When we first contemplated about starting a 3D printing venture beginning of 2014, we had specifically Materialise from Belgium as company model in mind, producing and selling design pieces via a specialized shop called .MGX and do contract manufacturing based on all kinds of 3D printing technologies. This was also the starting point how we derived our company name which should reflect those two components of design and manufacturing. So we created a composed word in German:
FormWerk. In a way each 3D printer is a little FormWerk piece of machinery – almost magically materializing a digital design. While we were researching and building up our business model, we learned many things. One of the most important lesson was that there has been a growing market gap between incumbent equipment suppliers like Stratasys and 3D Systems, both already having sales representatives for years in Romania, and on the other side the quite astonishing affordable and qualitatively sound and reliable new breed of open-source RepRap printers evolving and improving at a mind-boggling speed. So, instead of offering production services to third parties we still had to identify, we shifted to an equipment sales model.
In doing so we tried to find the best price-to-quality ratio of certain 3D printing technologies in order to sell those to companies, but also to individuals, who did want to be some kind of producer and were so far prohibited to be so because of the hefty price points of the incumbent 3D printer suppliers. Another lesson we learned from the RepRap movement was that price points and capabilities of the 3D printers were trending to a conversion point into a somewhat near future where a possible mass market opportunity could open up enabling basically everybody – also, or especially kids – in educational environments to use 3D printers safely and efficiently. Associations with other technological fields like mobile communication, Internet, renewable and distributed energy systems easily came up.
The strictly divided areas of consuming and producing communication, information, energy etc. started to blur into something some specialist call prosumer. This line of thought gave us the ease of comfort that, as an equipment supplier, we were investing in a growing market opportunity. From a technology maturity point of view 3D printing still has a long way to go before we reach an ease of user friendliness comparable to modern smart phones.
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