Disruptive Insight editorial comment, Issue 9

Despite a steady and increasing number of events dedicated to 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) throughout the year, Q4 is where things really ramp up on this industry’s calendar. Between this and the next issue of Disruptive Insight I will have been to two key events—the TCT Show in Birmingham, UK, and IN(3D)USTRY in Barcelona, Spain—both of which are previewed in this issue with some thoughts about the individual shows, their differences, similarities and what visitors can get out of them.

There are some superb features to check out in this edition, including a couple of truly insightful interviews. Disruptive news editor Elizabeth Valero has been speaking in depth with Fabio Esposito, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Solidscape. Solidscape is one of Stratasys’s more successful but less well-known acquisitions. While it comes under the umbrella of its parent company, Solidscape operates independently, a strategy that has served it well when often quietly but very competently going about its business.

Having developed and commercialized an extremely precise process for the additive production of wax materials, Solidscape has dominated in the jewelry sector for a number of years. More recently however, the company has developed a new AM hardware system, with the same levels of precision and accuracy for investment casting, for more diverse industrial applications. It’s a fascinating read.

There is another really great interview with Gary Miller who has just joined Carbon as a production development engineer in the UK. This is a really good fit personally and professionally, in my humble opinion, and after talking about it more with Gary, that opinion has only solidified. Gary has earned a tremendous amount of respect across the 3D printing world for his knowledge, experience and ability to find real application solutions with a fairly broad spectrum of processes. This, coupled with his honest approach and being one of the most genuine and friendly people you could ever wish to meet, mean that Carbon has gained a real asset as it moves more directly into the UK market.

It’s likely a fully intentional strategic move, but that’s the thing, Carbon has barely put a foot wrong strategically, as far as I can see, since it commercially launched its continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) AM process in early 2015, followed by the M2 3D printer and more recently the SpeedCell production solution, which is about to expand even further. As I wrote that, I found myself pausing to consider my own astonishment at exactly how much the company has achieved in just two-and-a-half years in terms of the ecosystem of products, the materials and the applications—high profile and otherwise.

A great deal of media exposure has been given to the high funding this company has achieved, which obviously doesn’t hurt, along with some of the higher profile applications, most notably adidas. However, there are other 3D printing companies with similar or even higher levels of funding, relationships with big brands, and/or solid product lines, but few, if any, that have put it all together as successfully (and certainly not so quickly) as Carbon. For me Carbon has that unquantifiable X factor about it, which I suspect comes from a genius mind in combination with moral leadership at the top. Gary’s insight into the company and his new role there is a must read.

A visit to Renault Sport Formula One Team facility in Oxfordshire, UK, earlier in the summer is now firmly in my Top 10 company visits of all time. This was not just because it was an F1 facility, although that was certainly part of it, but because it gave me a really healthy reality check, a day away from my computer screen and time in the great company of Pat Warner, ADM manager for the Team. I was provided with direct insight into a real manufacturing facility (well most of it, some of it had to stay hidden, it is Formula One) hosted by someone confronted by the realities and complexities of prototyping, tooling and production on a daily basis and often under extreme pressure.

The Renault facility is a great example of how companies (of any genre) do what they do. At Renault, it sometimes involves pushing the in-house AM processes to their limits and being quite demanding of the suppliers; and sometimes it is just about getting the job done as quickly, efficiently and reliably as possible using the best tools for the job. Often it involves not using AM at all! Pat’s experience across the whole factory and now more specifically with AM really pays dividends on both counts.

Another recent reality check came from an unexpected source, when I saw a Twitter post from Joris Peels (@pilz) naming his top 10 most significant 3D printed things. I suspect part of the intent behind that piece was to make people stop and think. It certainly made me do that and in deeper ways than I first realized. Because after reading Joris’s list and his reasons, it immediately made me consider my significant ten, which also made me consider precisely what I consider significant to mean, both directly within this context and more broadly. It took me off on a tangent from my day’s schedule for a while but wholly worthwhile. After a Twitter conversation with Joris, I agreed to send him my list and he is inviting others to do the same and hopefully the results will be enlightening.

I suspect the next couple of weeks will bring plenty more reality my way in 3D printing and AM. If readers are planning trips out of the office to Birmingham, Barcelona or both, please do reach out for a chat. Social media is great and everything, but nothing beats talking to someone face to face.