Formlabs announced they’ve acquired Ohio-based Spectra Polymers.
The growing 3D printer company apparently used Spectra Polymers as their source for all Formlabs resins, which are sold in cartridges to Formlabs clients. Now it seems that the long-time supplier is part of Formlabs directly – they’ve been supplying Formlabs with resin ever since the company started in 2012.
Why acquire a long-time supplier? I believe this is part of Formlabs’ long term strategy. Their mantra has always been to provide a seamless experience to their clients. I can attest to this, having tested their Form 2 device a couple of years ago and found its workflow to be incredibly simpler than any other 3D printing experience I’ve had.
3D Printing Ease of Use
The tactics used to achieve this seamless workflow is to ensure every step works in concert. For this reason, the company advises using their own resins in the Form 2 & 3 equipment: by knowing the chemistry of the input resins, Formlabs can very precisely tune the printing parameters to ensure success. And that’s largely the case, as prints on their equipment are of high quality and reliability.
By tightening the relationship with the source of the resins, Formlabs can streamline their internal processes and strategies even further, which should enable the development of new materials at a faster rate.
In fact, Formlabs says:
“Formlabs has invested over a million dollars into building out an FDA registered, ISO Class 8 certified clean room in an ISO 13485 certified facility for dental and medical materials development within Spectra.”
New 3D Printing Materials
Clearly Formlabs intentions are to expand Spectra’s operations to produce new materials that could open up entirely new markets for the company.
I believe this is a very strong strategy. These days the characteristics of 3D printers are gradually converging on a high level of quality. What I mean is that virtually every 3D printer you buy these days seems to have similar basic specifications, so there is a decreasing amount of differentiation on those aspects. Costs are also gradually converging to standard levels as well.
What can a company do? There are two fronts that seem likely.
3D Printer Service
One is to ensure a tremendous level of service to clients and provide them with an easy experience. This allows the client to be more effective with the machine and grows confidence in the vendor. This is precisely what Formlabs has been about for all its existence.
3D Printing Materials
The second front would be materials. The world of traditional manufacturing uses an ocean of different material types for all manner of purpose. However, until recently the number of materials possibly used on 3D printers has been extremely constrained. Smart 3D printer vendors are now producing equipment that can handle new types of materials, and even partnering with materials providers to gain access to new materials.
Each new material opens up the possibility of a new industrial application, as some applications cannot be attempted unless the right material is available.
This again, seems to be Formlabs’ strategy, especially with this new corporate acquisition.