Q&A: Shapeways CEO Greg Kess on COVID-19’s effect on 3D printing, the value of software program & consolidation in AM

Greg Kess [GK] has been the Shapeways CEO for 3 of the company’s 13 yrs in enterprise, but neither him nor the enterprise have at any time seasoned a 12 months pretty like 2020.

Listed here, Kess discusses how the additive producing provider supplier navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, what affect he believes the previous 12 months will have on the industry, why consolidation in the AM sector is a fantastic factor and just how significant computer software is to the Shapeways business.

Very first, how has the calendar year 2020 been for Shapeways with all the disruption that adopted the spread of COVID-19?

GK: We moved to get the job done from house quite early, we put in a tonne of basic safety processes, particularly on our manufacturing internet sites, like social distancing, A/B shifts, and improved cleaning. Total, we have been extremely privileged, knock on wooden, that we have been in a position to properly by means of it.

And as a great deal as it’s possible profits ended up impacted right away, we’re showing advancement in fourth quarter, calendar year about calendar year. Q3 for us was a little up 12 months in excess of yr, Q4 is looking improved. And then you compare that in opposition to some of the extra community persons in this area, we’re carrying out well so I truly feel actually, definitely very good about our efficiency. And the workforce is just remarkable. I suggest, I give the Shapeways team so substantially credit history, they have wholly risen to the celebration and moved extremely rapidly to help a ton of the factors that had been required, no matter if it was nasal swabs, or health care manufacturing or experience masks, we are continue to producing deal with masks for huge healthcare facility units, and profits are coming back again, we experienced an amazing Black Friday/ Cyber

Shapeways recently shared some thoughts around predictions and trends within additive manufacturing as we head into 2021. One of them was a warning that COVID isn’t going anywhere – what impact do you think this year has had on the perception of 3D printing?

GK: I think it reset the expectations of what additive manufacturing was to a much broader audience that may have had a different expectation of what the capabilities were. What you saw this year and what you are going to continue to see is additive manufacturing as a tool that allowed you to move very fast on new designs, it allows you to fill supply chain gaps, it allows you to just move at a faster pace than more traditional solutions allow you to and it delivered you a part that actually met expectations.

As we move to next year, though, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. We should be prepared for that. I think the big thing for that is planning for some of the challenging that are in manufacturing today: the way you run and operate, the way your supply chains operate and the amount of capacity that can go through traditional supply chains, some are not back to where they should be. So, we’re using additive to go and support that. I think it’s going to open up a lot more opportunity. The amount of companies that we’re talking to today that were not even thinking about additive a year ago is dramatic.

Do you expect the interest in 3D printing and the application of 3D printing to remain the same after 2020, or do you think once things stabilise companies will go back to their old methods?

GK: I fully expect that to happen. Once thing you’re going to see from senior leadership in every organisation is to be thinking ‘how do you not allow yourself to be on your heels next time a situation like this happens.’ Every time a big thing like a pandemic happens it forces you to rethink your strategy. It’s going to force more agility in your supply chain, it’s going to force them to aske the question, ‘what happens next?’ That’s going to enable them to start leaning heavier into additive over the next several year and I think it’ll be a continued trend.

This year has also seen a lot of investments made in 3D printing – do you expect that to continue too?

GK: It comes back to that resetting of expectations and I think [the investment] will continue. As much as there might have been a hype cycle in the past, where expectations didn’t necessarily meet the realities, what we are seeing today is people are now saying the technology, materials and production capabilities are much more mature and is able to deliver on promises that maybe were not being delivered on before. So what you’re seeing is a resurgence of investment and consolidation that’s taking place in the space because investors are now taking a new lens to the business and they’re saying, ‘maybe some of my previous assumptions are dramatically different today.’ Additive manufacturing is solving a tonne of problems that we know are going to continue as we move forward. And that is prime for investment.

What are your thoughts on consolidation within the AM market?

GK: I think consolidation in general is always good because what you’re doing is, you’re creating a more efficient business model. Usually there’s a strategy behind that level of consolidation and it usually combines cost models or combines product offerings and delivers better products and more value to the end customer in a more efficient, profitable way, which I think is good for the industry in general, right. And that’s, of course, good for Shapeways. I’ve joined Shapeways, I’ve taken the approach that I want the entire ecosystem to grow, I want the entire market to be successful. I’m not focused on us being better than anyone else. I’m focused on everyone being successful. Additive is so small in comparison to this massive global manufacturing market, so there’s a lot of room for a lot of people to be very successful.

In your trends and predictions release, you also highlighted the importance of software. What do you think is needed in terms of the capabilities and further development of software to allow users of 3D printing to maximise the potential and scale with additive technology?  

GK: When we think about Shapeways, what’s always been our big differentiator is our software platform, offering ordering services, integrations and instant pricing, part capabilities, file analysis, custom workflows and our own planning tools. All of the work that goes into fully optimising efficient manufacturing and delivering that back to an end customer. We built it from the ground up specifically for this idea of industry 4.0 or digital manufacturing or low lot six, high mix/ low volume. We’ve delivered 21 million parts to over a million customers in over 130 countries, with over ten different technologies, 90 different materials and finishes.

We continue to see software as the differentiator to scale. A lot of people can operate one or two machines, right? Or they can operate a handful, a small shop, a small cell. Truly scaling that is where the challenge becomes, and I think very few have done that incredibly effectively and yet Shapeways has. Our differentiator in that space is all about software.

Why has Shapeways persisted in building its own software when, today, there are a range of options on the market?

GK: I look at Shapeways software as being influenced by our manufacturing and our manufacturing being influenced by our software. It’s this perpetual system we’ve created. We talk to very large manufacturers all the time that want to use our software and they’ve done extensive pilots and evaluations of the other software that’s on the market and nothing really compares. The reason for that is Shapeways is a manufacturer that builds software, so we understand what the software really needs to do. The software that’s on the market today, may meet 80% of your needs, but that last 20% is the hard part.

And on design software, what’s the Shapeways approach and why?

GK: What we’re trying to do is use automated tools as much as possible. What we do is support the end customer, so the end customer owns the file and loads up to Shapeways, but we want to make sure that file is printable, we want to make sure that file’s manufacturable, and what we know is 90% files aren’t, the majority need some level of design change. We have our own automated tools to do that, where we look from a printability perspective and automate that. Then we go back and forth with the customers through these automated workflows to allow them to either use our design changes, use our edits we’ve done to the file, or we allow them to do it. We don’t feel comfortable taking over that design responsibility, because we don’t know what the full end-use application is going to be. The designer does, so we just guide them through the process.

What further investments do you plan to make within your software and how do you factor in potential increases in demand?

GK: What we’re specifically looking at is trying to make our planning capabilities more efficient. We call it a smart demand allocation, how do we taker demand that’s flowing ito our system and allocate that out to Shapeways facilities and our supply chain partners in the most effective way? It’s about delivering the customer needs.

I feel pretty good about the scalability of [our software]. With all that being said, I think there’s additional complexities that come into play as you talk about certifications or industry-specific requirements, whether it’s across aero or automotive or medical, new materials and finishes, things like that, new technologies that come to market. We’re constantly launching new hardware and materials with partners so, as those things happen, you need to be prepared to be able to support them.

In addition to Shapeways making improvements internally, we’re also seeing innovation continue across the market. In 2021 alone, technologies from HP, GE Additive, Desktop Metal, Evolve Additive, Wayland Additive will all be made available or shipped. As a buyer of additive tech, what’s your thoughts on this?

GK: I think it’s great. I love the fact there’s a lot of technology in the market. Shapeways is a big believer in making sure that we go to market with solutions that meet customer needs. I think we don’t want to launch technology or materials with the hope of it meeting a customer need.

We also are working very closely with material and hardware providers to do joint go-to-market solutions where they may have specific materials or specific hardware where we work together and we bring that to market together to bear combined risk versus trying to sell me a machine. Look at me as a partner and look at me as a way to help facilitate the adoption of your products, because ultimately, the end customer doesn’t care about the machine. And they don’t care about the material. They care about the finished part. And so that finished part obviously requires the material, the hardware and the service to do it. But it really is a combined solution. And so we focus on finished part production and delivering products to customers that they need. A lot of partnerships can come out of that.

And in recent months and years, you’ve entered into partnerships with the likes of BASF and ZVerse – is this something we can expect to see continue?

GK: Yeah, I think you’ll see a lot more collaborations taking place with Shapeways as we continue to roll out offerings. They’ve been incredibly successful so far. We’re very excited, obviously 2020 made a little bit harder, nobody was really expecting 2020 to be the way it was. But I do think that the partnerships that we put in place so far has delivered a lot of new technology to Shapeways’ offering, a lot of new materials and a lot of new services. And I fully expect that to continue as we as we move into next year.

Want to discuss? Join the conversation on the Additive Manufacturing Global Community Discord.  

Get your FREE print subscription to TCT Magazine.