In 2021, Formlabs celebrated the 10th anniversary since its founding date, giving it and us the opportunity to look back at the company’s trajectory from MIT spin-out and crowdfunding campaign to globally recognized 3D printing company. Today, Formlabs is among the leading providers of SLA-based systems—with an install base of nearly 100,000 3D printers—and it also recently broke into SLS 3D printing with the launch of the Fuse 1, which has already climbed the ranks joining the top SLS printers on the market.
With 10 years of experience and success behind Formlabs, we at 3dpbm were interested to hear about the company’s outlook for 2022 and beyond. Luke Winston, Formlabs’ Chief Business Officer, provided these insights, telling us about the company’s vision and expectations for itself and the broader additive manufacturing industry.
3dpbm: What is key in shaping Formlabs’ vision for the future?
Luke Winston: The future of additive manufacturing really comes down to how our customers use the technology, which makes predicting the future of the industry both challenging and exciting. Ten years ago, I might not have believed that our customers would be printing custom dentures and prosthetics or that our printers would have a sizable impact on fighting COVID-19 [3D printing millions of test swabs], but that is today’s reality. No one knows where the AM industry will be in another ten years, but one thing I do know is that Formlabs printers and customers will be there continuing to push the boundaries.
3dpbm: Where are Formlabs’ technologies having and where will they have the biggest impact as the AM industry matures?
LW: We are seeing the biggest impact in manufacturing. Over the past two years, we’ve seen how fragile global supply chains are and how important it is to find ways to reduce risk to ensure consumers can access the products they need when they need them. 3D printing has quickly become an essential tool in helping companies overcome supply chain issues because it offers a flexible manufacturing method that can act as a stop-gap when traditional manufacturing is disrupted. As supply chain issues persist, Formlabs technologies will continue to have a significant impact on how companies nimbly react to supply chain challenges.
3dpbm: Are any other industries particularly important to Formlabs’ business?
LW: Roughly one-third of Formlabs’ business is from the dental and medical industries. According to a Key Group survey, Formlabs is the most installed 3D printer for small-, medium- and large-sized dental labs. The launch of the Form 3B and Dental Business Unit demonstrates our strengthened commitment to the market. Dental customers use Formlabs printers to create restorative models, clear aligner and retainer models, diagnostic models, surgical guides, occlusal splints, patterns for casting and pressing and dentures.
3dpbm: Who or what do you see as Formlabs’ biggest competitor today and looking ahead?
LW: It might be unique, but our biggest competitor is still the status quo of traditional manufacturing techniques. We’ve seen plenty of new entrants come into the SLA space with us, but that’s just a testament to how much opportunity there is.
3dpbm: And what are the main hurdles for the broad adoption/industrialization of SLA technologies specifically?
LW: Materials are likely the biggest hurdle. As mentioned, our biggest competitor is the status quo of traditional manufacturing, so the challenge is to match the material properties and costs with 3D printing. We have consistently invested in our materials science team and infrastructure, which is one reason we lead the industry in this area. After that comes the cost. We have been a clear leader in lowering the price barrier to access of the hardware, and we continue to innovate and invest in ways to streamline the overall production operation, as shown with our Form Cell and software advancements.
3dpbm: What do you think of the trend we’ve seen for AM companies consolidating and going public?
LW: It’s great to see the excitement around the industry since there’s a lot of opportunity. M&A has some clear advantages (like when we vertically integrated our resin business), but a lot of M&A strategies aren’t set up for long-term success. Joining forces with other companies can strengthen a portfolio, but it can also heavily dilute a company’s focus and success in the long run if you are just buying revenue. It will probably take some time to see which is which.
3dpbm: How do you think the general perception of 3D printing has evolved in recent years and how did this influence Formlabs?
LW: When 3D printing went mainstream a decade ago, a lot of promises were made about the future of the industry, including far fetched aspirations of 3D printers in every home. In the midst of the hype, Formlabs remained focused on professional and industrial users. This is why we have been able to deliver at every end of the 3D printing spectrum, from rapid prototyping on the desktop to fleets of printers producing tens of millions of COVID-19 test swabs. Customers and users today are far more educated and discerning about the technology: they are not just buying the dream, they are focused on practical use cases and return on investment.
The digital fabrication ecosystem that supports 3D printing has also evolved over the past decade, enabling more use cases for the technology. For example, the increased availability and accessibility of intra-oral scanners have given way to the rise of digital dentistry. We have seen massive growth in the dental industry since Formlabs launched its first dental printer. We have seen a 460% increase in the number of dental printers sold since 2016 and our users have created over 25 million dental parts ranging from models to surgical guides since 2019.
3dpbm: And finally, how do you see the AM industry continuing to evolve in the next decade?
LW: We envision a future in which every aspect of our lives is touched by 3D printing. Over the next ten years, we will continue leading the 3D printing industry by innovating for our customers and delivering on the promise of this technology. Experts expect the 3D printing industry to grow to over $100 billion in the next five years. Formlabs is driving this growth and is delivering printers capable of mass production and end-use quality parts.