We talk with Kunal Mehta, Head of Consulting at Blueprint, for a look into operations in a 3D printing consultancy.
The business, under the Stratasys umbrella, is dedicated wholly to advancing additive manufacturing and helping the adoption process. Bringing in a new technology suite is a major proposition for any endeavor, and it’s critical that they develop understanding of best-fit solutions. It’s important to note early on that when Blueprint says they are technology-agnostic, they mean it; they’re not going around telling everyone that FDM is the only answer. Because it isn’t. And to that end, they’re not going to recommend that 100% of potential clients even adopt additive at all; it isn’t always the right technology, in general.
“To summarize it, we’re a strategic consultancy focused strictly on additive manufacturing,” Mehta said succinctly. “We focus first on the value of additive manufacturing: on the technologies we recommend, or if someone should even buy a technology or should pursue work with service bureaus or even jump into AM at all. [Blueprint is] — call it a group of engineers — we’re all innovators, we have an ex-model maker, an ex-Tier One supplier, and all working with a shared goal: to help our customers make sense of 3D printing and really help drive this technology.”
Origins and Evolutions of Blueprint
Blueprint traces its beginnings to early 2015 when Stratasys Services Group integrated the Econolyst team, led by well-regarded additive manufacturing industry veteran Dr. Phil Reeves, into operations.
Part of that team is still at work in the more recently formed Blueprint group, and they continue to engage with now independent consultant Reeves, Mehta noted. The endeavor is “a continuation of what he created” and continues working with clients from Fortune 500 companies to educators to the government.
“We’ve had an evolution in a few pieces,” Mehta continued, discussing the track to 2019. “We’ve expanded the team in addition to Phil’s original team in the UK. It’s now supercharged with a new team of engineers, and we’ve also added a couple of strategy consultants. Some of them have ex-John Deere expertise and went into consulting. I spent 13 years at Accenture, with part focus on designing and implementing innovative technologies. This opportunity came along and I found it amazing, so joined Stratsys to drive the Blueprint effort.”
These experts have been critical in building up a trusted resource — you wouldn’t consult with just anyone on something new to you.
So what do they actually do?
Quite a lot, as it happens. Mehta noted the seven pieces of the Blueprint portfolio, which encompass:
This addition to their portfolio underscores access to experts as an important step in adopting additive manufacturing.
“We understand that additive manufacturing is such a small part of the manufacturing; really our focus is in helping the 99% understand how and when to use additive — that’s what I mean when I say we’re helping make sense of the technology,” Mehta explained. “It’s the value of the adoption first, that’s how we make our recommendations.”
A good amount of what they do is based on thought leadership, which makes sense. If you’re an expert-driven business peddling expertise, offering access to that resource is only logical.
At RAPID + TCT earlier this year, Blueprint was formally unveiled in its current form, as they were ready to discuss all things additive manufacturing. One pat of this unveil was “The Little Blue Book of 3D Printing,” which Mehta was kind enough to send me a copy of — and which definitely makes for some interesting reading. (It’s also available online at the Blueprint website.)
The Little Blue Book is an easily flip-through-able book that takes a high-level look at 3D printing, including Blueprint’s six business drivers of additive manufacturing. These include:
Freedom of design
Streamlined supply chains
Examples and guides into these business drivers hammer home the primary point they present here:
“The first thing 3D printing should make? Sense.”
Blueprint has also been “pumping out webinars, blogs, and articles, as the goal is to really educate the market on what is suitable and what is not suitable,” Mehta noted.
Of course, Mehta was not at liberty to discuss most of the clientele Blueprint is working with; NDAs are a fact of life that doesn’t make sharing stories especially easy sometimes.
He could discuss broad strokes of their engagements, though, as they continue to work with startups to Fortune 500 companies, working on projects from high-level strategic approach to technical design validations.
“When we look toward high-level executive-type audiences, it’s strategic in nature; the conversation might be in strategic impact: where does additive actually fit in your business, does it fit in your business at all, what trends might impact you?” Mehta elaborated. “One of my favorite projects to talk about is with a big logistics company that saw an article in the Economist about how 3D printing could impact the supply chain, so they thought it might impact their business. This was in the earlier stages of the [Gartner] Hype Cycle. The consultants went in and clarified what was real, what was usable. What came out of it was a whole 3D printing business unit.”
In another example he could talk about a bit, work with a “call it a consumer goods business” with multiple business units has resulted in four patents already, including one that names the Blueprint team. (This “will be going through pretty soon” so perhaps we’ll be able to hear more about the particulars then.)
The Blueprint team also often goes right to the factory floor to access, understand, and advise on operations. The driving force is the same on any such floor: “how to make manufacturing leaner, quicker, and drive cost savings,” as Mehta put it. Some of this will result in spare parts strategies — a major and fast-growing market for 3D printing — as well as related work in reverse engineering and full understanding of part needs.
“Often folks ask me to narrow down the customers we work with: I say it’s anyone trying to innovate, to push the boundaries. Innovation trumps us and trumps the technology. I’d consider additive manufacturing new, even though it’s 30 years old. Production is still quite new, and there’s a need to develop deep engineering expertise… We can operate pretty much anywhere where it makes sense,” Mehta said.
There’s that sentiment again: making sense. It’s heartening to see an offering from the 3D printing industry — especially from so deeply entrenched in the 3D printing industry as Stratasys is — focusing on actually ensuring that things make sense. Sometimes that is perhaps the hardest thing. Blueprint is an intriguing offering, and one we’ll be sure to keep up with as new production applications and other higher-profile usages ensure the ongoing need to keep additive manufacturing grounded in reality.
Editor’s Note: Updated 10/2/19 with an amendment correction from Dr. Reeves, who was previously referred to as “now-retired (and independent consultant)”: he notes: Correction — Phil Reeves is not retired. He works with selected clients providing advice and guidance on how to navigate the AM/3DP jungle