When the long standing patents that prevented the replication of Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) systems expired in 2014, several firms emerged to bring this 3D printing method to a wider group, one of which was Sinterit.
The company has progressed in leaps and bounds since then, selling over 1,000 printers worldwide, and leading a movement that’s seen SLS become increasingly accessible to small businesses and educators. Sinterit’s success raises a number of questions though, most significantly, how has the firm managed to gain and retain its corner of the market so effectively?
According to Sinterit’s CEO Maxime Polesello, the company’s recent success is down to the customer experience delivered by its “innovative” and “passionate” team. “It is a tangle of conditions that makes an additive manufacturing company successful,” explained Polesello.
“Sinterit has been present for a long time in the advanced 3D printing market, and we know that releasing a printer is just the beginning,” he added. “What really matters is to ensure a great customer experience along the way: from having the right partners in each country, to assisting clients when they decide to adopt SLS.”
Taking advantage of the SLS “patent cliff”
SLS 3D printing was originally invented and patented in 1984 by Dr. Carl Deckard and his academic adviser Dr. Joe Beaman at the University of Texas at Austin. 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems later acquired the patent, but it was only valid for thirty years, and expired in 2014.
Subsequently, in a similar fashion to what happened with the FDM and SLA patents, various companies sprung up and attempted to make the technology more accessible by integrating it into desktop machines. Given that some SLS systems were reportedly priced at as much as $250,000 at the time, driving down costs would prove key to their wider adoption.
In the six years since the patents were lifted, Formlabs and Sinterit have carved out somewhat of a niche in their respective desktop markets. Formlabs is developing its FUSE system, but it is better known as an SLA printer manufacturer, while Sinterit has established itself in portable SLS, with the launch of its Lisa brand machines.
Although Sinterit isn’t publicly-listed and doesn’t publish its financials as a result, it has revealed that it reached the 1,000 sales machine mark last year. This figure is considerably higher than those reported by many of the manufacturers of larger, more expensive, industrial machines over the same period.
It may be true that Sinterit’s systems are targeted at a different audience, but these numbers do at least show that it has made significant inroads in its mission to widen the adoption of SLS technology.
The Lisa: more than a budget-friendly printer?
In the years since the SLS patent was lifted, Sinterit has launched two systems: the Lisa and Lisa PRO. The firm’s most recent PRO machine features an expanded 150 x 200 x 260 mm build volume, inert gas control and extensive material compatibility. Each of these features addresses a particular customer need, and ultimately suggests that since 2014, Sinterit has progressed past any fixation on price-point.
Instead of focusing on price alone, the company now concentrates on expanding its broader value proposition, as a means of continuing to grow its user base. “Sinterit sees that what really matters for the customers is an end-to-end solution,” explained Polesello.
“Ensuring top quality and reliable solutions, providing reactive support, and of course never-ending innovations, are the keys to making SLS more accessible,” he added. One way that Sinterit has managed to ensure the quality and reliability of its systems, is to design, test and build them internally at its manufacturing base in Krakow, Poland.
By resisting the urge to outsource its production process, the company has been able to drive maximum reliability as well as optimal efficiency, from the Lisa’s assembly line. Another benefit of manufacturing its own machines, is that it enables Sinterit to ensure that all of its distributors are well-trained, and capable of providing customer support where necessary.
Headed by Robert Garbacz, the company’s customer service department guarantees that its service personnel become the first line of support for customers with problems. By answering the questions and concerns of its users, Sinterit is not just providing an efficient service, but making sure that it retains and converts them into long-term clients.
Sinterit’s constantly-evolving offering
The company’s R&D team is constantly upgrading and evolving its machines, not only by developing new systems, but improving those that it has already shipped via software updates. Sinterit’s Studio program features a user-friendly interface, as well as a range of pre-programmed parameters, that make it easy to start printing without too much tinkering.
What’s more, the platform has been upgraded several times since launch, adding an algorithm that makes it quicker to operate, and a collision warning system to prevent part damage during processing. In other areas such as material compatibility, Sinterit has also continued to expand its offering, by qualifying new powders and building a larger portfolio for its customers to choose from.
For instance, many of the company’s clients have recently deployed TPU materials alongside its Lisa systems, to fabricate a variety of novel textile products. Sinterit targets its machines towards clients that are seeking a prototyping solution too, and having a wide range of available materials is known to be an important factor for these users.
Finally, and most importantly, the Polish firm markets a whole product ecosystem that offers customers a complete 3D printing solution, from part creation through to post-processing. These tools have allowed Sinterit’s Lisa to be adopted by users with a range of experience levels, which somewhat explains how it has gone from patented to prototyping in such a short period of time.
Are you looking for a job in the additive manufacturing industry? Visit 3D Printing Jobs for a selection of roles in the industry.
Featured image shows a Sinterit Lisa 3D printer in operation. Photo via Sinterit.