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Windmills outside Ultimaker HQ
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When your country is one of the most densely populated on earth and two thirds of it is vulnerable to flooding your flood control best be some of the most innovative. Fortunately innovation is something the Dutch are very good at, the national icon should tell you as much.
The windmill symbolises what it means to be Dutch, they’re not just beautiful pieces of architecture used as a tourist attraction, they are the reason that the Netherlands exists as a country; without the windmills of the 15th to 18th Centuries pumping dry hundreds of lakes and swamps, a greater portion of the Netherlands would be Atlantislike - submerged. There are over 1,100 working windmills in the Netherlands and they serve as a constant reminder of deep-set innovation embedded into the Dutch psyche.
It perhaps apt therefore that the only windmills seen on the Low Countries tour were outside the picture postcard HQ of one of the world’s most innovative and forward thinking companies, Ultimaker. This unassuming old school house on the outskirts of Geldermalsen – 35km from Utrecht - is home to some of the brightest minds working in desktop 3D printing today, their machines are always award winning and their ethos is focussed on customer loyalty.
Where other desktop 3D printing companies seem to be bringing out new machines at a rate of knots, with features that leave older models almost obsolete Ultimaker are in it for the long game.
“We are constantly working on innovations for new machines but at the same it is important for us to keep our old machine up-to-date,” Ultimaker’s Matthijs de Deugd tells us. “Our customers spent a lot of money on these machines so we also offer upgrade kits for the Ultimaker Original.”
This philosophy coupled with their dedication to sticking to their open-source roots – as promised they released the source files onto their sharing platform YouMagine - allows them to straddle an awkward position of being both a likeable company to the maker community at the same time as appealing to the pro and consumer markets.
Like so many of the companies we have previously featured, Ultimaker represents a success story that started on such a small scale. “Our three founders built the first Ultimaker together at a FabLab in Utrecht.” Explained Matthijs.”We started shipping our first kits in 2011 and we are constantly growing, at this moment we employee a total of 65 people, a number which grows by the day!”
Those humble beginnings mustn’t be dwelled on, for this is a company moving forward at a rate of knots. A recent managerial shake-up saw interim CEO Henk van Gils replaced by the commercially savvy co-founder Siert Wijnia. This is all part of a growth strategy that involves a growing list of distribution partners like Ultimaker GB and Ultimaker DE.
“We are rapidly expanding, we have Make and Dynamism as partners in the USA right now and also Ultimaker Scandinavia and Ultimaker Turkey,” noted Matthijs. “We are looking at having at least 10 partners in Europe by the end of the year”
That growth strategy will probably see them outgrow their current idyllic surroundings. There’s no longer enough room for the cars of the 65 employees here at the Geldermalsen HQ and the converted barn that houses an assembly line, testing centre and the distribution is almost at full capacity, Ultimaker use use every inch of space they can. Perhaps those windmills need to start reclaiming some more land to cope with Ultimaker’s growth.