Impression Solutions’ Ray Looney on the New Distribution Agreement with 3D Systems

Ray Looney


Impression Solutions’ Ray Looney on the New Distribution Agreement with 3D Systems

Tuesday, March 17, 2015      Author - Scott Cullen

Earlier this month Impression Solutions announced that the company has begun distributing 3D Systems 3D printers. Initially, they’re taking on the Cube and CubePro 3D printers, and two handheld scanners, the Sense and iSense. In case you haven’t noticed 3D Systems, seems to be everywhere these days, and this announcement further extends the company’s reach into the BTA channel.

According to Ray Looney, vice president of sales for Impression Solutions, the distributor looked at four 3D manufacturers before settling on 3D Systems. That decision was based on a couple of criteria. “One, they had developed interfaces that were not reliant on CAD knowledge,” explains Looney. “We felt that would make them more acceptable to K-12 and the higher education market and that has proved to be true.”

The other reason was that 3D Systems was the first to have an acceptable price range for their product for the mid level grade 4-8 computer labs. “They were first to get into that $1,000 space that had multiple materials,” states Looney. “Last but not least, of the manufacturers we met with, they were most concerned and interested in the BTA channel. That made for an obvious partnership.”

That may have been obvious, but what was uncertain was whether or not the BTA channel would bite on 3D. Turns out, they did bite. “It’s been accepted very well,” notes Looney. “I’ve never launched a product that’s sold ten times beyond our forecast in the first 60 days.”

Impression Solutions does business with about 600 dealers across the country and what they found was many dealer already had customers interested in the product. “They just didn’t know where to get it, how to get it, how to become certified, and how to get technical support,” states Looney.

Impression Solutions now has a tech support line for the 3D Systems products and they’re training dealer’s technicians at the Impression Solutions training facility in Columbus, MS. Impression Solutions also has traveling engineers, the software, and offers certifications as well as the ability to train the trainer the same as they do for traditional printers.

One of the big challenges has been creating a model for 3D printers that fits the recurring services and supply revenue business model of the traditional BTA dealer. “There’s no meter so there’s not a cost per anything they can use,” says Looney. “We put that in our think tank and developed a proprietary model of ‘cost per what’ into a leasing model that had recurring service and revenue. That’s going to make a difference when dealers start choosing products.”

Are they really calling it “cost per what”? “When you look at a 3D printer the amount of materials used are measured by time printing,” notes Looney. “As you can imagine, you’re on a wireless network and print drivers measure time of a print job so it doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out the amount of time it takes to print [something] and translating that to a 70 micron flow rate and now you have a cost per something.”

He acknowledges that dealers currently selling 3D printers are using different terminology for how they measure the output rate. “There’s a little apprehension about cost per cubic inch or cost per liquid milliliter,” says Looney. “Here’s what it’s coming down to today; it includes all materials you can use because how much you can print is limited by how much time you have available. Education, college, high school, architectural firms, what it gives them is a budget. I can have a 3D printer with all the materials I can use for 30 days for $1,000 or $1,200 a month and that’s what I’m seeing and dealers are making good margins off that.”

He adds that that model has finally developed into a lease with aftermarket services and supplies piece and this is the first the industry has seen that. “Our engineers did the testing to see what that looks like for the dealer—how much material can pass through that in a month in a customer’s environment—and translated that on a cost basis to a dealer and then came up with a profitable model to take to their customer base and it’s working well,” says Looney.

Looney has been surprised by the demand for these products that already exist within the customer base of many dealers. “When we launched the product on our Website there were 80 dealers who already had demand.”

Instead of creating one authorized dealer every day, or maybe two or three, Looney had dealers who wanted to get authorized immediately. Getting authorized to sell 3D Systems products from Impression Solutions is similar to handling any other products the company distributes. Looney explains that the mechanics of a 3D printer are simple, it’s the software, design, and file support that has the learning curve. “For dealers who want to move into this we emphasize you have to provide support for design and file size,” says Looney. “We do 2-3 day of mechanical training and three days of software training to get authorization.”

The training is a cooperative with 3D Systems. While the initial training is in Mississippi and is extending to an Impression Solutions facility in South Carolina, the plan is to move that training into major metropolitan areas. Looney says that a schedule will soon be coming out that doesn’t require dealers to travel to MS or SC. “We’re going to take this show on the road,” he says.

Dealers who sign on now will likely be the only dealer in their market selling 3D printers for a while. Looney expects to move upstream in the 3D printer offerings over time. “There’s a plan to bring more products into the channel at a pace they’ll be able to support those products,” he says.

How will he gauge success beyond the initial reception? “Our goal now is to create a dealer channel that takes care of our geographic challenges,” responds Looney. “We’re covered in the Southeast and looking to spread that out across the U.S. The goal is to measure rather than revenue dollars, but trying to create 120 dealers that are truly nationwide and well spread out geographically.”

Impression Solutions plans on concentrating on major markets first and will gradually expand out from there. “That’s our strategy and we think the dollars will take care of themselves because the demand is definitely there,” concludes Looney.

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