At the 3D Printshow last month, 3DPI’s Rachel Park spent some time talking with Abe Reichental, President and CEO of 3D Systems Corporation. Here are the fascinating results of that interchange during and since the show, which provide the first in a series of interviews with the leaders of companies operating in the 3D printing sector. Abe Reichental has been at the helm of 3D Systems, arguably the largest and most conspicuous company in the 3D printing arena since 2003.
3D Printing Industry: As the oldest and arguably the biggest 3D printing company in the world, you have come a long way since the first SLA-1 system was launched. Can you give us some insight into the journey.
Abe Reichental: We were the first to market a 3D printer in 1986, the year the internet mail access protocol was established. And while Chuck Hull’s Stereolithography, (SLA®) invention hasn’t been as widely recognized as email yet, its impact on our lives has been every bit as profound. Did you know that when the first SLA® 3D printer was commercialized there was no CAD to print connectivity? So, 25 years before anyone could utter the word “open source” Chuck and 3D Systems developed the .stl open source file format which is the universally used CAD to print format to this day.
Along the journey we transformed the way entire industries design, validate and manufacture new products and revolutionized healthcare treatments with personalized medical devices like in-ear hearing aids, dental restorations and orthotics. From automotive and aerospace to athletic footwear and orthodontics, we are helping our customers develop entirely new design to manufacturing solutions that are bespoke, flexible, affordable and sustainable. More recently we committed to democratizing access through affordability, simplicity, utility and workflow integration and are pursuing this commitment vigorously for the benefit of professionals and consumers alike. I am extremely fortunate to be at the epicenter of a disruptive technology that is poised to change everything and feel an awesome responsibility to do it well.
3D Printing Industry: When did consumer 3D printing first materialize within 3D Systems’ corporate strategy?
Abe Reichental: Over the last couple of years it became apparent to us that 3D printing can be made consumer friendly and affordable. We reasoned that infinite cloud computing, mobile devices, sensors and photogrammetry, content creation gamification and crowd sourcing could unleash everyone’s creativity to create and make in 3D. Recognizing this opportunity, we began to systematically dismantle the bewildering complexity that existed in the chasm between 3D content creation and printing, and launched Cubify.com – a meeting place and marketplace for all things 3D. With gamified content creation Apps like Cubify Bugdroids and the $1, 299 Cube 3D printer, the first real consumer plug and play printer, we are bringing an Apple-like experience to living rooms and class rooms around the world.
3D Printing Industry: As an individual, you obviously hold some strong opinions on consumer 3D printing — can you outline these for us.
Abe Reichental: It is all about democratization. And for me that means the passionate pursuit of simplicity, affordability, utility and sustainability. It is also about getting the consumer to experience creativity by taking their virtual creations and making them actual. And it is about a paradigm shift from today’s canvas environment where very few exceptional 3D artists can paint a beautiful painting on a blank canvas to coloring book simplicity where millions can paint unique and amazing paintings.
3D Printing Industry: The ‘colouring book simplicity’ strap line is a good visual hook for the 3D printing consumer market, but can you actually deliver this to ‘the man on the street’ (those that have no design or engineering knowledge) today?
Abe Reichental: Absolutely. We have already begun with Cubify Apps for Robots, Bugdroids, Pendants, Rings, and Earrings on Cubify.com. Now armed with our Hypr3D technology we are launching a series of snap (as in picture) and print Apps that will make your smartphone and Kinect bring to life 3D printable images that could be meshed onto your bespoke phone case, your collectible or your cake topper. And that’s just for today. For tomorrow we’re working on games, puzzles, Lego-like sets, game characters, sports memorabilia, music – the sky is the limit and we have the technology. But we cannot do it all ourselves. We are releasing the Cubify SDK and calling on all developers to come join us in the world of 3D apps using the growing Cubify platform.
3D Printing Industry: Cube + Cubify is a great consumer concept for 3D Printing, can you tell us why you think the time is right for this?
Abe Reichental: It’s right because the enablers are syncing: cloud, crowd, sensing, connectivity and the human condition. I fundamentally believe that everyone is creative and everyone can create. I also believe that everyone wants to differentiate and we do it by what we wear, the car we drive and the accessories we put on our smart phones. Affordable sensing and digitizing tools like Kinect and smart phone cameras, global app developer communities and ubiquitous connectivity present the perfect storm conditions for explosive adoption.
If you doubt it consider what the two of us experienced at the recent London 3D Printshow; a whole new ecosystem of companies, artists, designers, and entrepreneurs that harness 3D printing as a platform to launch a new business model. A trade show in which the usual suspects (the traditional suppliers) were dwarfed by the magnitude and vibrancy of a real consumer movement that was celebrated by day through record real consumer attendance and by night with musical performances and fashion shows powered by 3D printing.
3D Printing Industry: Talking of the 3D Printshow, you had an extremely strong presence there — how was that event for you and can you tell us about any memorable moments?
Abe Reichental: We set out to bring the cubify experience to life for Londoners and the response was awesome. We wanted Britons to become part of our 3D lifestyle and they did. Memorable for me was making music on Olaf Diegel’s and Scott Summit’s incredible guitars and sipping espresso at the Cube Café from a 3D printed cup.
3D Printing Industry: 3D Systems’ acquisition strategy has certainly brought you a great deal of press coverage and got people talking (not least me!) — can you give some insight into this in terms of technology development and advancement, customer service and the democratization of 3D Printing.
Abe Reichental: Our strategy (which we have been very public about) is to build the most compelling and attractive 3D content-to-print global platform for the benefit of manufacturers and consumers. Each and every acquisition we make is carefully linked to one of our five growth initiatives and provides an important technology, presence or service building block. Concurrently, we are increasing R&D spending and accelerating the pace of innovation. This is core to our customer commitment, central to our culture and true to our heritage. With customer success in mind, we continue to deliver on our promise to democratize creativity and empower manufacturing.
3D Printing Industry: Do you think you fight or fuel the extensive, current hype around 3D Printing?
Abe Reichental: Neither and both. Our role is to lead and shape the 3D printing revolution. As the inventor, pioneer and leader, we have a responsibility to inform, educate, and expand adoption. As we journey the road of successful democratization, it becomes increasingly more difficult to disguise our passion and excitement for what we do, and that can be contagious.
3D Printing Industry: With all of the current excitement around 3D printing for consumers, the industrial market, which produces some of the most impressive 3D printing applications, gets a little overlooked these days. Is 3D Systems competing strongly in vertical industrial sectors? What would you say is the strongest market for 3D printing.
Abe Reichental: Our bread is buttered every day by our expanding direct manufacturing success that spans from transportation to personalized medical devices. In fact, since 2010 roughly fifty percent of all the 3D printers we have sold went into manufacturing applications that include airplane parts, jewellery, hearing aids and durable and consumer goods. Increasingly we are winning significant manufacturing opportunities and are awarded major contracts like our recently announced nearly $3 million Air force award to transition speciality SLS materials and machinery into production readiness for the F-35 joint strike force fighter. Our fastest growing vertical is healthcare solutions, which for the first nine months of this year is up some 82% over last year to more than $36 million.
3D Printing Industry: What is your take on the “3D print a gun” stories that were doing the rounds?
Abe Reichental: I believe that as 3D printing suppliers, we have a collective responsibility to deliver safe products, services and solutions that are designed for useful and lawful use. When possible, we should take steps to prevent unintended uses and applications. We also have a responsibility to educate the public and law enforcement agencies about the potential of illegal uses. However, we are not law enforcement agencies and we cannot prevent illegal uses anymore than gun or car companies can.
3D Printing Industry: In terms of 3D printing applications, do you have a favourite and will you share it with us?
Abe Reichental: My passion is chocolate printing and I am bound and determined to develop a chocolate 3D printer of the real variety, that prints as beautifully as our plastic printers do, but tastes much better.
3D Printing Industry: What is your vision for the next 5 years for 3D printing and for 3D Systems?
Abe Reichental: Everything that we do is disruptive, transformative and impactful. Over the next five years I believe that 3D printing will emerge as a major force of change in how we communicate, create, make, educate, cure and manufacture. 3D Systems is fortunate to be at the epicenter of this transformation and has an awesome responsibility to democratize access to creativity and to empower the next industrial revolution with integrated content to print solutions that are affordable and sustainable. All of us at 3D Systems are excited and humbled by the incredible opportunity in front of us and we are deeply committed to deliver.