In a recent conversation with Mark Tyrtania, Sales Director at Laser Lines, we delved deep into the fluid and fast-paced industry of 3D printing.
Tyrtania reminisced on the complex relationships that have evolved within the 3D printing industry, painting a fascinating backdrop of strategic partnerships and competitive postures. “If you’re a strategist, there’s never a dull moment,” he commented during a brief break from the busy booth at TCT 3Sixty.
Tyrtania’s career with Laser Lines spans more than two decades, during which he has seen the company evolve alongside the 3D printing industry. He’s watched the cost of an average machine go from a hefty £150,000 down to a much more accessible price, reflecting the broader democratization of 3D printing technology.
Over the past 23 years, Tyrtania has climbed up the ranks from a project manager to a sales manager, then to director, and now director-owner, showing his passion and commitment to Laser Lines and the industry at large.
When asked about the company’s vision, Tyrtania was clear about the past, present, and future goals. “COVID was very much about survival; it was tough,” he confessed. But with that difficult period behind them, Laser Lines is now on a growth path, supported by its many high-profile clients, including Formula One teams, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in automotive, and household brands such as Dyson, Bentley, and Jaguar Land Rover.
As Laser Lines looks to the future, the company’s strategy is geared towards manufacturing, focusing less on rapid prototyping (RP) – a fast and cost-effective way to create prototypes for product and part testing – and more on production technologies like Stratasys’ H350. “We’re moving into manufacturing,” Tyrtania stated.
The Additive Manufacturing Transformation
According to Sales Director Mark Tyrtania, Laser Lines’ journey reflects the broader industry’s evolution from being primarily about concept modeling and prototyping to manufacturing. Rapid prototyping (RP) terminology has faded, but the underlying principles are more pertinent than ever. “We’re now very much in additive manufacturing,” Tyrtania points out.
He emphasizes that Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) has proven its mettle in the context of jig and fixture fabrication, a use case that’s steadily growing. In fact, Tyrtania notes, “Probably five years ago, I would say 40% of FDM machines in a setting were all for jigs and fixtures on factory floors.” This is gradually shifting to full-scale production, a move driven by increasing trust in 3D printed parts. “People trust FDM parts more; it’s a trust issue,” he adds.
Another noticeable trend he notes is the resurgence of stereolithography (SLA), which uses a light source to cure liquid resin layer by layer to form solid objects. Despite being a technology with a rich pedigree, SLA has been surprisingly revitalized, which he credits partly to the Stratasys acquisition of RPS in 2021.
He muses, “We think SLA has been around for 30-something years, but our pipeline is huge.”
However, for the much-anticipated large-scale production runs in the millions, Tyrtania concedes that Laser Lines hasn’t seen that level of volume yet. “We have seen those runs, but not for us. I was talking about one earlier today, which is 80,000 parts a year which is used as a SAF application,” he says.
However, like much in the industry, details are locked away behind a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDAs), preventing the divulgence of certain company names.
Tyrtania does share an example where additive manufacturing found an invaluable place in the automotive industry. Here, 3D printed protectors were used for car cable ends, preventing damage during the assembly process – a seemingly mundane but incredibly cost-saving application. The application doesn’t have to be mind-blowing for 3D printing to make an impact.
Reflecting on the industry’s evolution, he brings up one of its quirkier moments, “3D printed pizza.” of the leaps and bounds the technology has made from those early days. Today, it’s more about practicality, volume, and value, a journey Laser Lines is helping to chart.
Disrupting the 3D printing industry
Despite the proliferation of 3D printing across various industries, nailing down the specifics of market share by OEM remains elusive. Tyrtania pointed out this conundrum, “It’s hard to really say.” Factors such as geography and technology platforms are all part of the equation.
Tyrtania offers some perspective on the matter by citing the UK’s large format metal market, which is dominated by the UK-based Renishaw, holding approximately 75% of the market share. Tyrtania attributes Renishaw’s success to its geographical advantage and its “dream team” of experienced individuals. However, with their high-end products, companies like Additive Industries are making inroads into the market.
The conversation then shifts towards more affordable solutions, with Tyrtania applauding companies like Formlabs for their disruptive and (relatively) budget-friendly 3D printers.
The interview reveals a deeper conversation about the actual size of the industry. While $18 billion is a figure commonly tossed around, is this figure accurate? There is an argument based on revenue figures from public companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems, which imply a smaller total market value if viewed as indicative of the whole industry.
Tyrtania, however, counters that market value could be determined differently, depending on whether one is looking at revenue or units sold. “Statistics, lies, damned lies and statistics,” he joked, implying that the numbers can be manipulated to show different narratives.
At the end of the interview, Tyrtania underlines the excitement and progressive nature of the 3D printing industry, “It is changing [but] I don’t think I’d want it any other way.” He also touches on the industry’s expanding applications, ranging from fashion sports to luxury automotive design teams, underlining how his firm, a group of engineers, engages with these sectors.
It’s easy to agree; from my perspective, if you’re getting bored working in this industry, you’re doing it wrong. The 3D printing industry continues to innovate and challenge its players, ensuring it remains a fascinating and fruitful field for those willing to ride its waves of change.
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Featured image shows Laser Lines at TCT 3Sixty 2023. Photo by Michael Petch.