Cullen Hilkene was a manager with Deloitte Consulting's Strategy and Operations group in 2013 and was just getting exposed to the then-nascent 3D Printing industry and, more broadly, the concept of Industry 4.0, which he defines as a new age enabled by the Internet of Things and characterized by the connectivity of devices, their data streams, and AI to optimize their performance.
Although the technology for 3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, had been advancing for more than 40 years, the concept didn't become mainstream until President Barack Obama mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union address, saying it had "the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."
It was a home repair task that crystallized Hilkene's attention on the implications of uniting the two concepts:
In my off-time, I wanted to get a custom part printed in metal for a light fixture in my house. The process was really laborious, and it occurred to me that there ought to be a platform to streamline access to custom manufacturing, particularly as it relates to these emerging Industry 4.0 solutions like metal 3D Printing.
From that classic "necessity is the mother of invention" moment, El Segundo, CA-based 3Diligent was born. Hilkene recognized that additive manufacturing was going to be a disruptive force but he also understood that costs and obsolescence would make it difficult for many companies to utilize these emerging technologies. He left Deloitte and in 2014 founded 3Diligent, the "Digital Manufacturing Partner for Every Business."
The concept was to provide customers seamless access to the entire range of digital-manufacturing technologies through a single web platform, backed by a global network of manufacturers qualified by 3Diligent to deliver parts on-time and to-spec.
3Diligent's Vulcury digital manufacturing platform is named after the Roman gods of manufacturing (Vulcan) and trade (Mercury). Said Hilkene:
Vulcury is a new software platform we built to support a global on-demand supply chain. At the minute, there are three key applications built on top of it: ProdEX, Shopsight, and 3Depot. ProdEX is the procurement application; people can submit requests to their own suppliers or get quotes from our supplier network using it. Shopsight is the shop management software that suppliers who are fulfilling ProdEX requests use to deliver parts on time and to spec. 3Depot is our open-source search engine that includes the broad universe of materials and technologies in the digital manufacturing space.
Over the past five years, 3Diligent has developed a global network of nearly 350 manufacturers equipped with digital manufacturing equipment such as professional and industrial 3D printers, CNC machines, and other rapid manufacturing technologies like casting and injection molding. Procurement professionals used ProdEX to submit custom manufacturing requests online and have them fulfilled on-demand via the company's manufacturing network. 3Diligent's ERP software, Shopsight, helps manufacturers deliver quality parts faster and more reliably.
Not surprisingly, given Hilkene's Deloitte background, 3Diligent offers a range of Industry 4.0 consulting services, including custom installations of the Vulcury platform, as well as strategy and design advice through its Additive Consulting offering. Said Hilkene:
There have been a few epochs where human civilization took big leaps forward in productivity due to technological advances. The first industrial revolution was defined by the first machines. Electricity defined the second industrial revolution, and computers the third. Now we're in a new age enabled by the Internet of Things where smart, autonomous systems use computer-based algorithms to monitor and control physical things like machinery, robots, and vehicles. We work with manufacturers to develop additive manufacturing strategies and designs that can provide a competitive advantage for automated processes, i.e, Industry 4.0.companies leverage these tools.
As with many startups, the pandemic has been a mixed blessing for 3Diligent, Hilkene added:
It's definitely changed things. We've noticed some users of our ProdEX procurement service note that their R&D plans have been put on pause, and some of the job shops that are interested in our Shopsight software note that given bandwidth constraints due to Covid-19, they aren't able to explore new software purchases. But the other side of that is more companies who have experienced supply chain disruption due to the pandemic, and utilizing our solutions to help them rapidly close gaps in their supply chain. Others are engaging us about creating separate instances of our entire Vulcury software platform so that they can manage internal supply and demand the way we manage ours.
The on-demand custom manufacturing market is estimated at $80B and growing rapidly. There are a number of larger and better-financed companies in the space but 3Diligent was early to the ball and seems well situated in a small to midsized company niche between procurement, additive manufacturing, and consulting with an orientation toward on-demand manufacturing not strictly centered on 3D Printing.