An interview with 3DEO’s Matt Sand.
While there are many research firms working in the 3D printing industry, Wohlers Associates, Inc. is certainly one of the most well known. Each year they publish a report that attempts to define the size and scope of the additive manufacturing market. For 2018, they estimated a market size of over $7 billion and a growth rate of 21%. But perhaps most intriguing was their data regarding the growth in metals. According to the team at Wohlers, around 1,768 metal additive manufacturing systems were sold in 2017, which is nearly double the 983 systems that were sold in 2016.
The significant interest in metals impacts far more than just machine sales. Materials, software, and service providers all stand to benefit as well. But, determining which of those categories to play in can be difficult for many companies. As I’ve discussed many times, there’s a lot of downside in trying to sell both equipment and output. Service bureaus are one of the top markets for machine sales and it’s tougher to sell into that market when you compete against your customers.
3DEO is a metal 3D printing service bureau located in Los Angeles. The company created a proprietary metal 3D printing technology and then had a tough decision to make. Sell equipment, output, or both. They decided to focus on selling parts.
To learn more about their technology and business model, I caught up with their Co-Founder and President, Matt Sand.
John: What makes 3DEO’s technology unique? What is your competitive advantage over other metal additive manufacturing technologies?
Matt: “There are many unique attributes of our technology. At the core of what we are doing is a fundamentally new metal additive manufacturing process. This novel process produces very high-quality parts via additive manufacturing that our customers frequently report outperform metal injection molded (MIM) and even CNC machined parts.
Ultimately, when it comes to high-volume production, the most important differentiator for 3DEO is the ultra-low cost structure of our end-to-end process. This allows us to be cost-competitive with traditional manufacturing, which is a first in metal AM. Early on, we learned that the main barrier to widespread adoption is final part cost. It’s not uncommon for larger parts made with laser sintering, for example, to cost thousands or even tens-of-thousands of dollars.
Winning high-volume production orders really comes down to getting the part cost low enough to compete directly with other established metal parts fabrication methods such as machining, casting, or injection molding. From the inception of the company, our technical design challenge was to create a technology that fundamentally lowers the cost structure of metal AM. Fast forward two years later and that’s exactly what we have done. We are routinely competing for – and winning – parts over CNC machining and metal injection molding.”
John: Why did you decide to offer your technology as a service vs. simply selling it as hardware?
Matt: “Surprisingly, a large majority of potential customers indicated a strong preference to buy parts, not invest in capital equipment. As a direct result of this pull from the market, we decided to keep our technology in house and instead become a ‘one-stop-shop.’ We have everything we need to make high-quality parts under one roof, which allows us to optimize part quality, achieve tight process control, and produce parts in very high volumes.
By taking on this burden ourselves, we spare customers the need to become experts in additive manufacturing. Getting started in metal AM can be VERY expensive. The million-dollar machine is just the start – it can cost $3M+ and take years of investment before production is ready for prime time. By leveraging our expertise, our customers get production-ready parts in less than four weeks while only investing a few hundred dollars. It’s really a completely different model that allows customers to focus on their core business while still taking advantage of what is possible in 3D printing.”
John: What’s the secret to being competitive with mass manufacturing?
Matt: “The ‘printer’ is only one step of many that are required to successfully manufacture metal parts in high volumes. At every step of production, costs creep in and start to inflate the price of the final parts. In addition to closely controlling costs, we can modify or change the production line however we see fit since we have developed all the software, hardware, and materials from scratch. In short, by owning the entire production process, we can control final part cost in a way that is not possible with a stand-alone, off-the-shelf printer.
Owning the end-to-end process also allows us to also ensure superior material properties across all parts that we manufacture. We monitor every aspect of production for our customers, from materials coming into the factory to final parts coming out. This level of quality control is very expensive and requires deep expertise for independent operators. 3DEO is able to share this burden across many customers, which allows us to keep costs low while still maintaining very high quality.”
John: Where do you see the “sweet spot” regarding pricing? Where can you win vs. other AM technologies and traditional manufacturing techniques like metal injection molding (MIM)?
Matt: “This is a very complicated question because there are always nuances and caveats. Usually, the answer is ‘it depends’ and we need to look at specific parts and applications with customers in order to give an answer.
Generally speaking, the sweet spot for production manufacturing with 3DEO is with relatively small, complex metal parts. If the part is the size of a tennis ball or smaller, we can be very cost competitive with CNC machining and MIM. This is especially true when it comes to complex geometries. Since the complexity of the part does not affect the build in additive manufacturing, complexity that can be costly in CNC and MIM is much more cost effective in metal AM.”
John: What’s the long-term goal for 3DEO?
Matt: “Our goal is to become the go-to supplier of small, complex metal parts. We have the materials, process, scalability, and cost structure advantage that will allow us to compete with CNC machining and investment casting in low volumes and metal injection molding in high volumes.
Customers are forced to pay $100K+ and wait 3-6 months for a complex mold. If that wasn’t bad enough, engineers can’t change the design without long delays and high costs. 3DEO achieves better part quality than MIM with similar per-piece pricing, on-demand manufacturing with no setup/MOQ costs, and ultimate design freedom. We can also scale with customers from prototyping to high-volume production using the same technology so there’s no transition costs. If we can bring the benefits of AM to customers while also competing on cost and quality, the sky is the limit.”
To learn more about 3DEO, visit www.3DEO.co