Exclusive: Interview With Scott McGowan of Stratasys, Ltd. Owned Solid Concepts

Talking the latest 3-D printing developments and the hot-button issue of what 3-D printing means for gun control.

Jul 20, 2014 at 12:00PM

In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller interviews Scott McGowan, vice president of marketing at Solid Concepts, a 3-D printing as a service provider that was recently acquired by Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS).

Topics covered include:

  • A overview of Solid Concepts
  • The importance of being technology agnostic
  • How its metal 3-D printed handgun was used as a technology demonstrator
  • Thoughts on 3-D printing and gun control
  • Solid Concepts' highest growth areas

A full transcript follows the video.

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Steve Heller: Hey Fools, Steve Heller here. I'm joined today with Scott McGowan of Solid Concepts. He's the vice president of marketing at Solid Concepts. They work in the 3-D printing as a service space.

Scott, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about your business, your overview, and how Solid Concepts fits into this whole 3-D printing picture.

Scott McGowan: Certainly. Solid Concepts has been around since 1991, so we've been doing this for a long time, before people really heard "3-D printing." We called it "rapid prototyping" and "additive manufacturing."

What we do is, we offer additive manufacturing and other custom manufacturing services to engineers, to designers that need parts created, realized. We start with them at the design or prototyping phase, and we'll move with them all the way to making end-use parts and production processes.

Heller: On production scale, what kind of scale of manufacturing capacity can you put out? How many parts can you put out for a specific customer?

McGowan: We've done as many as 5,000 components a year. We were doing knee replacements at one time, so they're all individually customized, but all similar. We were doing 5,000 knee replacements a year for a particular client.

Heller: You work in the gamut of materials, the gamut of processes. You are technology agnostic, is that right?

McGowan: Yes, technology agnostic. We start with PolyJet, stereolithography, the photocurable products. We have Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Modeling, Direct Metal Laser Sintering -- all the additive processes.

We like to use what our customers need, so we don't force-fit any solutions. We find the right thing for them.

Heller: Right, so if a customer comes to you with a problem and you don't have the process, depending on the deal you may consider bringing on a new technology; a new process to hopefully tap into new customer bases.

McGowan: We certainly have done that. That's why we got into metals, for example.

Heller: Let's talk about your approach to technology. As a 3-D printing service provider, if I understand it correctly, you are technology agnostic.

McGowan: Yes, that's true. We like to have the technologies that our customers need, so we run the gamut of additive manufacturing technologies, from PolyJet, stereolithography for the photocurable products; we have Selective Laser Sintering, Direct Metal Laser Sintering as well -- we, in fact, are offering a couple different equipment manufacturers there, and do a lot of metals -- and Fused Deposition Modeling, of course.

Heller: In terms of 3-D printing, trajectory of the industry, it seems like Direct Metal Laser Sintering is a high-growth area. Would you agree with that, from your own business? Are you seeing that growth internally?

McGowan: Oh, certainly. It's a hot topic. We're adding equipment. We have four systems right now, which isn't a lot compared to the other technologies that we have, but it's a high-growth area. We've added those four machines just recently, and are looking to do more as well.

Heller: With those DMLS systems, you guys made a handgun, is that correct? A 1911 .45 caliber ...

McGowan: We did. A couple of our engineers wanted a technology demonstrator. They were working with customers that didn't trust the technology, and they wanted to have something that very visibly showed that the additive metal process was up to real-world applications.

Heller: Right, and you have the expertise around it. It's not just anybody with a metal 3-D printer can make one of these. You have been in business since 1991. Therefore, you have built up a reputation, experience, expertise, around the additive manufacturing industry.

McGowan: Right. The type of gun that we produced would be very difficult to manufacture without a printer that started at $500,000 and needed a lot of ancillary equipment to help finish those products.

The gun that we produced was about a 30-hour build, and required about 100 hours of finishing time to get it in working order.

Heller: You didn't try to make the cheapest gun ever. You tried to do it just to show off the technology. "This is what it's capable of. Here are the possibilities." Get your customers thinking about how 3-D printing can benefit them in some higher, more demanding applications.

McGowan: Yes, and that gun has fired 4,500 rounds to date -- and the average life of, say a military weapon, would be 5,000 rounds, so it's almost gone through the full life cycle for that pistol.

Heller: I guess you guys do carry your Federal Firearms License.

McGowan: Yes.

Heller: Obviously, you're on the law-abiding side of gun control.

McGowan: Yes.

Heller: Do you have any thoughts about, in the future, maybe when the technology gets cheaper and more proliferated, if metal 3-D printing could actually be a risk to gun control?

McGowan: It perhaps could. For quite a long time, it's going to be a lot cheaper for someone that was up to no good to go buy a gun on the black market. This isn't going to be a game-changer for quite a long time.

Heller: Just because of the build, the expertise, and everything around the process. You have to have a lot of knowledge to even try to build one of these guns. You have to know how to design a gun file, and the particulate matter around the metal powders.

McGowan: Even those, they are available on the Internet, so it's possible to get there, but it would be much less expensive just to do it another way. This makes the least sense, if you want a gun, to go and try to create it this way. People are doing it with plastics. That seems very dangerous to me; I would not want to fire one.

Heller: It's like a hand grenade in your hand.

McGowan: Exactly. It's not a risk I would want to take. In the future, we're going to have to deal with these things. I don't know exactly how that's going to happen, if there's going to be software control or something like that, but it's something that's going to have to be dealt with, and it's kind of beyond the scope of what I do.

Heller: Sure.

McGowan: We did ours legally, and as a technology demonstrator. That's why we did it.

Heller: Right. If someone came to you with a gun design, you're not obviously going to print that for them, unless ...

McGowan: Unless they have an FFL license, or are legally someone that we can work with.

Heller: Very good. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit more about applications that you serve. What are you seeing as the highest-growth areas? Is it health care? Is it aerospace? Where are the customers coming from these days?

McGowan: Yes, and yes! All over the place; our customers really run the gamut of all industries' business products. But high-growth areas are certainly aerospace and medical. Aerospace in particular has been an early adapter because they see some very immediate benefits of using this technology, in having lighter-weight parts -- and that saves fuel -- so they can put a real cost savings on the use of the technology, right away.

Heller: Lighter weight parts, and it's very expensive materials, and since 3-D printing doesn't have any tooling involved, there's no excess waste. You're not shaving down a subtractive process, wasting all that titanium.

McGowan: Correct. You said it great, for me!

Heller: Great. In terms of health care, are you looking more at the medical implants, like a titanium hip replacement, a knee replacement ...?

McGowan: We don't see a lot of that today. When we were doing knee replacements, that was actually for investment casting. We were using the stereolithography process to create patterns for investment casting. Though I do see them going there, we're not seeing them in-house yet, ourselves. But that's certainly an area it could go.

Heller: Thank you so much, Scott. We really appreciate your time.

McGowan: Thank you.

Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems, Apple, Arcam, and ExOne. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Apple, ExOne, and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems, Apple, ExOne, and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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