Portfolio Company Spotlight: Supply Chain Agility in the Time of COVID-19 — Shapeways
At the height of the pandemic, a wave of rapid innovation bolstered New York City’s response to COVID-19. New York’s community of entrepreneurs and business leaders quickly rallied together to support front-line workers and respond to critical supply chain needs. Advanced manufacturing technology was a key player in meeting the demand — and is transforming the way we all think about production in a post-pandemic world.
The team at Partnership Fund portfolio company Shapeways was among the innovators pitching in to respond to the crisis. With manufacturing facilities in Long Island City and the Netherlands, Shapeways has become a global leader in advanced additive manufacturing. We caught up with Shapeways CEO Gregory Kress to discuss how his team leveraged 3D printing technology to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) and other emergency medical supplies to help out during COVID-19.
What does your company do?
Gregory Kress: Shapeways is a digital manufacturer focused specifically on the 3D printing market. We have invested in industrial-grade 3D printing equipment and technology to enable businesses to more readily access and optimize additive manufacturing capabilities.
Unlike traditional manufacturing technologies, Shapeways’ software platform is built around on-demand production, which reduces waste and helps us manufacture goods more efficiently. We have manufacturing facilities in Long Island City, Queens and the Netherlands, as well as a global network of manufacturing and material partners.
Why did you open your business in New York City?
GK: Shapeways was born out of a Philips incubator in the Netherlands. As that business grew, we were looking for ways to capitalize on that growth and began looking at the venture capital markets in Europe, San Francisco and New York. At the time, we felt that the VC market in New York was the best fit for Shapeways. We also looked at it as a way to showcase new manufacturing and that you could do it right here in New York City. Financing from the Partnership Fund in 2013 was a key factor in our move to New York and the build-out of our Long Island City factory.
Also, New York City draws great talent. Additive manufacturing is a highly skilled industry. We have engineers running our machines and they come with deep manufacturing expertise. New York City is a prime location to find that kind of talent, so we feel that having our business here has been a successful fit.
How was your business immediately impacted by COVID-19?
GK: The first thing we did was ensure that our employees were safe. We responded very quickly to shelter-in-place orders. Then we implemented safety policies and procedures for our employees who couldn’t work from home.
On the client side, our customer base ranges from small businesses up to large, multi-national organizations. They all went through their own challenges — we have aerospace customers that stopped all production, and we have medical device and robotics customers that started to scale. Since our business model allows for agility in the supply chain, we could give our customers the flexibility to adjust their production needs based on what was best for their businesses.
How did your company respond to the pandemic?
GK: The pandemic was a huge hiccup for us, but we also learned that our business model is built for withstanding major disruptions — not that we could imagine something like COVID-19. Our digital manufacturing platform facilitates on-demand manufacturing and supply chain flexibility. At the height of the pandemic, we were able to put those capabilities to the test and respond to the market very quickly.
To fill some of the immediate production gaps, we worked with a consortium of material, technology and manufacturing partners to make reusable face shields, no-touch door handles and ventilator parts for hospitals. We also received FDA approval to 3D print nasal swabs until regular manufacturing channels were able to come up to speed.
Our ability to respond quickly and broadly is also due to the great team we have inside Shapeways, which speaks to the level of talent you can find in New York City. It’s that same resiliency and roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic of the city that I saw first-hand in our team.
How did this pivot help your industry, the communities you serve or New York City at large?
GK: We’re a New York company that could drive a ton of benefits for customers in a very global way. This response wasn’t a pivot for us; instead it was a prime use case to show exactly what Shapeways was built to do.
Not only were we able to respond to immediate local needs, but we also printed products at our Netherlands facility. At the same time, we worked with over 30 New York hospitals, as well as hospitals in Boston and Italy. For us, this sheds light on the value that our business creates, and I’m proud to say we did a lot of good in the process.
Taking a larger step back, this crisis sparked a conversation about rethinking supply chains in general. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere — so, if you are a manufacturer, you’re thinking about how you can add more agility and redundancy into your supply chain. Do you have technologies that allow for both immediate, short-run production but also long-term, low-cost production? And how do you manufacture locally to reduce waste and transportation costs and remove some of the big issues we saw when COVID-19 broke out? These are good questions that we should be asking ourselves as companies, and I think Shapeways can be a big part of that conversation going forward — it’s a perfect fit for what we do.