Schneider Electric and Stratasys recently announced a partnership aimed at expanding Schneider’s use of 3D printing to include injection molds for electronic components and tooling for assembly. The components are printed using Stratasys’ fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology. By switching from milled aluminum to printed polymer, Schneider is able to cut production costs for a mold from €1,000 ($1,120) to €100 ($112), and the lead time from a month to a week.
Lux predicted that molds and tooling would be a major growth area for 3D printing in our 2014 report “How 3D Printing Adds Up: Emerging Materials, Processes, Applications, and Business Models” (client registration required). What’s key here is not what’s being done, but who is doing it: this partnership is a sign of 3D printing’s growth beyond the traditional manufacturing industries of aerospace and automotive. It’s also a sign of 3D printing’s technical maturity. Polymer parts produced by FDM are being used to replace what was previously made of aluminum; while these parts likely do not last as long, they can simply be replaced multiple times while still saving money. In the long term, this may shift the overall molding market towards polymers. Clients should be aware that FDM (and fused filament fabrication, or FFF) technologies are positioned to capture much of the mold and tooling industries, and should position plays in printable thermoplastics accordingly. While Stratasys is still the leader in FDM quality and performance, it is increasingly challenged by start-ups such as Cosine Additive (client registration required), creating partnership opportunities for 3D printing outsiders.
This is also an important strategic play for Stratasys. With the recent acquisition of Arcam and SLM Systems by GE Aviation (client registration required), Stratasys is now threatened by a new vertically integrated competitor in the aerospace industry. Unlike 3D Systems (client registration required), Stratasys does not have a metal printing technology. End users in aerospace will increasingly gravitate to GE and 3D Systems for their printing needs due to the complete range of materials and services these companies offer. Stratasys will have to pivot to other industries to ensure it continues to grow. Clients should expect continued “non-traditional” partnerships from Stratasys, and be alert for opportunities to leverage its technology in these areas.
By: Anthony Schiavo