»Spirit of Innovation and Curiosity«
Interview: Thomas Masuch; Photo: 3D Systems — 2019/05/30
With over 30 years of history, 3D Systems is one of the most experienced and largest 3D printing companies in the world. Over that lengthy period, it has helped determine the development rhythm of the industry. New technologies and applications, as well as the high pace of innovation throughout the industry, pose challenges, even for a global player. We talked to Scott Turner, director of advanced R&D at 3D Systems, about how this company continues to have a strong hand in shaping new developments.
Right now, the 3D printing industry is probably the most agile industry worldwide. What are the main directions in which 3D Systems’ research and development are heading?
TURNER: 3D Systems has a diverse technology portfolio, with systems and products that range from sintering thermoplastics and metals to photopolymers. When it comes to innovation, we take a customer-centric approach – looking at how they want to transform their application workflows and how 3D Systems’ solutions can enable them. Innovation is always in high demand, and our approach to meeting that demand is leveraging our deep experience and expertise. We are also very fortunate that our founder and current chief technology officer, Chuck Hull, is still part of the company. His spirit of innovation and curiosity fueled the invention of stereolithography, and that same spirit continues to drive 3D Systems’ innovation to this day.
3D Systems has one of the market’s broadest product portfolios. In light of your efforts to come up with new technologies every year, is it still possible to lead in terms of that wide coverage?
TURNER: Vyomesh Joshi, our president and CEO, joined 3D Systems in 2016. He brought best practices and structure to 3D Systems that really allow us to analyze the market and determine how we can best leverage our expertise not only to meet the market’s needs, but to bring new innovation that enables 3D Systems to differentiate itself as a solution provider, as well. Our ultimate goal is to provide customers with end-to-end solutions that include materials, hardware, software, and services they can use to transform their manufacturing workflows.
The company has evolved to providing end-to-end solutions.
Sounds like 3D Systems is undergoing a shift from providing printers (and a surrounding ecosystem) to offering applications …
TURNER: While 3D Systems was founded as a 3D printing technology provider, the company has evolved to providing end-to-end solutions. We are at the point where manufacturers are continuing to adopt and utilize these additive technologies to meet demand and pave the way for better products that only additive can deliver now and in the years to come. You see everything from eyewear and footwear to components in airplanes and automobiles. More and more production sequences are being converted to additive processes, so this digital future is quite bright.
»the power to transform routine manufacturing processes«
If you had to choose between creative inventions that create new products and more routine ones that reduce costs in the automotive industry, which would you take?
TURNER: It’s not a matter of choosing one versus the other. Additive solutions have the power to transform routine manufacturing processes, deal with complex geometries, and spark the creation of products that wouldn’t be possible with traditional manufacturing technologies. I think for me, the most rewarding part is leveraging technology to the point that it can deliver the most to the end users of the resulting products. Right now, material innovation and material science are just exploding. 3D Systems has been servicing various industries for more than 30 years. During this long history, we have always been able to meet the needs of our customers. So now, as we advance additive material properties, we can go back to both our long-term and new customers and fulfill their application needs with new materials and processes that weren’t available before. This includes new ways to produce complex geometries that aren’t possible with traditional manufacturing – in light-weighting parts and reducing part counts, for example.
To get into these markets, do you think inventing these technologies on your own or investing in or buying start-ups is the more effective approach?
TURNER: 3D Systems’ growth strategy has been multi-pronged through the years. Part of this growth has occurred organically through our own inventions, and some has come from acquisitions of companies. We also value strategic partnerships – »standing on the shoulders of giants«, as it were – to collaborate with leaders in their respective fields and complement our solutions. Working with other companies, developing technologies using their innovations combined with ours – that’s what helps deliver the best solutions to our customers today rather than tomorrow.
Scott, thank you very much for this interesting conversation.
3D Systems Corporation
Founded by Chuck Hull, who invented stereolithography in 1986, 3D Systems has grown to employ 2,400 people and generate revenues of $687.7 million (2018). Its headquarters is located in Rock Hill, South Carolina.