Last year we went and asked the founders of several leading 3D printing businesses about the key elements needed to set up a successful bureau. Much of that expertise came from Gary Miller who had just set out on a new venture with, does what it says on the tin, 3D Print Bureau. 12 months on we went back to the bureau to find out how the business has evolved since opening its doors.
Just to give you a snapshot of how well things are going, we travelled down to Stoke-on-Trent to visit 3D Print Bureau’s second location situated among Longton’s historical pottery works. Having just got the keys in February, the rapid expansion and huge volume of projects coming through are a palpable sign of how the business has grown over the last year.
On top of being one of the UK’s leading 3D print service providers with an enviable resource of technology, that demand is largely down to the people at the helm including Gary who heads up the Royston site and Dave Bennett, former Director at 3D Creation Lab, who is now busy managing a team of five at the new Longton location. These guys have been on the scene for years and as we’ve come to learn, for a growing but still relatively small industry like ours a good reputation can take you a long way.
“You build that personal relationship, customers are not buying so much from the company, they’re buying from the person,” Dave commented.
3D Print Bureau has 18 machines across its sites.
The Longton site was opened by Paul Webber, owner of local Stratasys solutions provider Tri-Tech which has also been the main supplier of machines to the new site. These businesses and the guys in charge are conveniently situated within a 20-minute drive from one another. This was not just a conscious choice so that they could roll out of bed and into work but so that they’re in the unique position of being able to offer their services on unrivalled short notice. There’s no faceless, automated quote system in sight, instead the team assess each project individually, fixing files to ensure printability and guiding the customer towards the best solution for the job. It’s a similar setup at the original Royston venture, having a dedicated team that’s virtually on the doorstep of the workshop means that it’s not out of the question for a customer to call up with an order on a Saturday afternoon and have it ready for them to take to their boss come Monday morning.
“The thing that frustrates people the most is when they want something and can’t get it done,” Dave explained. “With us being close it does mean that we can do that sort of thing without it being a massive interruption to our lives and that really feeds into our USP.”
So far much of the bureau’s business has come from existing customers who have worked with the guys on projects in the past. Thanks to that strong following they’re already printing thousands of components each month and that’s before they’ve even tried picking up the phone or knocking on doors to drive new business. By next year the team is determined that 3D Print Bureau will have taken over a million pounds worth of orders.
3D Print Bureau's vibrant new office space in Longton.
Speaking with the team at their new vibrant and eco-friendly office space, speckled with 3D Print Bureau’s trademark colours, they make it sound easy and apart from a doomed ferry ride across from Holland in gale force winds to pick up a new machine – true story - it’s all been plain sailing. Excuse the pun.
“The challenges are 9 or 10 years in the industry to get to this point where you know what you’re doing,” Dave commented. “Things can still go wrong and you can still make mistakes but because you’ve got the experience, it gives you a good chance.”
3D Print Bureau has 18 machines across its sites including PolyJet, FDM, DLP and LS but Paul says they’re “ramping things up and looking to adopt further technologies” like Stratasys’ recently launched J750 machine, to cater to the needs of all present and future clients.
“Dave and Gary have got good long term reputations with clients and nothing is going to break that down over night,” Paul added. “Providing we can still do the same, if not better, in the new surroundings then they’re going to keep coming.”
It seems Staffordshire is a bit of a hotspot for UK additive manufacturing, along with 3D Print Bureau and Tri-Tech, it’s home to industrial companies like Renishaw and now a new 3D printing bureau dedicated to metals, Scott AM. Founded by yet another familiar name on the AM scene, Simon Scott, this new business will focus entirely on providing metal 3D printing solutions. The service currently utilises two Renishaw AM250 machines that are capable of manufacturing in a range of metal powders for a number of industries but that machine offering is set to increase to offer a wider range of metal additive technologies in the coming months. Once again proving the power of a good reputation in the industry, Scott AM has already secured several projects from customers in the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors and that’s all before any official launch. Right now you’ll see Scott AM’s website simply informs visitors and customers to “stay tuned” – we certainly will.