News from 3DPRINTUK tells a story of how Brexit is slowly reshaping the 3D printing world.
As readers may recall, earlier this year the UK formally exited the European Union based on a last-minute deal struck between the two parties. While the contentious deal was touted as a good solution, it’s turning out to be quite a bother for companies on both sides.
3DPRINTUK is, as you might suspect, a 3D print service based in the UK. In previous years they had many clients both in the UK and across the EU. However, once the Brexit agreement became in force this past January 31st, many companies were surprised with unexpected challenges in spite of considerable preparations.
While in the EU, businesses in the UK were effectively free to ship goods to EU destinations, as well as receive them in a similar easy manner. However, after Brexit the UK was just another non-EU country and thus subject to all the normal EU export and import regulations.
3DPRINTUK found challenges in shipping completed prints to EU clients. They explain:
“3 months on from the January Brexit date, there continues to be particular concern around road freight for international orders. To mitigate these delays at customs and to ensure reliable international deliveries during this period, 3DPRINTUK stopped all road freight and instead, all orders were and still are fulfilled by UPS Express until things settle.”
The company has also had to shift to UP Express to service clients in Northern Ireland, as there are EU-like regulations between it and Britain to maintain the Good Friday agreement with Ireland. Note to readers: Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and now there’s a customs border within the UK itself.
It would appear there are barriers to UK 3D print companies to provide goods and services to EU clients, causing solutions like this to be quickly implemented. In some cases, however, it may be that new EU clients may not choose UK-based services to avoid shipping complexities.
The situation is similar in the other direction. One of 3DPRINTUK’s local clients is Qontrol, a manufacturer of advanced photonics devices, who make heavy use of 3D printing in their operations. Among 3D printed parts they use are custom enclosures for their products.
They obtained these from EU-based 3D print services, but found challenges after Brexit. Their CTO, Dr. Josh Silverstone, explained the problem:
“We have been long-time regular customers of a continental-European print service. Very simply, we needed to place an urgent order with them just before Christmas 2020, and they refused it down to uncertainty around Brexit.”
After this occurrence, the company decided to switch to a local UK-based service, and that turned out to be 3DPRINTUK. For Qeontrol, the switch eliminated the shipping issues created by Brexit and provided 3DPRINTUK with a new client.
This scenario is likely being repeated over and over for many UK-EU transactions, and the result will surely be greatly increased regionalization: UK companies will increasingly use UK-based services, while EU companies will increasingly used EU-based services.
In the end the same amount of 3D printing will likely take place; what changes is where it’s done.
It’s likely that this regionalization will dampen the potential size of larger services, as their market is somewhat smaller on each side. In the long run that may affect future corporate acquisitions, as usually the bigger players win.