The trend toward 3D printing for production is easily observable – but we must not overlook the entire process necessary to take additive into manufacturing.
For 3D printing to truly be a manufacturing technology, it has to become integrated into the existing supply chain and establish new ways of doing business. For a more digitized manufacturing workflow to be successfully established, new solutions must be end-to-end. From design to production to marketing to supply, Industry 4.0 requires a holistic and overarching rethinking of manufacturing as we know it today.
Among the many pieces of this puzzle is eCommerce, including automated software solutions. DigiFabster has long been focused on these aspects, and I appreciated the opportunity to dig into this expertise in a conversation with Co-Founder and CEO Constantine Ivanov.
Can you share a bit about DigiFabster and your role there?
“My name is Constantine and I am co-founder and CEO of DigiFabster.
DigiFabster is leading manufacture of web-based quoting solutions for 3D Printing and CNC applications. Our solution gives a cost-effective tool for more than 200 additive manufacturing and CNC companies in the US and Europe. We are not only reducing labor costs, but also helping increase revenue by using our eCommerce tools. Our customers received a 150% ROI while generating up to $600,000 USD annually.”
In an increasingly digital world, how do you see eCommerce impacting business operations – particularly in manufacturing?
“I’m sure that eCommerce hugely impacts manufacturing. Right now it’s estimated that the B2B eCommerce market is worth at least one trillion dollars. Consider a great example, Minnesota based Protolabs. According to CEO Victoria Holt, B2B e-commerce is all about the speed and ease of buying online. To enable that, they ‘began by digitizing the front-end’. The company’s sales grew by over $50 million alone in 2017 and nearly all of their $344.5 million in revenue came from eCommerce.
However, eCommerce requires an automation. Without automation, the cost to move an order through a facility can often reach $75 or more. With a highly automated workflow, those costs can be reduced to $15 or less.
Investment in automation should go along with marketing spendings. But it should be a profit center, not a cost center. For every dollar invested, companies should get a return of two or more.
Moreover, manufacturing companies can gain more insights using eCommerce. When quotation processes are automated, executives can more easily calculate their won/loss percentage. With this information, companies can make decisions about pricing, turn time and other variables.
Thus, to get real benefits from eCommerce, companies should connect each piece of the system: quote automation tool, CRM, production management system and continually collecting the data.”
How do digital manufacturing technologies, including 3D design and 3D printing, come into play in this environment?
“It’s all about speed in these days. The more digital-like technologies we have, the more speed we can provide for end-users. This happens right now, you can literally have a ready-made part in 2 days. You don’t even need to get up from a chair: upload design, get instant feedback and price, finalize part, make payment, get shipment statuses and receive your part in 2 days.
The role of 3D design and 3D Printing is huge. It’s a major force in digitalization and Industry 4.0. With a focus on more complexity of file formats (that include more data), API-connected machines (yes, we need more openness in this world!), improved quality and speed we can get into the future of which we constantly talk very quickly.”
How can software automation enable more efficient operations in 3D and machine shops?
“In the past, implementing any B2B software solution was painful. Companies spent months (if not years) and hundreds of thousands of dollars buying licenses and integration assistance. I’m not saying that those solutions do not work. No, they work very well. However, they have been focused on solving all the problems in the company. But the price was too high to achieve. Moreover, new companies just don’t have a lot of time to spend it on integration. They need a solution right here, right now.
Today it’s much easier to implement cloud-based software. It’s still very secure. Cost your company just thousands of dollars every month. Require hours for installation. And can give huge ROI.
History repeats. The 2D industry struggled with the same problems as 3D and machine shops are dealing with now. To remain competitive, companies needed to become more efficient to handle the growing volume of orders and also had to drive transaction cost out of their businesses.
It’s all about the labor. There is only so much each person can do. As the number of monthly orders continued to rise, shops were forced to hire more people to manage them. But this is a wrong answer.
Technology is always the answer. Today you don’t need to build own in-house system. It’s just required too much effort and time/money to maintain. Almost every month I heard another story, how some company decided to invest some dollars in in-house software, and it ended with $30,000 USD cost to build and tens of thousands to support. Do not necessarily take my word for it, these are the real stories of our customers.”
What advice would you give to a 3D printing or machine shop looking to integrate advanced solutions in their business?
“I would say start with marketing and gain some traction in acquiring new business. You can’t get a lot of benefits of advanced software solution if you don’t have customers. Business first.
You just have to understand, that marketing is just as important part of the company as production.
If you already have traction, make sure that you are accurately collecting all the customer data in CRM. It’s crucially important for the business of any size. Then, look to automation solutions and talk to a vendor. Identify if this service has all that you need for the initial launch, it’s easy to implement (because obviously, you haven’t had a lot of time) and they provide good customer support. The software vendors that support great customers always be on your side and help you to grow, simultaneously improving the solution to fit your new needs.”
How has DigiFabster enabled customer successes?
“We trying to do more than customer support, but customer success. For the last 3 years we have been laser focused on front-line RFQ automation application for our customers. That helps us to collect not only data, but best practices from hundreds of customers. Now, we work with each customer individually: identifying needs, provide our off-the-shelf solution, helping with migration from spreadsheets, sometimes customizing our software (making integrations, additional features) and giving advices on how to attract customers, set up prices, improve conversion. We just published a sales guidebook that includes dozens of tips.”
What perspective have you gained regarding automation?
“Providing software for manufacturing companies gives us a lot of data on how to improve their sales and reduce labor. We’re going to address it all with our software. We aim to become a leading AI-driven software platform for the tens of thousands service providers market.”
How do you see 3D printing, CNC, and injection molding technologies working together to help business grow?
“I’m sure that the capacity combination of 3D printing, CNC machining, and mass-scale production is the cornerstone of future success, sustainability, and scale among manufacturing businesses. I think that combining all those technologies, along with local distribution, can give huge benefits both for companies and customers.
I am seeing how automation and technologies combination makes companies super competitive. Protolabs is just one of the examples. Also, Plethora that providing CNC with automation.
Our ultimate goal is to give a software that supports all the technologies and helping companies turn into digital factories.”
Do any customer stories stand out that you’d like to mention?
“I definitely would be happy to share one of the stories. Our customer from Belgium is using great HP MJF machines and producing plastic prototypes in high volume. They literally decided to reduce labor; not to hire a lot of people, but be super competitive with super fast turn-around production.
They are using DigiFabster for 8 months now and have grown from zero to more than $50,000 USD per month in incremental revenue. No one can say better than a customer, so we wrote a great case study with ZiggZagg.
Another story comes from the US, our customer starting using our solution and after just one week received more than 50 new orders with $10,000 value. Thanks to automation, he hasn’t had to invest in new hires, but he spent some money on marketing and get the result immediately.
Those stories inspire the team and me, and we work really hard to help each of our customers make a success with us.”
What else should we know about DigiFabster and a digital environment?
“I think we have to work on educating more. It’s true for both the AM users and the AM owners side. When we are sharing stories, numbers, best practices, we are collectively approaching the future where Industry 4.0, machine connectivity and distributed production are the standards, not a just hot media topic. Openness in the industry can be the key. And I’m not saying to reveal the secret sauce of your success. But sharing the knowledge can help not only the one company but the whole industry. Win-win strategy for all the players. “