By David Poole, managing director sales, UK South at FedEx Express
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the engine of the economy and account for more than 99% of all businesses in the UK. With FedEx working with many fascinating businesses from across the UK, in the ‘FedEx Meets’ series, I sit down with SMEs achieving big things on the global stage to find out how they’re achieving success and what’s going on in their industry.
E3D-Online is an Oxford-based company that specialises in engineered components for 3D printers. What started as a cottage industry in 2013 very quickly transformed into a global brand that exports its specialist products across the world. I caught up with co-founder Sanjay Mortimer to find out more.
So Sanjay, tell us a bit more about 3D printing and what ignited your interest in this specialist field?
3D printers are essentially machines that print objects, using designs made on a computer. They typically work by printing layers of plastic one on top of another – much as a regular printer prints on paper, but in three dimensions. Having the ability to create practically anything using one machine is still something that excites me every day and believe me, the possibilities are endless. We entered the marketplace at just the right time and 3D printing is now much more common, not just as a business, but as a hobby as well. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of this industry.
The 3D printing industry has seen phenomenal growth over the past few years, were you aware how revolutionary this could be back in 2013?
We always knew that 3D printing would be a game changer because it saves time and money in manufacturing processes. What my co-founders and I perhaps didn’t anticipate was just how quickly our business would grow from the kitchen table to the world stage and how we would play a role in driving the industry forward.
How did you get into 3D printing?
It started as a hobby between university friends and at one point, we realised that there was demand for a particular 3D printer part – a special heat-resistant nozzle. We decided to make 100 of them and these sold out in just 48 hours with orders pouring in from all over the world. We continued to supply these but soon realised we couldn’t keep up with the demand from our living room. It was then we realised that we’d need to branch out, hire some help and find out how to keep up with the demand overseas – that’s when we contacted FedEx.
How easy was it to start exporting?
Easier than we imagined! Selling products overseas is no mean feat and we weren’t sure where to start. Having FedEx on-board quickly put our minds to ease and having help to guide us through all the processes was invaluable. Their knowledge about customs, regulations and various countries is fantastic. The FedEx shipping system is also fully integrated with our website to ensure the ordering system from start to finish is streamlined and efficient. This allows our business to run at full capacity with everything from order, to labelling, to dispatch taken care of. Exporting is far easier than we ever imagined and it has helped our business grow rapidly, we can’t recommend it enough.
3D printing is becoming more popular with consumers, how easy is it for people to get to grips with 3D printing?
You can already purchase a 3D printer kit from our website for £750 and that means 3D printers are more accessible now than ever. They’re relatively easy to learn to use and with the extensive help you can find online, and from us, the world is your oyster.
What’s next for 3D printing?
The industry continues to surprise me, the collaboration and integration with businesses in the automotive industry and medical sector is already incredible. The beauty of 3D printing is that it can create bespoke products in a relatively short frame of time, the flexibility of this means we can continually evolve with the market. 3D printing is a supremely disruptive industry and in the next 10 years I believe it will fundamentally change the world of manufacturing. The possibilities really are endless.
What advice would you give to other SMEs looking to export in new markets?
To consider any and all export markets! We never imagined we’d be shipping to countries all over the world but if there’s an appetite out there then do what you can to meet the need. It’s really important to lean on a logistics provider for their specialist knowledge. Shipping was something I knew nothing about and letting someone else take care of that has really allowed me to focus on the business. FedEx has been invaluable in supporting our business ensuring we’re meeting the need of our customers across the globe.