I recently visited SLM Solutions North America, and during that visit learned more about how the company has been updating its operations and strategies.
During my visit, I toured the Detroit center that houses Germany-based SLM Solutions AG’s North American subsidiary. Director Applications Engineering Aaron LaLonde, PhD; Application Engineer Kyle Adams; and Marketing Specialist Maria VanHaverbeck were my guides for the day, offering an honest look into the business.
SLM Solutions North America
The business is straightforward on the surface: offer metal 3D printers, with emphasis on sales and services.
Still waters run deep, though, and that certainly holds true for SLM Solutions. The company is one of the earliest in the metal additive manufacturing business, tracing its roots to the very origin of SLM (selective laser melting) technology. Metal is what it does.
To add a second aphorism, though, the course to true [business] never did run smooth, and that’s certainly been the case — not just for SLM Solutions, but for the 3D printing industry in general. It can be tempting during business difficulties to not speak of those difficulties; all the more so when the conversational partner is media, whose job is to share that conversation. So frankly, for some years, outside of releases of new machines all based on the same reliable SLM technology, we didn’t know much about what was happening.
Today, the team obviously isn’t eager to talk about some of that time period — but they’re also not shying away from the topic. They, understandably, want the focus to be on what’s being done now to correct the course and take on a true leadership role in metal additive manufacturing.
The steps are tangible: effective May 1, 2019, business veteran Meddah Hadjar stepped into the role of CEO at SLM Solutions AG. Leadership changes at the top have rippled throughout the SLM Solutions pond, with personnel restructuring to retain and bring in those who share Hadjar’s vision for the future of the company — and to remove those who do not. It is, after all, the people who make the company, and having the right team in place, in every position, is vital to any hope of success.
“SLM has recognized the transgressions of the past,” VanHaverbeck told me. “Bringing in Meddah Hadjar has been a big step. He’s very vocal about the changes he wants to see. We’re very happy with the changes happening. It’s nice to have a common goal. We know our strengths, and it’s good to have goals to measure against.”
First In Show To Best In Show
One factor that has long worked in SLM Solutions’ favor was its reputation as the first with SLM.
But that’s also been a limiting factor; it’s easy to rest upon laurels, as Adams pointed out.
“There’s been a sense of ‘we were first and the others are playing catch-up’ — now they’re starting to catch up,” he said. “So what do we do now?”
That, essentially, is the big question, and SLM Solutions is not the first to face it. When you’ve had the entirety of a process’ history to get familiar with it, what happens when others develop their own expertise? It took some time, but they’ll get there. Just as Stratasys saw in 2009 when the patents to FDM technology expired and suddenly FFF 3D printers were everywhere offering many more options in extrusion-based 3D printing, the ‘originals’ have had some serious thinking to do.
It’s easy to be #1 in a one-player game. But the field is more crowded.
“The new leadership is bringing focus, clarity, and direction to bring us back to the position we were in,” LaLonde said.
It has to come from the top: the coach has to be sure the players are in place for success and that everyone is agreeing to the same game plan.
That game plan is now in place, some months in to the restructuring, and a large part of it is growth.
“We’re looking to hire ten more here before the end of this year as we focus on growing the North American footprint,” VanHaverbeck said. “We’re solely focused on metal additive manufacturing. We’re very transparent with our equipment. The goal is to further the industry; when we evolve, the industry advances.”
And of course, Adams added, that also includes the goal to sell “a lot of machines.”
Growing the US operations points to a key strategic focus for many Europe-based companies, as expanding into the North American market opens more avenues for sales — and success.
“There’s the recognition of the US market and customers,” LaLonde affirmed. “The new positions will be to drive new business, so we can improve, and to give current US customers what they need. We’re investing to grow in the US with focus on the direction for the whole company.”
In recent years, SLM Solutions North America has been responsible for about 40% of overall sales. More focus on this market might see another shift in percentages, as total revenues have been low; of course the hope is to see a rise across the board, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out by market.
Next, We Wait
As with any strategic readjustment, the next step is: wait.
SLM Solutions’ technology is at an interesting place in terms of the young metal additive manufacturing market on the whole: it is at once promising and proven.
There’s more to come from the company, as well.
“We are relaunching the 500 at formnext. The new 500 will be a more industrial version, focus on improvements to make the machine maximized for productivity, specifically targeting improvements to increase its performance and reliability. Some customers have been instrumental in the process for improving the 500 such as Rolls Royce,” VanHaverbeck shares.
There will be plenty to share as the year progresses — and we appreciate SLM Solutions giving us inside looks at what they’re doing and what’s to come.
Via SLM Solutions NA