Deelip is an entrepreneur with 24 years of experience in building and running Additive Manufacturing related technology companies, two of which were acquired by 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) in 2011. He created 3D Systems India as a wholly owned subsidiary of 3D Systems Inc, USA. He currently is the Managing Director of 3D Systems India.
In an exclusive interview with Abhimanyu Chavan, Director at Manufactur3D Magazine for CXO Insights Series, Deelip Menezes, Managing Director at 3D Systems India, speaks about his journey into 3D printing, how he set up 3D Systems in India, expectations of new customers of AM technology, the core challenge for the industry going forward, his predictions on the next 5-10 years for the Indian AM industry and how 3D Systems is aptly positioned to help the government of India execute its National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing.
Q. From founding Startups to getting acquired and now leading 3D Systems India as its Managing Director, you’ve had an eventful career thus far. Tell us about some of the highlights of your journey in Additive Manufacturing.
A: My journey into additive manufacturing began with me developing front-end engineering software and back-end business software for a company that was acquired by 3D Systems in 2011. I didn’t have a team back then, so I had to write and test all of the code myself.
Following the acquisition, I had to set up an R&D unit in India to handle multiple projects for the company. Overnight, I had to rewire my brain from someone who wrote all of the code to someone who wrote no code at all but led, managed, and mentored multiple teams that did all the work. This was a big change for me personally and professionally. I made a few mistakes along the way, but with the help of the young and energetic 3D Systems India team, I was able to course correct. This was one of the highlights of my additive manufacturing journey’s engineering side.
When I moved to sales a few years ago, I took my engineering-led approach with me. Engineers are naturally wary of salespeople, as I discovered while visiting customers with my channel partners in India. And my engineering background helped me in selling our products to such engineers.
I recall an incident when I walked in to a meeting where the customer was enraged about his experience with additive manufacturing.
Instead of presenting my pitch I had made for the meeting, I asked the customer to speak his mind, which he did. I then explained what had gone wrong and how my channel partner and I could work with his team to get them back on track. The 30 minutes turned into half a day, after which the customer transferred us to another division of the organisation that was dealing with similar issues, where we spent the other half of the day. After working on a few projects with this customer, I’m happy to report that his views on additive manufacturing have shifted significantly. This was one of the many highlights of my additive manufacturing sales career.
Q. How was it establishing 3D Systems from the ground up in India, and how much has the technology, end-users, and industry grown in India since the time?
A: Setting up the R&D unit of 3D Systems in India in 2011 had its share of challenges. Explaining 3D printing to software programmers and quality analysts was a fascinating experience, to say the least. During my interviews, I remember showing candidates 3D printed parts and trying to decipher the expressions on their faces. I’m sure some of them assumed I was involved in some sort of sorcery. At the end of the interview, one smart software developer said “I didn’t understand a word you said, and I’m joining your company solely for that reason.” This developer went on to lead a team that created cutting-edge software that runs all of our polymer 3D printers. The boot is now on the other foot. It’s sometimes difficult for me to understand what he’s saying.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a significant shift in end-user and industry expectations. Previously, additive manufacturing was used mostly for prototyping, with some production applications like jewellery. But in recent years, the emphasis has shifted to production. With the availability of production-grade materials and printing technologies like Figure 4®, customers are producing parts that look like they came from an injection moulding machine. Companies are looking to additive manufacturing and companies like 3D Systems to completely rethink their manufacturing processes. I enjoy this because it allows me to play engineer while also working as a salesperson.
Q. 3D Systems is entering the extrusion-based 3D printing market with the acquisition of Titan Additive & Kumovis. When will these be available in India and what kind of a response do you expect to see in India?
A: 3D Systems expects the Titan Robotics and Kumovis transactions to be completed by April 2022. As you will appreciate, I won’t be able to elaborate on our India plans until that happens. But I can say that Titan Robotics’ unique extrusion technology will complement our existing portfolio of polymer technologies and open up new market opportunities for us in India. Kumovis’ extrusion technology for printing medical-grade, high-performance polymers such as PEEK (polyether ether ketone) will complement our expanding healthcare technology portfolio. This will significantly improve patient experiences in the future.
Q. Who are the end-users of 3D Systems in India, and what are they manufacturing with your printers?
A: We have customers in almost every industry in India because of the variety of 3D printing technologies and materials we offer. Automobile and electric vehicle manufacturers use our printers for prototyping and now production. Our printers help defence and aerospace companies build self-reliance under the Atmanirbhar initiative.
- Our ProJet® MJP 2500W platform has been widely adopted by the Indian jewellery market.
- Our ProX® 800 platform is used by clear aligner companies in India to produce thousands of aligner models per day, in addition to dental labs across the country.
- Our DMP Flex 350 is printing patient-specific titanium implants.
- Foundries use our castable resins or wax to save on tooling costs.
- Then there are the standard prototyping applications used by customers across industries. Our six 3D printing platforms support over 130 materials.
So you can imagine the breadth of applications we offer our customers.
Q. How were the last couple of years for 3D Systems in India amidst the pandemic and what are your expectations & prediction for the next five to ten years?
A: Some of our customers in India had a difficult time during the pandemic years. Many investment decisions were put on hold. However, we used the time to help customers understand our technologies and to have meaningful discussions about which challenges we could address. Of course, some industries, such as jewellery, saw an increase in demand for our wax printers during the pandemic.
I believe the next five to ten years will be very exciting for the additive manufacturing industry. Now, 3D printing OEMs must provide specific solutions to specific customer problems.
I believe 3D Systems is well-positioned to meet these challenges. Over the last few years, we have divested several non-core businesses and are now laser focused on providing customers with exactly what they require.
Q. What do you think the Indian 3D Printing Industry’s current market size is?
A: I tend to agree with Santosh Kasture’s estimate of India’s current 3D printing market size bring less than $100 million. This small number, however, is an indicator of how much more the industry can grow in the coming years.
Q. What are the challenges the Indian AM Industry faces that hampers its growth?
A: I’ll return to the earlier mentioned customer who told me he despised additive manufacturing. For adoption to grow, the first customer experience must be positive. The customer must, at the very least, be on the right track. I’ve met customers who have struggled with additive manufacturing because they were using the wrong technology with the wrong materials for the wrong application. When you only have a hammer, everything appears to be a nail. There are diverse 3D printing technologies that use diverse materials for diverse applications. I’m afraid adoption will be slow unless someone explains this to a customer and is open and honest about what is and isn’t possible.
Q. What are your thoughts on India’s recently announced AM strategy, and how big of an impact do you think it will have in India?
A: I believe the goal of 100 new start-ups is also attainable, given the number of businesses we are helping start-up.However, I was disappointed to see that 3D Systems was not even mentioned in the strategy document’s list of global leaders in additive manufacturing. This struck me as odd for a variety of reasons. 3D printing was invented by the founder of 3D Systems in 1986, starting the entire industry. In terms of market capitalisation, 3D Systems is the world’s largest 3D printing OEM. We have six different 3D printing platforms with over 130 different materials. No other competitor comes even close. I’m hoping it was an oversight. In any case, 3D Systems stands ready to assist the government in meeting its objectives as outlined in the strategy document.
Q. What do you think about the Indian AM industry and what interests you about it?
A: The thing that interests me most about the Indian AM industry is the sheer size of the opportunity. Additive manufacturing is a versatile technology with applications cutting across all industries. It has the ability to revolutionise certain aspects of manufacturing in the country and I feel privileged to be among the people who travel across the country and spread the good news, so to speak.
Q. What do you think about our ‘CXO Insights’ initiative?
A: I think this is a very good initiative to humanise brands so that readers can learn and understand more about the people behind the brands.
In our CXO Insights section, Abhimanyu Chavan, Director at Manufactur3D Magazine interviews leading CXOs from the global Additive Manufacturing community and gain insights from them on the 3D printing technology, the developments in the global 3D printing industry, and also on India’s 3D printing industry in particular.