With 3D Printing Partnerships, Strength Lies in Shared Values

Very few, if any, companies succeed if they try to completely “go it alone”. Partnerships in business and industry are not just valuable but vital, and when you take a closer look at what truly makes a partnership successful, there’s a lot more involved than just the technical details. In a recent livestream, Sarah Goehrke, Senior Director, Strategic Communications and Ecosystems at Nexa3D, and Cindy Deekitwong, Head of Customer Experience and Market Intelligence at our partner Henkel, discussed what needs to be at the heart of any successful partnership.

Nexa3D and Henkel have been partners for a surprisingly short time considering what we have accomplished together. The partnership was formed in April 2020, and since then multiple Henkel materials have been validated for Nexa3D printers. We formed an exclusive material development agreement in November of 2021, and in between, we worked together to create a medical device that impacted patients during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SKOP of Collaboration

If you’ve never heard of the SKOP, go read about it now. The smart stethoscope, conceived by French startup WeMed in 2020, is a true success story that speaks to the benefits of partnerships. In short, WeMed designed a brilliant, bio-inspired stethoscope that could be used remotely for telemedicine purposes, reducing the burden on in-person hospitals and clinics. They, and their service bureau Third, needed to produce the device quickly and inexpensively, while maintaining its delicate design and acoustics, so our reseller Hava3D brought Nexa3D and our NXE 400 3D printer into the equation. Nexa3D needed the right materials to print the SKOP, so we turned to Henkel. With all of these partners working together, the SKOP was brought to market in an incredibly short period of time.

Obviously, each of the partners working on the SKOP brought their own technical strengths to the endeavor. But without a level of trust that goes beyond the technical, it’s a lot harder to leverage those kinds of strengths. So how do you create that level of trust between partners that allows them to truly build on what each brings to the table?

The technical details are, of course, important. When you’re working with polymers, materials matter, and Nexa3D didn’t want to reinvent the wheel but instead chose to reach out to a partner that had mastered the art and science of material development – Henkel.

Henkel’s materials work beautifully on Nexa3D printers, and we wouldn’t get anywhere without that, but, as Sarah and Cindy pointed out, that’s not what truly makes us such strong partners.

The strength comes from shared values.

“To be successful partners, to create products like the WeMed SKOP, we need to have that technical alignment,” said Sarah. “But to be strong partners, to make an impact not just on one project, one product, but on our industry – and ideally, to make our world a stronger place – we need to align on so much more than that.”

Sustainable Goals

One area where Nexa3D and Henkel align is sustainability.

We’ve seen the damage that traditional manufacturing and previous industrial revolutions have done to the planet. It’s easy to assume that 3D printing is inherently more eco-friendly, but that assumption in itself can be a bit dangerous, leading to complacency within the industry. Yes, 3D printing tends to create less waste by virtue of it being an additive rather than a subtractive technology, but in order to make it truly green and avoid just greenwashing, we need to look closer. 3D printing enables the creation of fast prototypes, but where do those prototypes go after they’re created? Generally, to a landfill – or the dreaded, ever-growing plastic island in the ocean.

There are no perfect solutions to that problem or the others that are created by any manufacturing technology, but Nexa3D and Henkel are working hard to find those solutions.

Every small step counts, and Nexa3D has taken several steps: using aluminum in the design of the XiP desktop printer, for example, or creating the xCLEAN part washing solution as an environmentally sound alternative to IPA, or partnering with ForestNation for a reforestation initiative – or working with an eco-conscious partner such as Henkel.

Henkel has a three-pillar approach to sustainability: CO2 reduction, the circular economy, and health and safety. Actions they have taken include using bio-based materials, sustainable packaging, and recycling wherever possible. In 2021, several of their products were actually able to reduce CO2 emissions by 50%.

“When it comes to sustainability, it’s the journey,” said Cindy. “Every single small step counts. Not taking any action is not an option.”

Working Together for an Inclusive Industry

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is another value that unites Nexa3D and Henkel.

Sarah and Cindy are both part of Women in 3D Printing, a vital organization that aims to balance the scales in the traditionally male-dominated tech field. The global 3D printing industry is made up of only 15% women, which is not enough – and it’s not just gender that needs to be balanced. As Sarah pointed out, by some counts, there are 47 aspects of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, neurodiversity, and more. Embracing an inclusive culture can only be a win for the 3D printing industry, and both Nexa3D and Henkel are committed to pushing these ideas forward.

Additive manufacturing is a fast-growing industry, and keeping up with that growth requires intensive collaboration. Conversations, mentorship, openness to what others have to offer – these are all aspects of what needs to happen in the industry to really see it grow and bloom. Partnerships need to go beyond technical details and share values, like Nexa3D and Henkel do – this, according to Cindy, is the “golden key for success in a sustainable way.”

These conversations will continue as Nexa3D and Henkel continue to work together. Sarah and Cindy are also continuing them, such as at the upcoming RAPID + TCT, where both will be on a Women in 3D Printing panel: What Does the Future of AM Look Like?

You can watch the full livestream “Enterprise Partnerships and Value Alignment” on YouTube, LinkedIn, or Twitter.