Formlabs announced plans to open a massive new facility in Milwaukee, and this could lead to bigger things.
Formlabs has historically based most of their operations in Massachusetts, where the founders emerged from MIT years ago with an idea to make a desktop SLA 3D printer. Since then the company has consistently grown, and eventually opened up operations in Europe. They’ve also focused strongly on the dental market, hoping to capture sales with their low-cost option against existing high-priced players.
Now they’re doing something quite different, and it could be a hint as to where they are headed.
The news is that Formlabs is opening a new 20,000 sf facility in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. That’s a historic zone near the lake that is home to much of that city’s creative activity. You’ll find art galleries, studios, etc., inside former industrial warehouses.
It’s expected that the facility will house around 100 staff, which will represent about 12% of Formlabs’ entire staff complement. Formlabs explains the location choice:
“Formlabs selected Milwaukee because of its legacy in advanced manufacturing and the deep pool of engineering and business talent that the state’s strong educational system has produced. As a hub for technical innovation and manufacturing, Milwaukee is uniquely suited to support Formlabs’ regional headquarters and the expansion of additive manufacturing, a key part of President Biden’s AM Forward initiative focusing on improving supply chain resilience.”
The new facility will house two showrooms for equipment, a large print farm and displays of print samples.
Let’s take a look at what this means.
First, the contents of the facility appear to be focused on showing off the equipment, materials, processes and other aspects of using Formlabs equipment.
This is quite important because many companies switching to 3D printing really don’t know much about the technology at first. They greatly benefit from being able to see and touch equipment and get direct answers. That would seem to be the prime function of the new Milwaukee location.
But couldn’t Formlabs do that from their existing East coast headquarters? Probably, but perhaps some companies wouldn’t make the trip east. It could be that Formlabs sees an opportunity to get deep into new territory where they are less known, and generally make it easier for companies to engage with them. Removing sales friction is always a good thing.
The other implication of this move is that Formlabs apparently sees continuing growth due to increased use of 3D printing in local manufacturing. This was an effect triggered by the pandemic’s collapse of supply chains, where manufacturers had to resort to their own manufacturing operations. Some chose to implement 3D printing for the first time.
It seems there are plenty more in that situation, and Formlabs wants to capitalize on that opportunity.
Finally, if this move succeeds, it is very likely Formlabs will repeat this pattern in other regions. I could see them setting up several more similar facilities across the United States, as well as in some friendly International locations, too.