About

Formlabs is a 3D printing technology developer and manufacturer based in Massachusetts. They develop high-quality 3D printing software and a suite of materials in-house and across their global offices. Since 2011, Formlabs and its 600+ employees have focused on making 3D printing systems more accessible to more people around the world. Because of this, Formlabs has positively impacted the speed and rate in which companies across healthcare, manufacturing, dental, and other industries are producing high-precision parts and products for their customers.

Challenge

Formlabs is rapidly growing in size both in their employee headcount and product portfolio. Because of this growth, teams across the organization found it increasingly difficult to navigate across multiple systems and even harder to find and communicate the product information they needed at any given time of the product development lifecycle. As they continued to grow and expand their product portfolio, Formlabs realized they needed a better, more integrated, easier-to-use system to manage Bill of Materials (BOM), change control, supply chain, and prototype parts in order to move them through production accurately and more efficiently.

Formlabs lacked a single source of truth for all of their product data. Prior to Propel, all their product information was spread across Google Docs, Slack, emails, third party systems, and Asana tasks. Searching for historical information in real-time was becoming increasingly difficult as they continued to go-to-market with new products. When they needed to understand what, how, and why changes happened, it would take several hours to filter through various systems for an answer. “We knew this couldn’t scale with us as we are doubling in size every year and adding to our product portfolio,” said Danielle Class, Chief of Staff, Engineering at Formlabs. “But I really felt the pain when I was in China doing NPI for the Form 3. I was having to communicate across timezones and language barriers and across all of these systems for a brand new product. It wasn’t working.”

Coupled with their lack of an efficient change management process, Formlabs was growing frustrated with the problems caused by their complicated homegrown “PLM” system consisting of Asana, Aligni, and Google Docs. This homegrown approach meant that revisions needed to be manually tracked and searched for, both of which were not scalable or viable as Formlabs continued to grow and ramp up production of new products.

Product information spread out across multiple systems made it difficult for their teams across seven global offices to collaborate and communicate across product lines. In order to increase efficiency, collaborate effectively and get their products to market faster they needed to re-evaluate their approach and start consolidating their existing systems.

Solution

Propel gives Formlabs the much-needed unified platform for all of their product information, incorporating their third-party data from third-party systems and engineering tools like Solidworks and Altium. Propel is the hub for all of their product data with dashboards, reporting, approvals, workflows, change orders, contextual collaboration, supplier portals and more.

“Having a single source of truth in Propel is really significant for us. Prior to this, there was a lot of time and energy spent hunting for this data,” said Daniel Snow, CIO at Formlabs. Now teams across the organization can easily find product drawings and identify which parts are being utilized in the production line with Propel’s robust and easy-to-use interface, allowing them to collaborate more effectively with accurate, up-to-date product information.

When looking at system options, Formlabs looked to leverage one of their existing systems, Salesforce. As an avid Salesforce user, Snow liked the idea of a PLM built on Salesforce. “As a CIO I am always looking for ways to consolidate. Salesforce is a great platform for solving business problems. Just like Salesforce’s Customer 360, we get the same opportunity and leverage with Propel’s Product 360.” Because Propel is built on Salesforce, Formlabs is able to leverage those same benefits and their existing employee knowledge of Salesforce while keeping their number of software systems to a minimum. “I wanted to be able to leverage my existing team’s knowledge of Salesforce instead of having them learn yet another tool,” added Snow. “We now have Salesforce Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Partner Community and Propel all together in one place.”

Other platform solutions, aside from not being built on Salesforce, were too rigid and restrictive for their growing business needs. “Arena has a very rigid view of what you’re expected to do with a process whereas the flexibility that Propel offered with being able to tailor our process so we could be a little lightweight and nimble throughout the product lifecycle was very important to us. My engineering team loves that,” mentioned Snow on his decision to choose Propel as their platform of choice.

After implementing Propel, Formlabs saw increased efficiencies within their internal processes almost immediately. “In our first month, we created over 1,000 assemblies and subassemblies and released over 150 ECOs, which is significant for us,” said Snow. Their change management processes moved from manual Google forms to automated and streamlined approvals and workflows within Propel, giving them better visibility into what changed, when and by whom as well as global access control for their remote teams and suppliers. “With Propel we are able to ramp up a brand new supplier quickly while having control into what they can see and access,” said Class.

During this time, Formlabs also began pursuing the dental market after they acquired a resin supplier. “We had to go through a vast amount of complex regulatory and compliance certifications for our dental resin,” mentioned Snow.

Because Formlabs uses Propel’s PLM and QMS platform in conjunction with Salesforce Service Cloud, Formlabs was able to work out-of-the-box immediately and meet regulatory requirements for its latest product line addition. This feature has enabled and empowered Formlabs to launch their products on time and go-to-market quickly and safely. “I’m really excited that Propel allows us to piece together this really important product development data in place,” said Class.

Formlabs was also able to reduce the number of errors in the ordering of parts with long lead times earlier in the development process. Before Propel, they lacked a structured and automated system, which led to several scenarios where they would order unnecessary or incorrect parts due to human error or lack of visibility into what part(s) they needed to order.

With Propel, Formlabs now has a centralized system to ensure they have the correct parts and accurate quantities of parts needed to manufacture their products. “With Propel, we saw immediate benefits in terms of eliminating human error, getting faster turnaround of parts for their next round of prototypes for their development cycle,” said Snow. Thanks to Propel, Formlabs has eliminated 5+ weeks in prototype delivery per part order.

Because of the flexibility of the platform, Formlabs is able to customize the Propel to meet its evolving business needs. Whether they are in the early stages of prototyping, the later stages of production or communicating with their suppliers in China, Propel ensures everyone in the value chain has visibility to all product changes. “It is the best of both worlds that we might not get on another platform,” said Snow. “Propel gives flexibility and maturity to product development. The flexibility to do things like when we were a young scrappy startup and the maturity in the later stages during prototypes and production, all while making sure the right set of eyes are on the product.”

I’m a seasoned designer and digital marketer who loves to write. Blog posts created for work and clients live here as well.

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