Executive Interview Series

[INTERVIEW] Neil Sewell, CEO of Solid Print, what do end-users want from the 3D printing industry?

In his recent interview at TCT 3Sixty, Neil Sewell, CEO of Solid Print3D, reflected on the bustling event and outlined the future of his technology solutions reseller company with insights into his perspective on the 3D printing industry. “The show’s been busy,” began Sewell, alluding to the thrum of activity around us.

“We’re trying to move away from just being a 3D printing company. We want to be offering desktop manufacturing solutions,” said Sewell, signaling a shift in business strategy. Strategically this makes sense, 3D printing is rarely used in isolation.

Solid Print has incorporated additional manufacturing capabilities into its portfolio, notably CNC machining and laser cutting technologies. “3D printing answers many questions, but not all of them. It’s more of a toolbox of solutions for customers,” Sewell added.

Consolidation in the 3D printing industry

One of the trials for Solid Print, and indeed for the 3D printing industry at large, is the challenge of making money on consumables. Some resellers are squeezed, with consumers increasingly turning to online platforms like Amazon for purchases. Sewell reflected on the collapse of an unnamed company, attributing their downfall to a couple of ill-judged decisions. “They didn’t make loads of mistakes,” Sewell stated. “A couple of bad decisions really took them into that bankruptcy.”​

Sewell revealed that Solid Print’s initial strategy was a phased expansion into Europe by establishing Solid Print Ireland, an entity currently awaiting banking details to become fully operational. This move was motivated by Solid Solutions’ robust business presence in Ireland, particularly in Dublin, Limerick, and Belfast, and an impressive workforce of 16 to 20 employees.

“Solid Solutions has a fantastic Irish business out there already… it’s a natural expansion,” Sewell explained. The creation of a European entity would allow the company to sell into the EU, and by doing so, facilitate expansion into Europe. This initial plan, however, was expedited by the availability of 3D Verkstan.

Solid Print’s future strategy is centered on learning from past experiences and adapting to the evolving market. The acquisition of a 3D Verkstan is part of this plan. Sewell views this as an opportunity for reorientation and growth – and optimizing the business model via synergies. He was impressed by the reputation of 3D Verkstan in their local market of Sweden, where the company is “well respected.”

The tale of Solid Print continues to unfurl as Sewell highlights the strategic acquisitions and collaborations undertaken by its parent company Solid Solutions, and, in turn, TriMech – which acquired the group in 2022.

One area of opportunity lies in the 3D printing bureau business; Solid Solutions recently announced the acquisition of the London-based bureau, 3D Print UK.

Sewell acknowledged the challenges that have emerged as Solid Print expands its business model, particularly when transitioning from a software environment, where profit margins were broader, to the industrial setup necessary for 3D printing. On the industry landscape, Sewell pointed out the trend of consolidation, perhaps an inevitable outcome due to the low margins throughout the 3D printing chain. He noted the ongoing attempted acquisition of Stratasys by 3D Systems and Desktop Metal’s potential merger with Stratasys as examples. According to Sewell, these consolidations might be driven by the need to remain profitable, with a hint of a defensive strategy in play. “I think the Desktop Metal acquisition is completely a defensive move by Stratasys,” Sewell observed​.

Looking ahead, Sewell emphasized the importance of maintaining flexibility as Solid Print continues to grow. The firm seeks to offer a wide range of solutions to its clients, not limited to a single brand or technology. This approach, he suggested, is key to delivering the right product to the customer, a business ethos that will continue to guide Solid Print’s decisions in the future.​

Trends in the 3D printing industry

There has been a significant shift in conversations around 3D printing, which for Solid Print, has moved from prototyping to low-volume production in recent years. This shift, Sewell observed, has coincided with the release of the Formlabs Fuse, a 3D printer designed for low-volume production.

“We do an awful lot with retrofitting. Cars, EV. That kind of stuff. We’re doing a lot with motorhome companies… some work in medical aesthetics,” Sewell noted, highlighting the diverse application of 3D printing in various sectors. He also pointed out that as the industry moves towards production-ready machines, the demand for quick fixes and minimal downtime has increased. “When it’s a production machine. You’ve got 24 or 48 hours to have that machine up and running again,” he said.

On industry trends, Sewell acknowledged that more companies realize that Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is probably the most affordable route to market for production. This is evidenced by the recent acquisitions of XYZprinting by Nexa3D, Wematter by 3D Systems, and Formlabs Fuse. These entry-level SLS machines are making a significant impact on the market​.

Sewell also hinted at another emerging trend: a move towards metal. However, he indicated that the industry is still grappling with challenges like shrinkage and time implications associated with metal 3D printing. The CEO mentioned Xact Metal as having a sensible approach to 3D printing with metal.

This interview with Neil Sewell provided valuable insights into Solid Print‘s expansion plans and their perspective on the evolving trends in the 3D printing industry. It also underscored the rapid pace of change and innovation in a market that continues to push the boundaries of manufacturing and production. As the industry shifts towards production-ready machines and explores new materials like metal, companies like Solid Print are expected to play a significant role in shaping the future of 3D printing by understanding end-users’ needs.

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Featured image shows the a Solid Print showroom. Photo via Solid Print.