Recently we had the opportunity to speak with Cathy Lewis, CEO of Desktop Factory, a company focused on delivering a breakthrough product for the 3D Print industry: an inexpensive desktop 3D printer suitable for use in small businesses, schools and even homes. The sub-USD$5000 device isn't yet available, but CEO Cathy Lewis and team are putting it together.
Fabbaloo: Most companies proceed through product development in a relatively inconspicuous manner, but as a company producing what could be a major mainstream breakthrough product, how has that affected your strategy? Do all the eyes watching make a difference?
Cathy Lewis: Desktop Factory has been fairly visible almost from the beginning which is unusual in a new product development situation. I think that part of the exposure was brought on by our early customer research as we tried to understand and gauge the market awareness, requirements and interest. It is amazing how quickly word traveled, much more than we had intended or planned, but we accept this response as a powerful confirmation of the pent up demand for low cost, easy to use 3D printing technology.
That said this level of visibility is not without risk. Will you wake the sleeping giants who are your competitors? Will you create interest for a whole new set of market entrants who may steal your thunder, not to mention your business? Will you stumble in full sight? As we considered these adverse scenarios we all agreed on one salient point. The market lacked an overall awareness of the availability of 3D printing solutions and we had a responsibility to fill the void. So, while the informed 3D solid object modeling users knew that they needed an alternative to current offerings, there was a much larger audience of technology 'beneficiaries' who didn't even seem to know 3D printing existed – even at much higher prices. We believe that Desktop Factory is contributing to the education of the full market and that we are building demand for all suppliers, which over time will be a value to us as well.
Finally, with regards to stumbling in full sight – we have. Late last year we encountered a significant technical problem with the system which required us to delay the launch and evaluate the redesign of one major subsystem, at a minimum. Due to the visibility we enjoy and to our position of helping to build the market we believed that our customers and prospects deserved a full accounting of our situation. In our company newsletter we shared our issues and potential remedies and asked for support as we stepped back from launch preparation to resolve our problems. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we have now had the time to complete the newly designed lens based imager that will go into full test mode on multiple systems late this month.
As you can see we feel that transparency and visibility have been beneficial for our business, the market and our constituents.
Fabbaloo: What will be your approach for providing print media to customers as your business expands?
Cathy Lewis: We want to make the availability and access to our consumables as easy as possible. Our customers will be coached initially on the amount of supply recommended based upon use patterns at the time of order. Their subsequent orders can be placed easily over the web where we will have a merchandising system that will remind them of prior orders with dates so that they can track current use. We will also have email reminders when we believe they may be running short of materials. For educators we will offer annual purchase contracts to coincide with their funding year. The materials will be warehoused in various strategic locations so that shipments should be available in one to two business days.
The material will have some ability to be recycled. This can be very important from a cost perspective as well as from an environmental standpoint. Once we fully understand the best process and how many times it can be successfully reused we will announce the recycling warranty and process. This may mean that early recycling will need to be handled by us – if so we will provide the packaging and a discount on the next order.
As we expand and certainly as we enter into the broader consumer market we intend to have materials available in retail locations that offer weekend and evening store hours. We will continuously monitor the situation as the market grows and our customer's requirements change.
Fabbaloo: There have been delays in getting the 125ci to production. What is the latest status?
Cathy Lewis: I gave you a partial update in one of the prior questions. We are now ready to re-engage internal beta testing of the product for 5 – 6 months following a redesign of our imager subsystem. The outlook is good and we are encouraged by the improved image quality. However, with any major new design you need to completely debug it and be certain that the new components work as intended and that you have not introduced new problems or failures. Also during this testing we will continue to focus on and improve our reliability to meet a specification that we upgraded early this year based on customer feedback. Our goal is user maintenance / cleaning only every 7 days for well under one hour of time. We are actually achieving 10 days between user maintenance intervals. In terms of a technician level repair requirement, the current statistics have us running 4 weeks without a failure against a target of 3 months at launch. We will continue to keep all interested parties updated on our progress through our e-newsletter which you can sign up for on our website.