Stratasys has announced a new version of its Fortus 900mc printer and several partnerships. But more interestingly, Ilan Levin, CEO of Stratasys, has outlined a new approach to business for the company, one that will surely have implications for other vendors in the additive manufacturing world.
Levin only took over as CEO earlier in July year, though he has been a director with Stratasys since the year 2000. He told journalists at a press conference at Formnext last week: “The opportunity is still in front of us and I very much wanted to be a part of that and to realign and focus Stratasys on what is going to be the future of our industry.”
Indeed, Levin has wasted no time in changing the way that Stratasys now approaches the market. The company is now taking more of a partnership approach to working with its customers. He explains: “It’s no longer about selling the box but about creating an ecosystem for customers that is meaningful for them.” But he adds: “Before we would have to evangelise additive manufacturing for customers but today customers have people whose sole job is to look at this technology and how they can implement it.” Consequently Stratasys is now actively looking for customers with innovative applications that it can help with. Levin says: “We have 18,000 customers globally. Our job now is to isolate the 300 or so customers that we can collaborate with on a more useful basis. We are going back into our customers' business to understand what they need and what the missing pieces are that they want.”
This is a significant change of direction for the company and essentially means that Stratasys will seek to partner with some of the major companies using additive manufacturing to tailor make solutions for them in the hope that other customers will have similar needs.
He points to recent initiatives such as the Infinite Build concept that Stratasys showed at the IMTS show earlier this year, which was designed in conjunction with Boeing and Ford as a way of 3D printing the exceptionally large parts that they needed. Levin explains: “We flipped the axis over so that the Z axis has now become the X axis.” He adds: “It's no longer a printer in a box but a system that allows customers to do something that they couldn't do before.”
Stratasys has also deepened its relationship with Siemens, announcing a formal partnership at the show to integrate Siemens’ Digital Factory solutions with Stratasys’ additive manufacturing solutions.
The two companies have already collaborated in a number of areas, most notably the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, which made use of several technologies from Siemens, including its product lifecycle management software and its motion control and CNC automation technologies. The Siemens NX software alows designers to create parts to be produced on the system, to simulate and evaluate the design for manufacturability, and then to generate and send all the manufacturing instructions for part production. It also makes a direct link with Siemens’ CNC robotic controller.
Andreas Saar, vice president of manufacturing and engineering solutions for Siemens, talked of the ability of 3D printing to disrupt business, saying: “Our mission is to provide our customers with the IT knowledge to drive additive to the next level of technology. We can bring technology together and exchange data but we wanted to do something more.”
Stratasys has also worked with SAP, which is establishing a global network of 3D printing co-innovation labs to help drive the adoption of additive manufacturing as an integral part of the manufacturing production line. These sites range from Paris, France to Johannesburg, South Africa as well as Palo Alto, California, in the United States. These centers are based on the SAP Distributed Manufacturing application and will give customers the chance to develop and test active business cases and applications of the latest distributed manufacturing technology.
Meanwhile, Stratasys has announced that its GrabCAD Print software will now work with all of its FDM printers, following a five month beta trial. This software is designed to speed up the workflow around 3D printing. It reads CAD files natively and eliminates or minimizes the need to export to STL. But it also enables job preparation, scheduling and monitoring for the Stratasys printers. In addition, built-in collaboration and business intelligence provide users the ability to track application and printer data, and it monitors material usage.
Stratasys has also launched the latest generation of its Fortus 900mc, an FDM printer with a large build area that’s typically used for functional prototyping, manufacturing aids, tooling and short-run direct digital manufacturing. Amongst the new features are a built-in camera for monitoring jobs and integration with the GrabCad Print software, which includes remote monitoring, job scheduling and reports. GrabCad Print allows users to upload CAD files directly to the 3D printer for production so that there’s no need to convert them to STL files.
Stratasys also includes standard certifications, eliminating the effort and cost to qualify the 3D printer for the user’s production floor.
It’s compatible with a wide range of materials, including the relatively new thermoplastic, FDM Nylon 6 (Polyamide 6 / PA6), said to be stronger than other FDM thermoplastics. But it can also be used with ABS-M30, ABS-M30i, ABS-ESD7, ASA, FDM Nylon 12, PC, PC-ABS, PC-ISO, ST130, PPSF, Ultem 9085 and Ultem 1010, plus the SR30, SR35, SR100 and SR110 support materials. In addition, it can be used with the Xtend 500 boxes that allow more material to be loaded for longer runs. It should be noted that the Nylon 6 material can also be used with the original Fortus 900mc but will require a software license.
Indeed, Levin says that Stratasys has a great deal of materials know how and that the development was a priority for the company. Most journalists have assumed that Stratasys wanted to acquire a metal printing company to complement its FDM and Polyjet technologies but Levin brushed this aside when it was put to him. Instead, Stratasys seems to be more interested in developing composite materials further. Levin noted: “We are just taking baby steps now but there are huge opportunities with composites. However, I had the distinct impression that Stratasys is no longer actively looking at metal printing.
Instead, Levin has focussed on the large portfolio of technologies that Stratasys already has and how best to exploit that. We’re likely to see a lot more announcements like the Infinite build and the Robotic Composite 3D developer as additive manufacturers start to dictate what they want to see from this technology, and that can only be a good thing for the 3D industry as a whole.