Although Formnext 2018 just finished, in true Janne Kyttanen style, I am already thinking about Formnext 2019.
Before I share my visions of the future, let’s wind back to four years ago, the last time I attended the fair. It was was still in its infancy at the time and therefore small and intimate enough so that everybody knew each other. It was also the time just before the 3D bubble burst, so there was a lot of excitement in the air.
Coming back after some time away offered me a fresh perspective on the industry, which reminded me of a parent watching their child grow up. When you are around them every single day you don’t really notice the changes. However, when you go away, even for a few days on business, it feels like they have made quantum leaps in their development upon your return. But the reality is, it is just natural, healthy growth.
So let’s talk about this new perspective I gained on the 3D industry upon my return to Formnext. First, I was excited to see how the industry had matured with significant, healthy growth. Here are a few examples:
Topology optimization and generative design tools have improved in a short period of time. It really has a bright future and makes me remember the time when I had to do all of that manually and it would take ages. Automating design, reducing weight, and optimizing strength on industrial parts is becoming blissful. Desktop Metal has a very exciting interactive twist too through its Live Parts.
A large number of big industrial companies have entered the space (e.g. HP, Mimaki, Oerlikon, Siemens, Kodak, GE, etc.), expanding the 3D world beyond the smaller circle of experts and creating a greater amount of investments in the industry.
In the last few years, the speed of printing has exponentially grown from hours to minutes. As an example, Nexa3D is leading the digital transformation and has developed an ultra-fast professional grade affordable 3D printer using LSPc technology. Breaking the speed and size barriers of 3D printing without compromising accuracy and resolution. I already see how this will meet the speed of new VR 3D modeling tools, enabling countless iterations to be created during the working day.
On the flip side, one major area of opportunity I discovered while walking around the fair has to do with a lack of creative, sustainable and tailored business driving applications.
The industry has evolved terminology to meet investor needs (Rapid Prototyping, Rapid Manufacturing, 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing), yet what I see is that the solutions have not caught up to the new terminology. Instead, they are used as marketing buzzwords.
As we know, prototyping and manufacturing are two totally different beasts. Yet, when I looked around the fair, most companies still have an array of samples for endless applications targeted for making “anything for anybody.” This mentality is fantastic for prototyping, but the opposite is true in manufacturing. What if instead, companies had creative teams focused on actively identifying long lasting and tailored business driving applications. Instead of blending in and being one of 100 booths displaying dental applications, you could actually stand out with creative manufacturing solutions.
The inherent challenge in making this change possible has to do with business development being reactive to customer needs vs. proactive. This is also known as the innovator’s dilemma. Companies are incrementally making their existing systems better based on specific customer’s needs. Leaving less time for more proactive business development or creating new business applications in anticipation of future market trends and customer needs.
In all fairness, manufacturing applications are highly specific and sophisticated and for most companies, it has taken them years or decades to master their trade, so change doesn’t happen quickly. 3D printing in most cases is also just a small part of it. How does the technology fit into existing supply chains, logistics, software, order processing, inventory management etc. It is very hard for companies to incrementally improve their existing processes not to mention introduce something totally new to the equation.
One way to solve this dilemma is to get dirty and have internal skunkworks. In my mind, there should not be any difference between running a startup or a corporation. In both cases you need to attend every dog and pony event, get dirty, be curious and get creative. Yet in many big companies, there isn’t a structure which supports future business development. Often this is caused by a lack of resources or not the right ones, too much red tape, not enough strategic focus, or even board and investor pressure on short term wins.
Fortunately, in some industries you are required to wear gloves, a hat, a jacket and other gear, so you don’t have to get too dirty. But seriously, if anyone knows how hard it is to achieve this type of change, it is me. Spending time inventing 3DTI and testing it on our first application—ice pops—took us three years. During this time, we discovered how to integrate Additive Manufacturing into a multibillion dollar frozen confection industry and how to really add value through digitization and 3D. An industry which has been using the same equipment for the last 50 years, so not entirely open to change. The only way we saw it working was if the idea came from the outside and if the solution was exponentially better to what is currently being used. In this case: cheaper, faster, more customizable, higher throughput and more environmentally friendly. This has just gotten our foot in the door. We still need a bit of luck and the right timing.
In conclusion, I am as excited about the future of 3D as I was 25 years ago. I looked into my crystal ball and read my Tarot cards and I have a new perspective for Formnext 2019. Additive Manufacturing companies have transformed themselves into hybrid creative consulting agencies, cooking up their own ideas, creating spin-off product companies from their technology instead of waiting for somebody else to do it for them. I see these companies jumping out of their comfort zones, getting dirty and learning the businesses of other industries. I see companies creating products and business applications on new royalty-based business models vs just selling machines, materials or services. I see companies skipping dental samples from their booths and coming up with ideas of their own and creating unforeseen bridges between new companies who have never used 3D printing in their processes before.
I see a bright future, but only if companies have the courage to stand out and not just blend in with the rest. If you need help with this, reach out to me and let’s talk 3D!