European Business: Mr. Storz, for several years now, there’s been a lot of talk about 3D printing. How has MakerBot affected the market?
Valentin Storz: MakerBot was one of the first to make 3D printing accessible and affordable. When we started operating in Europe two years ago, the market had just begun to find its core user bases: professionals and educators.
European Business: Where would you say is MakerBot’s core customer group?
Valentin Storz: I don’t think we have any one customer group. Prototyping is one of the most common fields of application. 3D printers present new opportunities for creating prototypes in a fast and cost-efficient way. Companies and their customers benefit greatly from realistic presentation models. The automotive industry also uses 3D printers to explain the digital revolution and its impact to employees, and 3D printing can help to master the new technological challenges of Industry 4.0. Our printers can be used in all sectors and by companies of all sizes.
Most people think of industry first when it comes to 3D printing, but education and the medical field profit from it, as well. Surgeons print anatomical models with our printers, for instance. Worldwide, more than 8,000 schools already work with our printers. They’re used in universities in rapid prototyping, offer new ways of learning and studying, and help to prepare students for a future in science, engineering or design. We even offer our own textbook called “MakerBot in the Classroom” as an introduction to 3D printing and design. Teachers have used it to integrate technology into their curriculum. 3D printing is not especially popular in Central Europe yet, but there is already a strong push in the UK, the Benelux countries and Northern Europe.
European Business: What products does MakerBot offer to satisfy all these different needs and uses?
Valentin Storz: We develop new, effective solutions for every stage of the desktop 3D printing process, and just one product we offer is the Replicator+, which we recently launched. It’s so easy to use that it can be configured within ten minutes. It prints 30% faster than its predecessor, it’s quieter, and because it uses corn starch as its base, it’s safe to use in schools and other educational facilities. The Replicator+ features an LCD display, an on-board camera, and USB, Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity. Actually, we introduced our first Wi-Fi connected desktop printer in 2014, and that has led the way to more connected solutions.
But we’re also moving away from just hardware solutions to provide workflow solutions, where software plays a major role. In line with this, we offer MakerBot software, which is suitable for all MakerBot products. It optimizes prints and accepts native CAD files and new resources for getting started with 3D printing. The software also allows the user to manage multiple MakerBot 3D printers efficiently in a fully integrated environment.
European Business: Where do you see MakerBot in the future? How will your company respond to new developments?
Valentin Storz: The 3D printing market is still young and extremely dynamic. Our vision is to become the leading provider of 3D printing solutions for schools and institutions of higher education, as well as in apprenticeships and advanced training. We also aim to support small and medium-sized companies that do not yet have access to this new technology. We want to be the ultimate market leader in prototyping, and we see a lot of potential for 3D printing in sectors with small series or a high degree of customization.
We need to focus on specific target groups and offer sell solutions – not products. It is better to specialize in one area than to spread yourself too thin. The technology definitely has the potential to change supply chains substantially, and we believe that the market will be increasingly dominated by 3D printing production systems. We need to take advantage of all these opportunities.