ACEO (aka ACEO3D), the silicone 3D printing service of German silicone giant Wacker Chemie, is shutting down at the end of 2021. The company took orders until December 10th and from now on will only work on projects on a case-by-case basis. While introducing a unique technology with unparalleled silicone 3D printing capabilities, unfortunately, ACEO3D also provided a perfect case to show what not to do when marketing such an innovative and potentially revolutionary product.
3dpbm began covering ACEO in 2017 when we first learned about this technology at the Rapid.Tech show in Erfurt. However, during the five years of ACEO3D activity, we always found news on the company hard to obtain. We were never able to identify a reference contact and always felt some resistance. Any company that launches a new and potentially disruptive product needs to understand how important it is to have continuous media coverage at a global level, especially from specialized industry media.
Trade media have only one goal: to help the industry grow and grow with it. Generalist media attention is great, it can bring enormous amounts of global visibility and “15 minutes of fame”, but it is random and not targeted. At the same time, many large companies that develop innovative new products think they can grow it by just leveraging their existing network of clients. That is often not the case. If you are looking to disrupt the industry you are in, you also need to have the ability and strength to look beyond your status quo. You need to dedicate almost as many resources to this as you do to develop your product. Because if the right people don’t hear about it, even the best product in the world will eventually fail. This is all the more true in a niche, fragmented, complex and highly disruptive market like additive manufacturing. Even more so in a niche of a niche such as thermoset extrusion AM.
With 3D printing labs in the US and in Germany, the ACEO platform was developed specifically for printing silicone elastomers, making it something of a unique technology in the AM sector. The first ACEO Open Print Lab was established in 2017 in Burghausen, Germany. The facility (and the new U.S.-based one) aimed to help customers explore and understand the potential of 3D printing with silicones—a still niche segment in AM. This kind of innovation needed to be shown continuously: every new application needs to be highlighted as much as possible. In the initial phases of development, the only way to do this cost-effectively is through industry media. Companies often invest millions in developing a product but only budget a few thousand to market it (beyond showing it at trade shows, which can only be done once a year and only to a localized audience). Online, global trade media can help your company show its products to a targeted audience, everywhere in the world, at a fraction of the cost of any other marketing activity (including printed media). At a minuscule fraction of the cost of developing a product, you can plan a year-long marketing campaign on a trade media of your choice. For companies looking to market industrial products, that entire investment can usually be recuperated by finding just one or two new customers.
For its termination, ACEO is blaming the fact that “as for most new inventions, it is taking more time for the market to develop as we have initially expected.” But when you are launching a new technology, you are inherently taking up the role of developing that market. As a leader and pioneer, you need to make investments that will accelerate market development. It’s a huge and daunting task and that is why you need to have the humility to accept all the help you can get but also the strength to find and reach out to those who want to help.
We hate to see unique AM technologies fail to establish a hold on their reference market. Fortunately, there are others such as Arburg (via innovatiQ and Dow Chemical), Lynxter and Viscotec picking up where ACEO left off. At least two other companies, COP Chimie and Elkem Silicones are developing silicone materials for extrusion 3D printing applications. Another very interesting company Spectroplast developed a DLP technology specifically for producing high-resolution silicone parts. Let’s hope they don’t make the same errors and that hopefully, as ACEO probably intended to say on its website, “it’s a good-bye and not a farewell”.