In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller interviews Ryan Sybrant, global senior manager of manufacturing solutions at Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), during EuroMold 2014, the world's largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany, in November. During the segment, the pair cover a host of different topics, including:

  • Stratasys' strategic decision to showcase its 3D printing manufacturing solutions in the Manufacturing Hall at the conference
  • The value 3D printing can add to manufacturing
  • How 3D printing could help businesses become more efficient by potentially reducing the need for excess inventory on hand
  • How Stratasys plans to remain differentiated in the manufacturing segment of 3D printing.

A full transcript follows the video.

Steve Heller: Steve Heller here. I'm joined today by Ryan Sybrant. He is a global senior manager of manufacturing solutions at Stratasys. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Ryan Sybrant: Thank you.

Heller: Really appreciate your time. We're at EuroMold 2014. The thing is, though, we're not in the Additive Manufacturing Hall. We're in the Manufacturing Hall: the traditional big, mature Manufacturing Hall. What are we doing here?

Sybrant: It's very strategic, why we chose this location or this hall this year, to exhibit. Like you said, this is definitely the main manufacturing hall with machine tools; your traditional [manufacturing] technologies, as in CNC [computer numerical control machining], your mills and lathes.

Really, what we're doing here is staking our claim in manufacturing. We're saying we're just as relevant, or our equipment and technology is just as relevant, in this industry or this sector, for manufacturing, as the other equipment here.

As you look around, and we had a tour, you'll notice that everything that we have on display here speaks more to manufacturing. It's how are they adopting our applications from our equipment into mainstream manufacturing processes today?

We went around. We have some injection mold tooling. We have some direct part production, which is taking the part right out of the machine and either putting it into a subassembly, or it is the actual final product that you have.

These ones here that we'll be discussing are factory floor efficiency tools like jigs and fixtures. Then we have some composite tooling and metal form tooling here as well.

Heller: At this year's EuroMold did you release any new manufacturing-related products?

Sybrant: We did. We released what we call our production [3D printing] system[s]. We released our 380mc, which is in the background here. We also released our 450mc, and that's our Fortus line, which is what we call our production line of equipment.

Heller: Talk me a little bit through what makes this year's generation [of Fortus products] a little bit better than last year's.

Sybrant: It's everything that we strive for: a little bit better accuracy, repeatability, a little faster throughput with the equipment, which is what everybody's looking for. As time goes on, the expectation is that you'll be able to compress the time that it takes to build products, the accuracy will be there in tighter tolerances and repeatability.

Heller: I see. The conversation seems to be evolving, from what we've spoken off-camera a little bit. It's not anymore about what 3D printing is. It's more about how and why 3D printing should be implemented into large-scale manufacturing operations.

I was wondering if you could touch on the benefits of implementing additive into a larger-scale manufacturing production.

Sybrant: Yes, absolutely. You're correct, it's not so much about the machines we produce or the materials we have. It's more about the solutions we provide now within manufacturing, so you're absolutely right.

Then how these people are benefiting, or how manufacturing is benefiting, is many ways. We were talking about the jigs and fixtures or efficiency tools on there. This is allowing manufacturers on the production line to be much more efficient and bring the time of their daily processes or production processes down.

They might be worker fatigue tools, so that we can have more ergonomic, lightweight instruments that will help people bring their products through each cycle of manufacturing, whether it's affecting assembly or inspection. It's just how can we make everybody more effective and efficient throughout that process.

Heller: Let's talk a little bit about design. I know designing for manufacturing is a big challenge for a lot of manufacturers. They've got to work with tooling patterns, they have to work with where the tool goes and things like that. How does additive [3D printing] change that conversation?

Sybrant: It does change the rules a little bit. Back when I was designing components, we always had to, in the back of our mind, understand what technology or what machine we were going to manufacture the component on because of the constraints that came with that.

With additive [3D printing], you don't have as many of those constraints, so you can really focus on the design aspect of it or the performance or the function of what you're really trying to achieve [with a part], and not have to worry so much about how it's going to be produced.

Of course the application has to fit the requirements of what you want out of the technology, but you can really focus much more on that design with additive [3D printing].

Heller: Let's talk about some of these killer applications that additive has allowed and Stratasys has seen some success with. I see you've got this robotic arm here. Can you tell me a little bit more about what's going on here, what the purpose is, and why it's a fundamentally better product at this point?

Sybrant: Yes. This is actually a really good example here to look at. This is an end-of-arm tool for a robot, or an end effector, as some people might call it.

What this company did -- Genesis, they're a manufacturer of large-scale robotics that go into different operations, such as welding and maybe some assembly or cutting operations -- they approached us saying, "We'd really like to find a way to customize our tooling a little bit" because they have, let's call it "mass customization" because each project is unique from another, and they wanted to find a way to be more cost-effective at it, lighter-weight, and more efficient.

After working with them for a couple months and having them change their mind-set about how to design for additive [3D printing], they were able to come up with this design here, which really cut down on the amount of material being used, because they used to [CNC] machine these out.

Another advantage was they have vacuum channels on the inside here, that were able to be integrated inside of the thermoplastic because of our support removal system on there. Now they have less hoses that were required, and that can eliminate any potential snagging of hoses.

Now with the integrated channels, the operation on this one is to hold a complex carbon-fiber component, and the robot will do it in many different axes or directions, into a water-jetting [cutting] operation.

It's simply holding this part to cut it and put the part back. It might pick up another part that has a different geometry and requires a different tool, so it's kind of a pick-and-place of the tool at that point, so now they're quickly responding to the tools that they need as well.

Heller: Yes, there's a modular component to it, or it evolving to the next generation of manufacturing on their floor.

Sybrant: Yes, absolutely.

Heller: In terms of the bigger picture, some of the other advantages; additive [3D printing] shapes the holistic view of manufacturing and the supply chain. We're talking about spare parts here, we're talking about inventory management. I was wondering if you could touch on that some more.

Sybrant: Yes, in the relevant applications, so let's talk about direct part production or low-volume production [using 3D printing].

Traditionally, I remember when we were ordering components we had to order a minimum order quantity just to get that unit price down to something that was acceptable to make our margins in the overall assembly.

That required us to order more inventory than was needed, so it would just sit on the shelf. It didn't have very quick turnover on that inventory, so your cash is quite tied up with that inventory.

The idea is not to tie your cash up in inventory, so this technology [3D printing] allows you to be a lot more flexible. You can make it on-demand, as needed. There's no tooling requirements for the direct part production, so really it's changing or disrupting the supply chain that we're accustomed to.

Heller: Given the competitive nature of 3D printing in general, the industry is expected to grow by over 30% a year through 2020. Obviously that's inviting a lot of competition, so how is Stratasys working to remain differentiated in this manufacturing realm?

Sybrant: That's a great question. We're very much committed to materials development. I think materials really drive the next generation of applications. As you develop more of these high-performance materials that enable these manufacturers of maybe complex or high-strength, high-temperature components, it really drives those applications, gets that market pull for us.

The materials drive applications, applications obviously drive the industry and drive sales for our machines, so that's definitely what we're really focusing on.

We're also looking at other ways of, how can we add value to our equipment? Not just doing one process, but can they do multiple processes in there?

I think manufacturers as a whole are looking for more of an all-in-one type of machine that might, in our case, extrude the plastic down in the additive format but might come back, maybe with a cutting tool, to do some other operations on there.

There's an endless amount of opportunities you can go [for], so it's just developing the right one, getting the voice of the customer, what are they really looking for?

I'll give you an example. If they say, "Hey, Stratasys, your machine does 80% of what we really want it to do, but it's that other 20%. How do we close that gap?" Those are the things that we're looking at; how do we close that gap to make this the ultimate machine that the customers are looking for?

Heller: Yes, just responding to customers' needs. Thank you so much for your time today, Ryan.

Sybrant: Thank you.