Startup Spotlight: Dubai-Based 3D Printing Startup Sinterex Is Solving Supply Chain Mismanagement Issues For UAE Companies
Sinterex offers mission critical parts across a spectrum of sectors including dental, medical, as well as the oil and gas industries
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This article is part of an ongoing series covering startups that have been a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program.
A startup is often built with the idea that it can serve as the missing puzzle piece within an ecosystem or industry. But Dubai-based 3D printing startup Sinterex quite literally provides products whose absence could halt entire operations within industries that are heavily reliant on efficient supply chain management. "Sinterex uses 3D printing technology to produce mission critical parts," explains Julian Callanan, founder and CEO of Sinterex. "The main challenge that Sinterex solves is around 'localization' of manufacturing capacity. The UAE has emerged as a successful trading and logistics economy, but it still has a limited industrial footprint. This means that missing critical parts often take weeks to arrive in the country. Sinterex uses 3D printing to produce these mission critical parts where and when they are required."
With the global 3D printing market projected to reach $94 billion by 2030 (as per Allied Market Research), Sinterex thus offers its services across a spectrum of sectors including dental, medical, as well as the oil and gas industries. "A typical month would see us dealing with a wide range of specialist components used in deep industry applications: for example, manufacturing clear aligners for dentists working in dental clinics in Jumeirah, making an anatomical replica model of a brain tumor for a surgeon working in Dubai Healthcare City, and producing geometrically complex metal parts for downhole applications for an oilfield services company." With 90% of its orders dispatched the very next day after the request is placed, the Sinterex online portal also allows clients to easily review designs and approve production.
But it wasn't always smooth sailing for the startup itself. The Sinterex business idea first took physical form at a warehouse in Dubai's Jebal Ali Industrial Area in 2017. This happened as a result of Callanan's previous tenure as a consultant, which brought to his attention a problem that could be solved with some entrepreneurial grit. "I worked for 10 years advising companies in the upstream oil and gas industry around supply chain challenges and constraints," Callanan shares. "In this role I saw, firsthand, how 'globalized' supply chains did not deliver the speed and flexibility of service that was needed. Indeed, quite the opposite, they created supply chain friction; parts had to be shipped, clear customs, and stored in warehouses. I figured it was time to jump in the deep end, and do something about it."
But when Sinterex finally launched, it happened to be during a time when 3D printing hadn't yet taken the UAE by storm. "In fact, at the time of incorporation, there was no license for 3D printing at the Dubai Economic Department (DED)," Callanan recalls. "But we took advice from our Public Relations Officer who said, 'In Dubai, anything is possible.' It took several meetings with the DED -and eventually bringing a box of actual 3D printed parts into the office- to convince them to create a separate license."
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That period may very well have been a rough one for the Sinterex team, but Callanan also recalls it as a phase that taught him all there is to know about the field he dived headfirst into. "Sinterex is my first business; before this I was working in consulting, and the jump between 'advising' and 'doing' is massive," he says. "I had to learn about 3D printing, the industries we were targeting, and how to run a business at the same time. It was really a case of sink or swim. When we first opened, I was operating 3D printers, delivering products, going door to door to try and sell, then doing the accounts at night! Thankfully, we have managed to build our team out since then!"
Callanan's relentlessness has paid off in more ways than one since that time. For starters, it became the first company to commercially deploy metal 3D printing technology in the UAE. "We were also the first to build a 3D printing lab inside a hospital with our collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority," Callanan adds. "Additionally, we were a part of Dubai Future Foundation's (DFF) 3D printing strategic alliance to collaborate during the height of the COVID-19 crisis."
The crux of the DFF initiative was to use the manufacturing capacity of 3D printing to respond to crises across multiple sectors- a vision that very neatly aligns with that of Sinterex's. And it is this pioneering spirit that continues to be driving forth the startup's sense of innovation today. "For Sinterex, innovation partly means doing things that haven't been done before," Callanan says. "The other side of innovation is less glamorous, and it's about how you do things, whether it be a marketing strategy, operating protocols, or recruitment strategy. If you are continually innovating, continually improving, then you will continually build success."
That approach seems to have boded well for the Sinterex team, with 96% of its customers having placed repeat orders. "Customers buy from us, and return to buy from us again and again, due to our speed of service, ability to deliver locally, and control of quality," Callanan says. "We try to deeply integrate with our customers, and have many customers who are ordering from us with a daily frequency. Communication is critical when you are in such a close business relationship; we keep it simple with WhatsApp groups."
In terms of funds, the startup has managed to raise US$2 million from angel investors located in Dubai. "We are today a team of 16 people including industry specialists, engineers, and technicians," Callanan says. "We are now working through the MBRIF accelerator program to prepare Sinterex for a first institutional funding round, which will allow us to further develop our technology platform, expand our production facilities, and build out our sales and marketing function." Callanan highlights here that the MBRIF has been a major help in navigating several aspects of the entrepreneurial maze as well. "We chose to apply to the program, because of its close connections with government entities, which are strongly active and influential in the Dubai/UAE economy, and also because of its guarantee scheme that is run in coordination with Emirates Development Bank," he adds.
Moving forward, Callanan believes Sinterex will have to keep up its current momentum in a fierce Dubai market if the startup is to expand its reach. "Dubai is a great place to get started; the challenge is to build success. The Emirate itself is still small in population terms -about the size of a large city in Europe, or a medium-sized city in the US- which can limit growth potential. It is also ferociously competitive, and it attracts businesses from around the world. However, if you can make it work in Dubai, then you have a great chance of expanding across the region," he concludes.
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