We had a chance to sit down with one of Stratasys’ key leaders to find out what’s happening at the 3D printing giant.
Andy Middleton is Stratasys’ President EMEA at Stratasys & MakerBot. We posed several questions regarding their recent moves deeper into industrial space.
Fabbaloo: There appears to be a tremendous change happening within Stratasys. Can you explain what’s going on?
Andy Middleton: The middle of 2016, we could feel the business softening. We wanted to try to understand why and then what are we going to do about it. This is probably a process that took us 9 months, and I am not sure that we have all of the answers by the way. And what else came out of it is a very clear direction of what we are going to do, and part of that we are demonstrating here. It’s very simple; there is no magic in it. But it is what he said, selecting those core industries where we believe they have a value proposition - where the customer is either going to save time, save money or they are going to improve current business processes and be able to articulate that value in clear, financial defined numbers. End of story. So we selected Healthcare, where we believe have a tremendous value proposition in three applications which are:
1) Tooling we see as horizontal business that is crossing the stream, whether I’m manufacturing a medical device or a car, there are tooling requirements and different levels of tooling which we can't do today, so we have tooling as a horizontal solution.
2) Then within healthcare, we have our classic prototyping solutions. Really, the valuable stuff is the pre-surgical models; helping surgeons plan their operations. And then there’s medical markets for training purposes. We have the technology. There is a requirement and demand for it. So that is why we are focusing on it.
3) Aerospace, I spoke a lot about it today. Manufacturing parts and materials which are quiet improved: It is simple as that. Hence the cooperation and collaboration with AirBus, which I was intimately involved in the whole thing; it took 2.5 years, cost us hundreds of thousands in legal guidance. We had to learn what are those certifications and procedures we need to get through. Who handles what liabilities when you are actually putting parts within an aircraft cabin.
And then of course the whole material development resulted in a multi-year, multi-million contract with Airbus and we are deepening that collaboration now to explore not only the end-use parts but also, the tooling aspects the manufacturing and assembly line.
I don't know if you have ever been or had the pleasure of walking down an assembly line, it is just phenomenal. How many fixtures and brackets they use to put the wings together!
For example: They need a material that is red in colour - and I don't have red material! I ask, Why do you need red? I'll show you.
When they put the wings together, the holders and brackets they need to make sure are taken off before the plane flies after its final assembly. The people need a visual to convey if it belongs on the aircraft or taken off. Helps with our material development. So there should be a specific solution for a specific purpose.
We are looking at cabin parts, initially and we drive the strength of parts through implementing carbon fibre, which we are going to do on the new robot. And that will open up a whole new range of parts that can be additively generated for Airbus.
Currently we are producing non-loaded parts. Once we get into loaded parts it is a whole different scale of business.
Fabbaloo: You haven’t done any loaded parts yet?
Andy Middleton: No, not yet. Hence one of the collaborations with Siemens with the robot printing carbon fibre where we can actually determine where the strength areas of a component need to be and this opens up completely new applications.
Fabbaloo: It would seem to me that prototyping is vastly different from manufacturing strong parts, particularly in aerospace where it is life and death, but manufacturers have made such parts. While companies like Siemens have done that previously, you guys would never have caught up on your own. So you had to do that partnership.
Andy Middleton: Why should we even consider becoming an expert in motion control of a printing head? Siemens have that in their drawer! They control manufacturing systems all over the world.
So putting that together, we will have the increase in speed with Siemens. We have the extruder but we don't know how to move the head around at that speed in those axes. So that is a typical example of where partnerships will be not only accelerating these great new products but they probably wouldn’t even happen without those partnerships. It is not going from 5 years development to 1 year, it is probably going to one year or nothing.
Fabbaloo: There was a couple of us speculating after the press conference about the relationship with Siemens and that they could buy Stratasys. That would be a natural thing. And after the Siemens representative us gave his talk and it seemed like Stratasys was part of this bigger thing.
Andy Middleton: It is speculation. And the question is who is going to be selling these products? We want to get into Manufacturing. Siemens is in all of those manufacturing plants. The brand of Siemens is so strong. They are an accepted, long term supplier of many, many industries.
Fabbaloo: You can’t buy that.
Andy Middleton: That is just my take and that there will be a Siemens product, there will definitely be a Stratasys product and there may be others.
Fabbaloo: You displayed the Infinite Build and the Robot demonstrators, both amazing machines - how have customers or prospects reacted to Siemens.
Andy Middleton: Phenomenal! I have a customer coming this afternoon in the Formula 1 business who is a current customer. He has had this vision of being able to additively manufacture limited and totally customized parts. Limited quantities for different purposes; for show cars.
I sat down with Vauxhall yesterday and they have a whole production line just to manufacture 50 show cars before it goes into full serious production. Now he said that the capabilities of being able to manufacture 50 cars - imagine the cost of the tooling!
So to answer your question, phenomenal interest. We have been very guarded of when and where we release those products - is it too early or too late? Today is the day! Today we go. The back end of next year as I mention which is like tomorrow to have 3–5 in Europe of the Infinite Build for aerospace and automotive customers.
Aircraft is very very short. Very limited quantities and a high level of customization. When I sat down with Airbus I went through a learning curve. The aircraft are all different! The interiors are all different! The look and feel. Emirates interiors look nothing like that of Singapore Airlines aircraft. The interiors are completely different. And they are not selling hundreds of these. Airbus is manufacturing 13 per month. You see how much effort goes into assembling one, 13 is a lot of planes. So excitement is very high. We have to control the excitement.
[This was part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 is here.]