Stratasys Opens Direct Manufacturing Facility to the Media

The Austin, Texas facility opens its doors and shows off a facility capable of manufacturing objects with a combination of additive manufacturing and traditional technologies.

The original Solid Concepts facility began manufacturing their first objects 14 years ago in Valencia, California. Founded by former 3D Systems engineers Joe Allison, Schuyler Mitchell and Ray Bradford, the 3D printing company started with two SLA 250 machines in 1991. They expanded the scope of their operations to include CNC machining along with selective laser sintering (SLS) printers, and opened a second facility in Austin, Texas. After adding an innovative and proprietary urethane casting process called QuantumCast and expanding to a few more locations by the early 2000s, Solid Concepts had become an award-winning company and recognized innovator. In 2014, Stratasys acquired Solid Concepts along with Harvest Technologies and merged these companies with their own RedEye manufacturing division to form Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. Members of the media were recently invited to visit their facility in Austin, Texas for a tour.

Outside of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas.

Outside of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas.

After signing an International Traffic in Arms (ITAR)-related non-disclosure agreement, we were ushered into the Stratasys Direct Manufacturing facility. We were shown a few sample industrial AM parts, and then received a tour of the plastics production facility. They primarily use DTM and EOS laser sintering machines including an EOSINT P 800 industrial 3D printer, which is used to fabricate parts from high temperatures and expensive materials such as PEEK and PEKK.

We were given the tour by Kent Firestone, senior vice president of operations, who answered any questions we had about thermoplastics and additive manufacturing.  Kent has worked in industrial AM since 1990 and having held management positions at 3D Systems, Solid Concepts and DTM Corporation.  

The Stratasys facility is reminiscent of that of the 3D printing company Shapeways, although the difference between the two is apparent. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is a modular combination of metal and plastic industrial AM — a surprising array of finishing services and traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding and heavy-duty machining. Shapeways, by contrast, has a highly-efficient batch 3D printing system to fill orders, but they mainly print consumer goods and prototypes.  Shapeways does not have finishing services and metal printing capabilities like the Stratasys facility. 

Firestone explained how they occasionally have to change the triple pane glass window on these industrial 3D printers because the pressure and heat creates tiny cracks that eventually spread throughout the panes.   

We were then shown a lift machine used to move giant nylon cakes from print jobs to a powder-removal station. We learned about the differences between various thermoplastics, machine settings and software controls, and then made a quick visit to the plastics finishing station where inserts were being completed for what could have been a lightweight drone. Their industrial AM material portfolio includes aluminum, stainless steel, cobalt, nylon with carbon fiber, as well as nylon with glass bubbles for UAV production and other lightweight parts. We were then guided to a separate metal machining facility. 

Metal AM parts are created with an extra 6mm of metal that must be removed from the build plates

Metal AM parts are created with an extra 6 mm of metal that must be removed from the build plates.

In total, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing has 14 direct metal laser sintering (DLMS) machines. Thick black covers over the glass prevented us from seeing what was being fabricated. A machine was set up to print sample parts for our benefit.

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is ISO 9001:2009, AS9100C and ITAR compliant, which means they can produce end-use parts for highly regulated industries such as medical, automotive and aerospace. Before we walked into the metal manufacturing facility, we walked past an open office where an exploded version of the infamous metal M1911 replica gun Solid Concepts printed in 2013 was mounted on the wall. We got to see the gun (though we were not allowed to touch it), and were told that it has fired 6000 rounds to date without any mechanical issues. 

Solid Concepts M1911 replica has fired 6000 rounds to date without malfunctioning

Solid Concepts M1911 replica has fired 6000 rounds to date without malfunctioning.


Inside the metal manufacturing facility, there an impressive array of DMLS machines, and we were awed by the sheer number of CNC machines and other machining equipment. Firestone explained the process of removing metal from 3D prints. Parts are made on metal print beds with an additional 6 mm of metal material on the bottom of each metal print in order to give them some leeway when removing them from the build plates.  

Materials and Processes 

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is expanding their advanced manufacturing centers, direct metal laser sintering and CNC machining centers, and continuing to expand the usefulness and certification of their materials by quantifying their performance. And some of the materials being certified and used in highly regulated industries might surprise you. For example, Stratasys FDM filaments and systems are now qualified to produce — and are in fact currently producing — end-use parts for the aerospace industry. They also provide injection molding services, which some people may not have realized.  

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing can shape-shift to accommodate nearly any type of order lies because of their ability to combine degrees of traditional manufacturing, machining, post-processing and finishing services with industrial AM (or without). The essential variable in this equation is that Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s applications engineers and consulting services work with and advise individual companies to create a path of least resistance toward filling orders quickly without sacrificing quality or imposing unnecessary cost. 

After the tour, Joe Allison, CEO of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, made three poignant points about industrial 3D printing:  

  1. “This is the point where the hype stops. How do we drive this, one application at a time? When we look at the adoption cycle years from now, we will recognize that the barriers to adoption are coming down, and things are moving blindingly fast.”  

  1. “3D printing does not define innovation. 3D printing enables innovation.”  

  1. “It’s a matter of teaching people how to use 3D printing. We see that as one of our major tasks.”  

Serious Manufacturing 

The overall message that Stratasys is sending here is that they are serious about figuring out the best way to move forward with industrial AM without seeing it as an end-all-be-all technology. By absorbing Solid Concepts and Harvest Technology into their existing RedEye 3D printing service, they have set themselves up as advanced and highly modular manufacturers. What interested and surprised me most about the tour was the amount of post-processing and finishing capabilities the facility has for producing end-use parts. I left the facility with the notion that this is guerrilla team of highly skilled manufacturers can facilitate almost any task for any industry at any given time. 

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing finishing services include EMI and RFI shielding, bonding, tumbling, bead blasting, vapor smoothing, epoxy sealing, inserts and assembly. This 600+ employee operation is spread across multiple cities throughout the United States. With an engineering support staff of 100 people, it seems as though Stratasys Direct Manufacturing could become a full-scale manufacturing powerhouse.

One apparent contradiction seems to be that the growth trajectory of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing will contradict with it’s sales initiatives.  After all, they are trying to sell expensive industrial 3D printers to machine shops and manufacturing facilities who are spending a lot of time and money trying to decide whether or not to invest in and add in-house additive manufacturing systems to their operations which generally rely on time-tested traditional manufacturing methods. Having a facility like Stratasys Direct Manufacturing could tip a company’s decision in favor of using their service instead of ordering a couple of Fortus mc 450s and incorporating them into manufacturing operations.  As metal 3D printing becomes more accessible and capable of creating end-use parts cheaply and effectively, more and more companies will want to invest in in-house printers rather than using services like Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.  

Sample of plastic and metal additive and subtractive manufactured parts

Sample of plastic and metal additive and subtractive manufactured parts.

Allison concluded our visit with, “We’ve already changed the way that prototypes are made, but now we are changing the way manufacturing is done.”