»The story of using 3D printers just for tooling and prototypes has been told«
Interview: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Carbon — 2019/09/09
The role of Carbon in the additive manufacturing industry is akin to that of Tesla in the automotive sector: Founded in 2013, the company has risen meteorically to join the ranks of large AM companies – with a new technology, a new sales strategy, and the industry’s largest total investments. With its recently completed Series E funding round, the Californian company has raised up to a total of $680 million and now employs more than 400 people. We talked to Philip DeSimone, Chief Customer Officer and Co-Founder, about Carbon’s progress so far and its future plans.
By the standards of business development in the European AM industry, $680 million sounds like a different dimension. How has this large amount helped you in the past years, and does a U.S. company have an advantage here over the international competition?
DESIMONE: Yeah, I think it does, but I think it’s really about a sentiment to our success. We have raised a $680 million total since we started, but the round that we just closed was $260 million, with a valuation north of $2.4 billion. I think the funding round is more attributed to investors feeling confident in the successes we’ve had to date and our ability to maintain those successes going forward. It’s the most that’s ever been done in the 3D printing space, and we are proud of that accomplishment for sure.
You were one of the founders. Did you plan from the outset to grow this big?
DESIMONE: I think there are a lot of decisive moments when you first start a company. I thought early on it was going to be big, but I didn’t know how big it could be. I’ll be open: I believe there’s a lot of luck involved, and timing is everything. Obviously, you have great skills, but there is a lot of great technology that dies on the vine because of timing. I think we had everything timed perfectly, and a little bit of luck on our side to grow it. When we first started, I did not think this was going to be a 2.5-billion-dollar company at grand scale. I think that really clicked for me about three years in. About 2016, I knew we had something really, really special. Even now, I’m more bullish on our opportunity than I’ve ever been. It really disrupts the global manufacturing market in ways that people have been dreaming about for 3D printing for the last 40 years.
»Now we’re scaling up internationally, growing the presence in the EU as well as in the Asian markets.«
In its relatively short history, Carbon has already accomplished a great many things. After installing your first machine around mid-2016, you now cooperate with big-name companies in various industries and and have already achieved mature applications. How will this development continue over the coming three years?
DESIMONE: We have had a major hold in the United States now, and we’ve grown here, approaching 1,000 installed printers so far. Now we’re scaling up internationally, growing the presence in the EU as well as in the Asian markets. There is also a lot of R&D and new product development, whether it be software, developing recyclable materials, including building our first development facility here in California, which will be sort of a crown jewel on what is possible in digital manufacturing at scale. It’s a place to educate the ecosystem. That’s something that really hasn’t been done before. When we first started here at Carbon, when people first decided to upscale production, we turned around and there was no ecosystem. No contract manufacturer knew how to set up a 3D printing digital facility. No one understood how they had to handle the resins or materials. So, a lot of this money is going into fueling and making that next leap into global manufacturing.
You have already mentioned that you want to strengthen your presence in Europe and Asia. Are you working with channel partners for sales, or are you building up your own sales chain?
DESIMONE: Until this point, we’ve been doing direct sales, so we have to build our own supply chain. We are exploring some channel partnerships, but internationally we are going to continue to grow as we have been, which is by hiring our own employees in those locations and building out direct sales. Right now, we already have around 20 employees in Europe. We would just be adding upon that and potentially open an office there as well.
Is this because your technology is so special that it doesn’t fit into a portfolio alongside other technologies?
DESIMONE: Yes, we think that’s some aspect of it. There are great value-adding channels out there, but channels distribute many products. With digital manufacturing, you really have to create a focus and become an expert in that field. What we’ve noticed is that channels spread themselves really thin and don’t become experts. They are good at selling, but not necessarily at maintaining customers. Our goal is, from day one, that we better have 10 customers with 10 purchases each than 100 with one. So, we pushed heavily in post-sales support, application development, application discovery, and working with our customers to validate their components at scale, which is something that channels simply won’t do. We’ve developed our internal focus around being experts in the technology we’ve built, our materials, and our process. We help our customers from idea to production upscale, without having to work with anyone else to do it.
Are there some markets that you focus on?
DESIMONE: We’ve obviously had a lot of great success in the footwear space with Adidas. We’re doing a lot of things with consumer products and applications. You’ll see some at our booth at Formnext in November. For example, we work with Riddell for the American football space to protect players with helmet technology. There are more things coming in the lattice space around energy absorption, return, and performance that we’re really excited about. In the automotive sector, we are doing a lot of interesting projects with Ford, Lamborghini, and BMW. There is a massive increase in usage in the process sector. We have increased our print volumes by 33-fold over the last 12 months. A lot of that’s driven by this new correction to global manufacturing. There’s not any other 3D printing company that’s averaging more than 45 hours printing per printer per week. These machines aren’t just sitting in the corner collecting dust. They’re being used, and they’re being used a lot.
To take up one of your last points, what innovations will you present at Formnext?
DESIMONE: We will announce a trailblazing project that we accomplished with a renowned partner from the sports sector. It will be one of the largest end-use production applications in the world in digital manufacturing. I think it really pushes the sentiment of who we are at Carbon and what we’re trying to do, which is not just using 3D printers for tooling and prototypes. That story has been told. That story has been done well for the last 20 years. It’s really about making the next step, which is: You go to the store and you’re buying 3D printed products. That was the biggest jump that we’ve been able to achieve. For the first time ever, you can go into a store and buy a 3D-printed shoe or a 3D-printed football helmet for your child, which provides a better protection rating. You can go buy a car from Ford or BMW and it has 3D-printed components on it from us.
Phil, thanks you so much for talking to us.