Founded in 2009 as a consumer-oriented 3D printing service, France-based Sculpteo has grown into something more over the past decade. Serving a more professional market, the 3D printing and laser cutting service now operates a range of sophisticated 3D printing factories in France and the United States and is seeking to diversify and expand its business in innovative ways. We recently spoke to Sculpteo co-founder and CEO Clément Moreau about the company’s continued evolution in the ever-changing AM landscape.
Finding longevity in a changing industry
“The company was founded with the idea that 3D printing was going to be a real production-grade manufacturing technology with the ability to change the way we create and design our own products,” Moreau says. “That’s something that we have been trying to do for nine years now. It’s been a long journey and as a company we’ve tried many different things—some which we continue and some that we have stopped.”
“Early days of the company were dedicated to working on consumer applications,” he elaborates. “This did have some success, however, the thing that we found had more success, which was a bit unexpected, was the B2B market and the prototyping market. Somewhere around 2014, we decided to really focus more on this part of the market, which was not our original plan but which was what was actually growing in our numbers.”
This ability to adapt to the additive market and its changing customer needs has enabled Sculpteo to establish itself as a reliable service for providing prototyping and even short-run manufacturing jobs for small businesses, startups and more.
“The majority of business today is done with startups, SMBs [small-to-medium businesses] and IoT companies,” explains Moreau. “The real thing is that people have to be innovating. It could be from a startup, from inside a big corporation or just someone that is in the process of creating their own company; all those people share the fact that they need products done very rapidly, they need small series, short production runs and they need to be as efficient as possible in terms of money.”
Like other additive manufacturing services, Sculpteo offers the ability for clients to prototype and manufacture short-run batches without having to make significant investments in manufacturing equipment, injection molding or industrialization. This ultimately enables greater flexibility for startups, SMBs and other companies who are seeking to develop products using state-of-the-art production systems. In terms of markets served by Sculpteo, Moreau says clients are diverse, coming from electronics, IoT, medical, luxury goods and other sectors.
USINE IO Focus accelerator collaboration
A notable example of one of Sculpteo’s collaborations is its recent partnership with USINE IO’s startup accelerator program Focus. Found in Station F, the world’s biggest startup campus in Paris, the Focus accelerator program is geared towards innovative hardware development—something which inevitably got the interest of Sculpteo. Through the partnership—which began in April and will last for four months—Sculpteo is offering guidance to hardware startups for the development of their products using 3D printing or laser cutting technology.
“It’s quite interesting for us,” says Moreau. “We would like the startups and new businesses to understand what they can do with 3D printing. One of the missions of the company is really to help people innovate. Through our prototyping and manufacturing service, we make it possible for people to innovate faster, which is one of the reasons we are part of this accelerator program. We want to ensure that there are 3D printing experts trying to help startups to really use the technologies in the best way they can.”
“Now, of course, everyone knows about 3D printing, but many still think it is only for prototyping and usually don’t understand that it really is possible to go to production with 3D printing,” he continues. “That’s really one of the things we have to continue to evangelize and be sure that in engineering and business schools and in accelerator programs someone is there to be clear that 3D printing is also a way to go to manufacturing.”
Going global with software
Another exciting new venture that Sculpteo has undertaken recently is on the software front. In November 2017, the company launched Fabpilot, a cloud-based 3D printing software built for managing professional 3D printing factories easily and efficiently. The platform, based on its own factory management tools, is enabling Sculpteo to broaden its business globally.
Moreau explains: “In terms of software, we made a product out of our internal tools called Fabpilot and it’s a management tool for 3D printing factories. It might seem strange that we’re licensing the tools that we have been creating for our own service, but we think that it’s better this way because it enables us to serve the world market.”
“Software is an easy way to attract the world market” he continues. “While it is difficult to ship parts reliably to, say, South Africa or Russia, with software it’s very different. You can sell software across the globe to these places. It’s a new venture for us and we’re working with internal service bureaus and commercial service bureaus on every continent—it’s a very exciting time for the company.”
“I really believe that what we’re doing in software is a good way to go, because we can share the value of our job. We expect this new business line to be really helpful for other innovators.”
Evolving hardware factories
In terms of other areas for growth, Moreau emphasizes that the company is also focused on increasing its hardware offering and factory capacity. Just weeks ago, Sculpteo announced that it had acquired its third HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer in France, making it the biggest HP production centre in the country.
“We continue to push hard on the factories,” Moreau said of the company’s future goals. “We keep adding new machines and we’re expanding geographically as well. We’re trying to be more efficient in other countries—not only France and the U.S.—which might at some point lead to a new factory opening.”
Presently, Sculpteo offers a range of additive services, including SLS, Polyjet, CLIP, Colorjet and Multi Jet Fusion printing. When asked if any technologies were increasingly in demand, Moreau points again to HP’s MJF platform, which was introduced in 2016.
“HP is very popular,” he says. “One year ago we installed the first machine and now we have the most in France. We’ve seen a transition with a lot of customers from SLS to HP and we have new customers for whom the price of SLS parts wasn’t suitable who are opting for HP prints. Technically speaking, it’s a good machine with good materials. Of course, it’s not as old and well established as big brands, but it’s a very interesting technology nonetheless.”
“We’ve been doing this for nine years now and everything is about being more innovative and more helpful for people who are being innovative,” Moreau concludes. “That’s really what keeps us working hard. This business is quite hard in reality and its growing very fast, which means we have to make the right decision every day to keep up. Everyone on the Sculpteo team is focused on innovating and helping our customers to innovate and that’s really the mantra of the company.”