing industry.
As per our understanding, Automobile, Healthcare and Aerospace are the major users of 3D printing. How have the end-users changed over the years and who are the major end-users for 3D System?
Response: Indeed, the industries you mention were initially the industries for which 3D printers were designed. At that time application was mainly prototyping. Eventually, the processes, technologies, and materials evolved and some of the industries have started begun to adopt 3D printing for production. The jewelry industry has embraced 3D printing with open arms. Another industry adopting 3D printing is dental. We can also see significant interest coming from the investment casting industry. We have a printer called the ProJet MJP 2500 IC especially for investment casting.
Recently, we have launched our Figure 4 line of products with production-grade materials. This has interested the vacuum casting and injection molding industries. Our production-grade materials are stable over time and can be used to produce end-use parts. So, if there is a requirement for say 500 quantities of injection molded parts, customers can now completely eliminate the tooling process and directly print these parts using Figure 4. I believe that in the coming 5 to 10 years the bulk of material consumption will be by production applications and not prototyping. End-user applications should be measured by the consumption of material not just by the sale of the printer. This actually gives a clear picture of where the industry is headed. Although Automotive and Aerospace are the better known and more publicized examples of where 3D printing is used when you look at the actual material consumption it may tell you a different story.
Stratasys, SLM Solutions, The Exone Company, and Voxeljet are some of the major competitors for 3D Systems in the APAC 3D Printing Industry. What is the main reason for 3D System’s dominance in the industry. What has been the company’s strategy for maintaining a competitive edge in the industry?
Response: The main reason is our Go-To-Market strategy for India. We operate indirectly through a network of channel partners. We understand that given the wide breadth of our product portfolio, going to market directly would be a huge task for us as a company in a country as large and diverse as India. So we have strategically placed channel partners in different parts of countries in the specific industries that are targeting. There have been cases in India where OEMs have slashed prices with the aim of gaining market share. This does two undesirable things. It depreciates the value of their product and leaves wafer-thin margins for their partners. At the end of the day, if channel partners are left with little to nothing, they will not be able to re-invest back into the business and grow it. We are very picky when selecting channel partners and we ensure that partnering with 3D Systems makes good financial sense for them. This strategy has worked well for us and we will continue with it.
What are the current challenges faced by the 3D Printing Industry? How is 3D Systems as an industry player trying to overcome these challenges?
Response: The main challenge is the lack of skilled manpower. We often see engineers move from one company to another and even back because there are very few of them who are trained and experienced in 3D printing technologies and processes. We as a company are doing our best to work with academia and state governments to help them orient students towards this industry and technology and show them how they can differentiate themselves from their peers. For instance, we have signed an MOU with the state government of Gujrat for setting up Centres of Excellence in 7 engineering colleges across the state. Similarly, we plan on working closely with other organizations and states to build the skilled manpower required by the industry.
The other major challenge we face is customer awareness of something I mentioned earlier. Customers need to understand the difference between 3D printing OEM’s which have actually spent their time and resources into doing research and development as opposed to companies that come into the market at lower price points with cloned products. It’s a big challenge for established brands like us. Unfortunately, customers end up getting a bad experience of 3D printing and then they spread the wrong message to their peers in the industry. We are addressing this challenge by organizing open houses, where we call customers and explain what our offering provides and why it is better.
How will the demand of 3D printing industry change in the future? What are the upcoming trends in the industry?
Response: I believe demand will increase not only due to greater adoption in the established industries but mainly due to finding new applications in new industries. For instance, Figure 4 Standalone along with our production materials can completely replace Vacuum Casting. We are estimating large scale adoption will come from places that are using Vacuum Casting for small quantity production of parts. Then people using Plastic Injection Molding may start looking at our Figure 4 Modular or Figure 4 Production to start printing a million parts a year. In the years to come customers will consider 3D printing as more of a production tool instead of just a prototyping tool. I don’t believe 3D printing will completely replace traditional manufacturing. Rather it will augment it where it makes sense and is feasible. For example, in areas where production using traditional manufacturing methods is too slow or too expensive, 3D printing will fill the gap. The real adoption will happen when this augmentation happens. This is already happening in some industries. But when this happens at large then the things will really begin to take off.
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