Express Group and Formlabs – A Case Study

Background

Since early 2014, Express Group has been strategic partner of US-based Formlabs with an agreement that encompasses European sales, warranty, logistics, customer service and marketing support. Express Group has operated for three decades in sales, distribution, maintenance and logistics in Europe, and has offices in France, Belgium, Croatia and Bulgaria.

Formlabs are based in Massachusetts, USA. They were founded in 2011. They design and manufacture desktop 3D printers, and are well known for raising nearly $3 million in a Kickstarter campaign, and for creating the Form 1 3D printer. Formlabs’ flagship desktop stereolithographic 3D printer entered the digital fabrication market in September 2012.

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“Their 25 years experience in 2D printer repair makes us confident that this partnership will provide the level of service our customers expect, and their broader European presence is going to be essential in helping us drive growth. We’re thrilled to be working with them and excited for the future that the partnership makes possible.”

– Gideon Balloch, Operations at Formlabs

Up And Running In Months

Jo Young, (Managing Director) and James Blackburn, (Sales and Marketing Director) of Express Group first met Max Lobovsky (Founder) and Luke Winston (Operations Lead) of Formlabs Inc at the 3D Print Show in London in November 2013.

There was a need for Formlabs to quickly form a strong relationship with a European company to help sell, maintain and service their products. They needed a company who could work well with the team at their US headquarters

Jo and James quickly brought on board the expertise of Express Group’s Operations Director, Darren Ayres. Darren’s 18 years’ experience of 2D printer repair and responsibility for the Group’s logistics across Europe was instrumental in securing the partnership, an agreement for which was in place by early 2014.

Soon, Express Group were fulfilling all sales and servicing for Formlabs’ desktop stereolithographic 3D printing technology to the European market. Express Group’s extensive experience of electronics sales, servicing, and fulfilment brought new reach to Formlabs. Formlabs’ European customers benefitted from an enhanced customer experience, with local payment, free shipping and returns, a one-year warranty, and full service and repair operations in the region.

By June 2014 The Express Group had set up a Form 1 warranty repair line for all of Europe in their UK workshop and were ready for the exciting launch of Formlabs’ Form 1+.

Launching The Form 1+

The Form 1+ represented an overhaul of the original printer, drawing on all the learning of Formlabs’ first year. The machine was updated throughout to offer up to 50% faster printing and improved performance and reliability. The new printer incorporated a new and more powerful laser; a new control system; and upgraded precision and quality due to a redesigned galvanometer control system.

The Express Group’s Formlabs team were immediately retrained on the new printer and its intricacies, so that they could continue offering the same level of service and advice to their customers. Thanks to the involvement of The Express Group, Formlabs were able to include an industry-leading 1 year warranty at no extra cost, and keep the cost of the machine the same as its predecessor.

Since then, Formlabs have introduced 3 new resins into their product range. The first 2 functional resins, Castable and Flexible, added capabilities to the Form 1+ 3D Printer, allowing for the investment casting of metal parts, as well as the printing of soft, impact-resistant models. Jewellery, metalwork and engineering parts are produced by the advanced Castable resin, whereas Flexible Resin is a rubber-like material that’s pliable when thin and resilient when thick, ideal for applications requiring a soft feel or impact resistance. The new materials created a new range of possibilities for the Form 1+ 3D Printer.

Formlabs moved on to launch Tough Resin, enabling Form 1+ users to produce strong, sturdy parts with physical properties similar to ABS plastic. Parts produced with Formlabs’ Tough Resin are able to absorb high-impact and other mechanical stressors that would normally cause 3D printed parts to snap or shatter. From load-bearing gears to snap-fit enclosures, Tough Resin material has been engineered for applications that require performance under stress or strain.

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“Express Group has played a pivotal role in our success in Europe. The Express Group team is committed to a strong partnership, and it shows both in their execution and in their enthusiasm.”

– Luke Winston, Sales & Operations Lead at Formlabs