How smaller 3D printing brands are shifting to thrive in the industrial market.
As the 3D printing (3DP) industry enters the home stretch of 2016, the market is stronger than ever. This in spite of well publicized failures in the over-hyped and relatively small consumer segment. While talk of a “3D Printapocalypse” is nothing more than alarmist hyperbole from the mainstream media, the broken promise of consumer 3DP has created very real challenges for smaller brands looking to make their mark in the industrial space.
The industrial market is there (and it’s huge) — but buyers are cautious
The over-promising and under-delivering of some consumer 3D printer brands has made indus-trial customers more cautious, specifically about entry-level 3D printers. Bob Zollo, founder and CEO of Avante Technology, saw firsthand how the failed brand promises “created cynicism and reinforced the impression that entry-level printers lack sufficient quality and robustness to serve industry.”
While the collapse of the consumer market was all about entry-level printers, it had a ripple effect on the entire industry. Alex Hussain, Regional Director for German RepRap, sees these challenges carry over into the $10–50k range industrial-grade market, “Fortunately, we have found that the industrial 3D printing market is growing at a rapid pace, despite the fact that the consumer market has begun to slow down. However, some of our customers who have been burned from the consumer 3D printing hype machine over the past few years tend to be cautious with their purchasing decisions.” Hussain sees this as a challenge, not a deal-breaker. Brands need to clearly articulate and over-deliver on their promise in order to break down the barriers to purchase.
Brand promise is critical
In the wake of these high profile failures some smaller 3D printer brands have been thriving by focusing on the industrial market. Aleph Objects, makers of LulzBot desktop 3D printers, recently reported $5.8 million in sales for Q216, an improvement of 83% over the previous year. Zollo credits this to delivering on brand promise: “Aleph Objects has built a strong brand by focusing on doing a few things very well and supporting their end user customers.”
Brand promise is critical to rebuilding trust in the industrial space. Hussain concurs, “We believe that the cornerstone of any brand is over-delivering on its promises to delight customers. When the opposite of that happens, it can destroy that company's reputation and reflects negatively on the entire industry.”
The pivot from the consumer to industrial market
While both Avante and German RepRap have focused on the industrial market from day one, Zollo and Hussain believe brands focused on the consumer market can to pivot to gain market share in the industrial space. Here’s how:
Shift the message from generalist to hyper-specialist
3D printing is not all things to all people—it’s not even a thing to most people. 3D printers make airplane parts, not Yoda heads. They’re tools, not toys. Position your product as a highly specialized tool for hyper-specific purposes.
Appeal distinctly to each person in the sales chain
Unlike the consumer market, selling business-to-business (B2B) requires marketing messaging that triggers action at each step of the buying process. Start with the technologists and engineers who will actually be using your product. Present features, but lead with benefits. Demonstrate why they should love your product and how it will make their lives easier. Give them tools to sell it up the chain. Next, the procurement department will need to know you’re a stable, reliable company and that you’ll provide service after the sale. Finally, the C-Suite will need to know how partnering with you will help achieve company goals and boost the bottom line.
Service as a differentiator
When choosing between comparable products, service after sale often weighs more heavily than price in the final sales decision. The industrial market wants to buy 3D Printers and supplies not from a store, but from a vested partner. Zollo confirms, “This is not going to be a ‘buy it on Amazon’ process. Companies will pay for service and support. In return, they expect excellence and responsiveness from the supplier. That means trained human beings in the field and on the phone, not blind web support interfaces.”
The ecosystem is essential
A paradox exists for smaller 3DP brands wanting to break into the industrial market: Larger, risk-averse companies in automotive, aerospace and manufacturing want the kind of turnkey solutions that larger 3DP brands are in a better position to provide. Buying printers, parts and filament from a single approved vendor is attractive. However, these companies also seek the innovation and agility that smaller companies are in a better position to provide. That gap can be closed when hyper-specialized 3DP OEMs, suppliers and service bureaus unite to forge a reliable, stable ecosystem strong enough to compete against larger 3DP brands and low-priced offshore suppliers.
A bright future
In spite of, or perhaps as a direct result of, the failures in the consumer 3D printing market, the future is more promising than ever for brands like Avante and German RepRap. 3D printing brands will capitalize on the growing industrial market by hyper-specializing, articulating a strong brand promise, over-delivering on that promise, providing service after sale and forging their place within a larger 3D printing ecosystem.