Jim Bartel, Vice President and General Manager of RedEye, by Stratasys, tells 3DPI’s Michael Molitch-Hou about his history in manufacturing and the role that the rapid prototyping and 3D printing bureau plays in the design and manufacturing process. Jim also touches on the acquisition of Solid Concepts and how the merger with Objet has expanded the PolyJet expertise at RedEye.
3D Printing Industry: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What were you up to before RedEye and how did you get involved in 3D printing?
Jim Bartel: I’ve been in the manufacturing industry for almost 21 years now and have worked at four manufacturing companies, in a variety of roles, from sales to management. Before RedEye, I was the president of a contract manufacturing business in which I worked closely with design and manufacturing engineers to streamline product development. Through that role and process, I started to learn about the benefits of additive manufacturing vs. traditional tooling for low volume production. After stumbling upon Stratasys and RedEye, I started to fully understand the need for additive manufacturing services in the market and wanted to be a part of it.
3D Printing Industry: Our readers from technical/industrial fields certainly understand the value of 3D printing as it relates to prototyping, but some readers may not. How does prototyping contribute to the design and manufacturing process of a product and what advantages does 3D printing offer for prototyping?
Jim Bartel: Prototyping is a critical component in product development, especially in industries like aerospace, automotive and medical in which you have to go through multiple tests and iterations before releasing a product. It helps you find and address errors early on, improve accuracy and perfect your design.
The biggest advantages of 3D printing prototypes are cost and time savings. Since additive technologies build parts from the bottom up, no tooling is required. Eliminating that huge capital expense, plus the time it takes to build a tool, gives you much more flexibility to test, optimize and validate your design before making a large investment in traditional manufacturing for high production volumes. Correcting errors and making improvements with 3D printing is as simple as updating the design file and printing out a new part. Also, since Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) produces parts in production-grade thermoplastics used in end-use applications, FDM prototypes reveal how the final product will actually perform.
3D Printing Industry: Also for our readers that may not be familiar, what advantages does the FDM process have over other additive manufacturing processes? What advantages does PolyJet offer?
Jim Bartel: FDM is the only 3D printing technology that uses production-grade thermoplastics like ABS and polycarbonate, so parts are usually unrivaled in mechanical, thermal or chemical strength. Parts built with FDM tend to be stronger and more structurally stable than technologies that use UV curable photopolymers and powders, which can become brittle over time. Also, because of its soluble support material, FDM can build complex geometries that would be difficult to produce with other technologies. Undercuts, overhangs, cavities and holes—depending on the geometry—can be built into the design with removable support materials creating the base to build those features on.
The main benefit of PolyJet technology is part surface finish. PolyJet can create the highest resolution among plastic 3D printing technologies—as low as 16-micron layers with accuracy as high as 0.1 mm. It also offers the most material versatility, with the widest variety of simulated plastics, the ability to print multiple materials simultaneously in the same part, and the opportunity to incorporate a variety of colors in one part.
3D Printing Industry: In an interview with Minnesota Business Magazine, you have an interesting run down on manufacturing history, all the way back to the Paleolithic era, which I thought was really great. Would you mind contextualizing 3D printing historically for us? How does 3D printing fit into the human history of manufacturing and where do you see it heading in the future?
Jim Bartel: Scott and Lisa Crump invented the FDM process in 1989 as a way to build complex plastic parts more efficiently, layer by layer rather than subtracting from a block of material or pouring material into a mold and to give engineers the freedom to design without the boundaries of traditional technologies. Companies started to use 3D printing technologies for concept models and prototyping because it was faster and more cost effective than traditional prototyping methods. As the accuracy, repeatability and speed have improved, companies have adopted the technology for low volumes of end use parts and as a bridge to traditional tooling.
I see more and more opportunity for additive manufacturing in end use production, not only in end use parts, but in the manufacturing of those parts. So 3D printing tools, jigs and fixtures that help streamline production. Stratasys actually uses over 100 3D printed manufacturing tools on its own production floor to manufacture FDM and PolyJet machines.
3D printing will also encourage changes in supply chain and inventory. Companies spend thousands on storing and maintaining inventories of replacement parts. There is an opportunity for businesses to use digital libraries of replacement part design files and print parts on demand, whether through a local service bureau or with their own 3D printers, instead of storing parts in warehouses, where they drain revenue.
3D Printing Industry: How was RedEye founded?
Jim Bartel: The need for 3D printed parts encouraged the founding of RedEye in 2005. Stratasys discovered that some customers were willing to pay for parts as a benchmark and to test the technology before they were willing to invest in an FDM machine. The same model still remains. Machine owners often use RedEye when they don’t have enough room or capacity for the parts they need on in-house machines or to try a new material or machine they don’t have. Stratasys and RedEye realize our customers just need 3D printed parts—whether they produce them on their own printer or through a service bureau—so ultimately parts sell printers and printers sell parts.
3D Printing Industry: How has the merger with Objet affected RedEye’s printing portfolio?
Jim Bartel: We’ve sold PolyJet parts throughout RedEye’s history, even before the acquisition, but now we have access to experts who know the technology inside and out. We tap into colleagues from Objet to gain that knowledge and offer our customers more resources and better solutions.
3D Printing Industry: Do you have a favorite client/project that Red Eye has tackled?
Jim Bartel: I’m always fascinated by aerospace projects we see and clients we work with. Aerospace companies are really taking advantage of the technology and are leading the way in finding new and unique 3D printing applications. One favorite project in particular is the fuel tank simulators we recently built for aLockheed Martin satellite concept. They were the largest parts our team has ever built. The project really took some creativity and unique problem solving in order to build and ship successfully.
3D Printing Industry: How will the acquisition of Solid Concepts affect the operations of Red Eye?
Jim Bartel: The combination of these three leading services – Harvest Technologies, RedEye and Solid Concepts – into one business is about growth. It is a very exciting opportunity for all three of us. Nothing has been established yet, but ultimately it will be one larger parts business, combining all of our customer bases, service and technology offerings and expertise. It will give customers access to comprehensive solutions—a one stop shop for additive manufacturing needs.
About Jim Bartel
Jim Bartel is the vice president and general manager of RedEye, by Stratasys, one of the world’s leading providers of rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing services. Jim has more than 20 years of experience in company growth, leading acquisitions and turnaround through resource allocation, new product and sales/marketing development and long term strategic planning. Prior to joining RedEye, Jim served as the president for ATEK Products, manufacturing, selling and marketing proprietary products to various industries. Jim earned a B.A. in Economics and Management from Hartwick College and an MBA from University of Saint Thomas School of Business.