Stratasys Direct CEO Kent Firestone [Image: Stratasys]
We chat with the CEO of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing about the rise of 3D printing for production, service bureau adoption, and the outlook for additive manufacturing.
In part one of our conversation, Kent Firestone and I chatted about his personal history in the 3D printing industry as well as the changing nature of contract manufacturing. We continue the chat now in part two.
Sarah Goehrke: What do service bureaus need to do to stay relevant in this fast-changing industry?
Kent Firestone: “I think we have to continue to evolve, we have to improve our internal operations and processes. I heard a speech by Robert Gates a few years ago where he said you have to ‘knock the barnacles off the hull of the old way of doing things’ — that describes well what we need to do to stay competitive. We have to continue to innovate, whether in technology or in business processes. We have to be mindful we’ve had increased customer expectations over the last 10 years and have to behave more like a traditional contract manufacturer sharing some level of risk and some level of resolution.”
SG: As a contract manufacturer, the sheer volume of production is perhaps one of the best demonstrations of “additive at scale” — do you agree? How can manufacturing companies best learn from this and partner to share in this expertise?
KF: “I do agree with that statement. The volume that happens within our company is a good example of that. I think everyone, being customers and the industry in general, is dreaming of additive manufacturing at scale and to achieve this we have to — we, the service providers, have to change our business to meet market expectations and the requirements of our customers. Customers also have to understand the quality of processes they’re asking us to do work with. There has to be an intersection between their understanding and our process requirements. As the technologies get more and more mature and customers get more and more mature, I think we’ll see more opportunities to drive additive into production opportunities.”
SG: How does your business integrate with/benefit from Stratasys? Why does the relationship make sense?
KF: “I think if you look at what Stratasys Direct brings to Stratasys, we provide a level of expertise especially in production parts they didn’t have without us. We’re starting to see that in our ability to influence some new product development. On the flip side, we also get to be first to try and first to investigate and test out new materials and processes to some extent. I think there’s also a benefit with our technical expertise and non-traditional Stratasys such as stereolithography; they recently announced the V650 platform Stratasys is starting to go to market with; that machine was developed in its entirety at Stratasys Direct. We’ve been using it to build stereolithography patterns for our customers for years, at least 3-4 years in-house, and have at least a dozen of them now within the company that we use.”
[More on the V650 here]
SG: How does your relationship with Stratasys benefit the industry?
KF: “I think ultimately it will help Stratasys make better products, more in tune with the industry today. Being that much of the industry has transitioned…. A lot of our experience is direct with the industry, and there’s more high-requirement work being pushed in this direction. I think it also gives definitely a voice-of-the-customer tie-in for Stratasys. I know from my experience working with an OEM you’re one level removed from what’s really happening, how those machines are really being used. That’s an important thing we can help bridge for Stratasys.”
SG: Stratasys Direct just celebrated five years — built from three previous giants in the service bureau industry. What’s the biggest benefit of this combined organization?
KF: “Bringing together the expertise in multiple technologies that we’ve run. Also the experience in serving different vertical market segments. A lot of the production knowledge we have in Stratasys Direct today came from efforts we put in at Harvest Technologies to go after that and develop into a good business for additive.”
SG: During my trip to Stratasys Direct, I saw first-hand the scale at which you approach production manufacturing. What are the current challenges with production manufacturing in the additive environment — and what sets you apart?
KF: “The biggest challenge continues to be transforming from a low-requirements business model to a high-requirements business model capable of serving clients in very demanding industries. One thing that sets us apart is the ability to offer post-processing to those demanding clients so we can provide them with turnkey solutions. A lot of the last 10-15 years has been directed at allowing us to provide turnkey solutions more like a traditional contract manufacturer.”
SG: It was also pointed out that there are no widely accepted industry standards in the industry. Do you think it is essential for a more rapid adoption of additive manufacturing? What role does Stratasys Direct play in this?
KF: “I definitely think it will speed up adoption, as more standards are developed. We’re currently involved in the SAE/AMS metals subcommittee and were previously involved in ASTM 42 efforts. More and more of those efforts make progress and become more accepted in the industry as a true standard, it can’t help but grow our business and grow the industry in general.”
SG: What else should we know?
KF: “We’ve been pushing towards more end-use parts, more production parts, as a percentage of our total business for years. A lot of what we’ve done as a company and continue to focus on as a company is evolving to serve that market better. That’s where a lot of our focus is internally as well as externally. Looking at our operations, making sure we’re running as efficiently as possible. Looking at our business processes, how we process an order from the beginning through shipping. Those are areas we as a business need to continue to innovate, and basically create a business model that’s more similar to contract manufacturing that’s well-known outside of our industry. I think that’s an area to continue to focus. Externally, we need to focus on what we’re bringing to our customers, that it’s what they need to run their businesses more efficiently as well.”
Via Stratasys Direct