In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller interviews Jared Helfrich, global director of direct printing applications at ExOne (NASDAQ:XONE) during EuroMold 2014, the world's largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany. During the segment, the pair discuss:
- ExOne's binder jetting technology.
- How binder jetting is uniquely suited to handle materials that selective laser sintering can't.
- How ExOne differs from similarly focused competitor voxeljet (NYSE:VJET)
- ExOne's longer-term vision.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: Hey Fools, Steve Heller here. I'm joined today with Jared Helfrich, a global director of direct printing applications at ExOne. ExOne is an up-and-coming 3D printing company focused on the industrial manufacturing space, particularly.
Jared, I just wanted to jump right in here. For our readers out there that aren't as familiar with ExOne, if you could just give us an overview of your company in the 3D printing landscape. There's a very diverse landscape happening here.
Jared Helfrich: Yes, absolutely. ExOne is [based on] a binder jetting 3D printing technology. We believe we have a unique manufacturing process; basically the binder jetting [technology] with the print head coming across over a powdered layer bed.
We feel that puts us uniquely positioned for series [manufacturing] production and rapid prototyping within the industrial landscape.
Heller: You're talking about industrial prototyping. What does that really mean? What are your customers in manufacturing ... it sounds like you're making more molds and things for industrial casting applications than you are, say 3D printing ... is it more for prototyping, or is it direct manufacturing, I guess is what I'm getting at?
Helfrich: It's a combination of both, and that's what I think is unique about our technology. We have people coming in for prototyping, and with our speeds and the volumetric output at which we can produce parts we are starting to see it moving into series [manufacturing] production on certain applications, on both the direct and indirect side.
Heller: Being at EuroMold, the largest 3D printing conference pretty much in the world, what do you think about this year's turnout, and are you seeing anything that's surprising you, being an insider yourself?
Helfrich: Yes, there's certainly a great turnout.
At least from my perspective the direct printing, having the M-Flex [3D printer] here for the first time, is very important. We are starting to move into our European operations, moving the direct printing over here, so having the M-Flex here, having the good direct printing presence, is very exciting. It's been very vibrant the past couple days, and we'll expect that to continue today.
Heller: Great. Let's talk about the M-Flex for a moment here. What is the M-Flex? What does it do? How does it position your company going forward?
Helfrich: The M-Flex is our midsized direct printing machine. It has primarily been focused out of the North American operations, and we're starting to move that over into our European operations, both for PSC [3D printing production service center] and for machine purchases.
Heller: What's the difference between direct and indirect 3D printing at your company?
Helfrich: The way we look at our business is you can either directly print the part, or you can indirectly produce the part via a mold. When we segregate our businesses we see people that, if we can direct print it, we'll direct print the part. If not, we will look to produce a casting -- or a mold for a casting.
Heller: What applications are best suited for direct printing, and what's best suited for the casting applications, for the indirect?
Helfrich: Actually, sort of both. We could see some aerospace, some art and decorative, and some automotive applications. On the indirect side we're seeing a lot of aerospace and a lot of automotive applications.
Heller: In terms of any new direct printing applications -- obviously that's your specialty -- is there anything new you'd like to share with us today?
Helfrich: We did come out with the alloy IN625, which is the Inconel nickel-based alloy. We're continuing to look at materials that are well suited for our binder jetting process. That could be bronze, copper applications, matrix materials, ceramics; the materials that we think are well suited for our process, the binder jetting process.
Heller: That's what's very interesting about your technology; binder jetting being that it doesn't actually use heat. It allows you to work with materials that other technologies such as selective laser sintering cannot.
I think during the [ExOne] conference call they were talking about graphite and some other materials in development. I was wondering if you could talk about the future of your material portfolio, going forward.
Helfrich: Yes, absolutely. We're going to continue to look at materials that are well suited [for binder jetting]. That would be carbon, that would be graphite, that would be ceramics. That would be low melt-point metals, and it also could be matrix composite metals, as well as additional nickel-based alloys.
We believe that we could have porous material, we could have matrix [hybrid] material, we could have high-density materials, single-alloy materials. We think our process is well suited for all three of those forms.
Heller: Are you seeing a lot of interest from customers, being that not every technology out there can actually work with these materials? Is this a customer need at this point?
Helfrich: I think what's interesting is there's been a lot of focus around high-density, titanium, nickel-based alloys for the aerospace industry -- which is a very good industry -- but I think the focus should be, there are other applications.
There are other industries, and we're starting to see those. We're starting to see our technology play into the spaces. We think that the industrial market is a very good market for us.
Heller: Very good. Let's talk about the competitive landscape for a second. I know ExOne and voxeljet had very similar beginnings, but what makes you guys different at this point?
Helfrich: First of all, we focus on the direct and indirect side [of creating 3D printed objects], whereas voxeljet will focus primarily on the indirect side. They are not focusing on metals, whereas we are.
Then on the indirect side, we're going toward more series [larger scale] production and we still are looking at the casting applications and ceramics as well.
Heller: Very good. My final question for you today, you know at The Motley Fool we are long-term, business-focused investors.
We're not [as] concerned with whether or not ExOne meets earnings expectations next quarter. That's not [as] important to us. What's important to us is where this company's going over the next five to 10 years. I was wondering if you could share your [ExOne's] long-term strategic vision with us, and we can go from there?
Helfrich: Yes, absolutely. The way we view it is, our [3D printing] technology makes us well suited for series production and moving into more production manufacturing applications. The faster we can get our machines, the more we can automate, the more you can start to see broader applications and series production beyond prototyping.
Heller: What is your growth strategy? Is it growth by installed base or are you looking for the service center, or a combination of both?
Helfrich: I think it's a combination of both. It's driven by customers. If the quantity demanded by the customer is low, they would probably look to use the service center. If the quantity demanded is very high, then it would be installed base.
I think it's a combination of both, and I think an integrated strategy between those two, it complements each other.
Heller: Last time we spoke, we spoke about the transition, going from targeting the foundries now to targeting OEMs. How is that transition going at this point?
Helfrich: It's going very well. We work very closely with a lot of OEMs, both in our development process and on the production side so we have a very good collaboration with our customer base, including the OEMs and the foundries, so I'd say it's very successful. We are going through developmental processes with fairly large OEMs.
Heller: Very good. Thank you so much for your time today, Jared.