Blog Items - Driving 3-D Printing Entrepreneurship And Innovation with Passion and Modesty: Behind The Scenes With Hanan Gothait

When it comes to picking out key figures in the ever-expanding landscape of 3-D printing, options are plentiful — and often include voices boisterous about their own inclusion on such a list. One of the quieter voices in the tumult can often be heard, but only in pointing out the accomplishments and successes of others. Yet in his own right, serial entrepreneur and steady leader Hanan Gothait is one of the most storied figures in additive manufacturing today. In a rare personal conversation, Hanan agreed to speak about himself, telling for the first time his own story and what’s brought him to found and lead several hugely successful 3-D printing businesses.

I’ve come to know Hanan through his most recent role as CEO of Israel-based XJet, which he founded in 2006. With this company, he is leading one of the more innovative teams in today’s 3-D printing industry. XJet has developed a unique technology to 3-D print with both metal and ceramic materials in a process they call NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ). The work has drawn considerable global interest and investment, with installations of their large Carmel production system on several continents.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Hanan’s place in the industry has been developing over decades of study and work — a great deal of deeply-ingrained hard work — that have led him to become a serial entrepreneur. To his credit as a founder are one company sold to HP and still an important part of that company’s large-format printing business; one of the original 3-D printing mainstays, which later merged with Stratasys to create a powerhouse in additive manufacturing; and XJet.

But how did he get there?

Foundational strength in his upbringing provided Hanan with a deep basis for understanding the need for hard work — and a deep sense of resilience. Hanan grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors. This, he explains, is one of the strongest bullet points in developing “the conviction to do it over and over again” in terms of business planning. It is also a point he says he has never spoken about before.

“I am someone who can take a simple vision of what they want to do and strive and work hard until it’s happening, and make it successful,” he says simply. “My family survived the Holocaust — though many were murdered, and a large part of the family didn’t survive. Those who survived had the vision, had the gut to make decisions and take risks, and they developed the vision to make it happen. To go through obstacles, hundreds of them, and keep going, to not give up on the vision to stay alive, to survive, to be successful. Many others back then said nothing bad will happen, and they didn’t survive. Many in my family, many others, had a vision to take risks and were willing to fight for it and not give up until they reached the point of success — of survival. That’s what it is, whether going to a safe place as a Holocaust survivor or taking an idea for a company until it’s successful. Vision.”

Raised with such a heritage of strength, survival, and vision, Hanan was driven as a youth to find his own success through dedicated efforts. Key to his upbringing was an overall optimism that had developed: “To grow up in a family of Holocaust survivors has many issues, and I could talk about that — but they became optimistic. They had hope. They believed everything would be fixed, that if you have a strong mission and don’t give up, you will make it.”

That optimism rooted itself in problem-solving, as Hanan learned early that any problem has a solution. Tackling issues at school or, later, work, one small piece at a time would teach him to take a step-by-step approach to undercut any perceived impossibility. Sleepless nights would turn into problem-solving exercises, dreaming up solutions to overcome each issue.

That became a basis for Hanan’s vision for life, from personal strength to professional efforts. These manifested young; perhaps unsurprisingly for a boy who would later earn a degree in mechanical engineering, Hanan found himself taking apart and putting together again the household appliances, cars, and anything else mechanical he could get his hands on. Learning how things worked, how to fix them, became integral to his role in his own household.

Whether aged six and building kites or aged 15 and acting as the family mechanic, Hanan never stopped teaching himself how to be hands-on in helping his family.

“I realized that time is super important,” Hanan explains. “Since I was a kid, I couldn’t spend time just staring at the TV. I always told myself to use my time, that any minute I had was super important, that minute will never come back. Time is always moving in one direction. Anytime I had free time, I told myself, ‘Well, you cannot waste it.’ I am teaching my kids the same thing.”

This ethos carried Hanan through his own youth and his time in the Israeli army starting at 18. Here he built his expertise in a variety of areas: “Where we are not experts, give us time and we will become experts.” His role in the service was in the air force where, he says, “I learned that a good team can solve problems much faster, and be much more efficient” than an individual. That gave him a standing for startups, he said, in understanding the importance of a strong team committed to the same mission.

“If I connect this to the startup world, team is probably the most important thing. Does everybody see the mission, does everybody understand the vision in front of them? These are the most important tools for the startup,” Hanan explains. “This is another chapter of my life that gave me tools, this time mentally. A strong team with strong leadership can do one hundred times more than other teams.”

Following his service, Hanan moved to the United States to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

The cultural shift was another foundational block to the businessman he would come, as he went from Israel and a free education to “paying a lot of money” to put himself through university in the US. This included becoming the IT manager of a computer lab, leading networks and communication, and heading software and hardware solutions. He taught himself the skills needed for this out-of-major employment: “It’s another thing that gave me the ability to solve a problem.”

“I had serious issues — how to pay my tuition, become a lab manager, and make sure 100 students working on equipment had equipment that ran smoothly — I learned how to overcome these problems,” Hanan says. “If I try to connect the entire picture, growing up in a family of Holocaust survivors, then growing up as a kid who always was building something around me, fixing my father’s car and all our appliances, the dishwasher, the TV, then going to the army and learning what it is working with an excellent team, and then going to university and dealing with so many challenges with a different culture and with making my own money, paying 100% of my own way through as a student — I think I developed the ability to become an independent person, with strong ambitions and vision and ability to solve problems. This was the basics, I did not know back then I would become a successful person who starts companies, I just knew that I can solve problems, I can fix issues and take on serious projects, and take on a team around me.”

Earning his B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bridgeport in 1990, Hanan went on to become the Project Manager at the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Printing Group at Optrotech/Orbotech following graduation. Three years later, he founded his first company, Idanit, dedicated to making large-format printers. In 1998, Idanit was sold for more than $60 million to Scitex Corporation where it was rebranded as Scitex Vision, and later sold to Hewlett Packard. Since 2005, it has been a successful division of the company and HP Scitex products remain a key part of HP’s industrial printer range today.

During his time working with large-format 2-D printers, Hanan encountered 3-D printers.

At a 1997 trade show in Chicago, he came across large 3-D printers from 3D Systems, which originated stereolithography (SLA) 3-D printing. “It was amazing to see this part coming out of this liquid vat: there’s a part created inside that, and the part comes out like a statue from the liquid,” Hanan recalls. “I was looking at these printers and thinking to myself since I was an expert in printing from the company that went to HP, maybe I can use inkjet to jet these parts. Instead of using high-powered lasers and all these complicated components, maybe I can create complex things in an office environment without liquids, without all that.”

Hanan started his next successful entrepreneurship in 1998, when he founded Objet Geometries. This went against a promise he had made to his wife: “She told me, ‘No, you promised me there’d be a few months and this has only been a few days.’ But that’s what my vision was,” he said.

Objet, he said, arose from a desire to explore the feasibility of making 3-D parts out of the same sorts of photopolymers used in SLA 3-D printers. When these materials didn’t work out with his inkjetting idea, new material work was needed — “This is when the company really started.”

“The vision was to develop a printer that can change the prototyping market. You can have a printer, put it in the office, and print any plastic part,” Hanan says. “It became a huge success and was recognized in the industry as the best way to print that part in the office. There was nothing like it: nothing matched the quality, the speed, the ease of use of making parts in the office environment.”

Objet developed PolyJet 3-D printing technology to jet polymers. The process, now more than 20 years old, is a mainstay in today’s additive manufacturing market, still at the head of the prototyping pack, including multicolor and multi-material work. In 2005, Hanan left Objet to pursue other opportunities — seven years before one of the biggest mergers to date in the 3-D printing industry, when Objet merged with its largest competitor, Stratasys, at a company value of $1.4 billion.

“And then I founded XJet,” Hanan says plainly.

This 2006 move brings us to the present, as he and the team at XJet continue work in additive manufacturing of ceramics and metal. “If Objet was for prototyping, XJet is for manufacturing,” he says of his forward momentum.

A man generally modest and plain-spoken, Hanan is unabashed in praising the potential he sees with his company. XJet, he says, is becoming a clear leader in additive manufacturing of ceramics and metal.

“I don’t usually use such a big statement, but it is becoming a leader, with these results we’re seeing. The density and strength of these parts, the accuracy, all these issues are happening again. We are walking on a straight and strong path to become the lead company in 3-D printing — many companies are using this statement, but I believe we are looking at all the markets. We have the team, the strategy, the technology, to become the market leader,” Hanan says. “And this market is going to be giant. Opportunities are endless.”

Installations with XJet technology have already seen ceramic 3-D printing lead to finely detailed antennae for 5G systems and special-made tools for breast cancer surgery, for example. The demand for both ceramic and metal additive manufacturing brought XJet to open a larger (8,000 square foot) dedicated center of excellence last October. I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening event, touring the $10 million facility in Rehovot, Israel as well as a few associated local sites. The XJet team is now more than 100 strong, working with industrial systems to meet industrial customers’ needs.

And those needs are apparently many: Hanan himself, while impressed with his team and their technological accomplishments, expresses surprise at market reception.

“Industry didn’t change for a long time,” he says, noting that “Romans used to cast tools for combat the same way we do today.” And now, “We are coming with new technologies, new ideas to make parts much faster, much nicer, much easier, and more accurate and strong.” Big change is often difficult to integrate, as the additive manufacturing industry at-large can speak to in terms of relatively slow adoption. It takes a lot of persuading to convince risk-averse manufacturing operations to bring in wholly new techniques and technologies that disrupt the way they’ve always done business.

Even for users who have become familiar with 3-D printing technologies over the last three decades, XJet’s NPJ process is something different still.

“We thought taking this technology to the market, customers would take time to make maximum use out of it; we’re surprised to see customers love it. Some customers are using it for production already,” Hanan says. “I thought it was going to be so much more difficult — I don’t want to say it’s easy, nothing is easy — but industry really appreciates it. They want new technologies, they want breakthroughs, they want innovation. We’re amazed as a company to see industry. So many companies are coming over and want to be a customer, we are more than lucky to do it.”

Much of that luck is, of course, by design. Hanan pointed to an important trinity of factors that need to align for success in industry: “technology, team, customers.” He says that XJet has achieved “this perfect storm.”

Progress is continuing at XJet, though of course Hanan could not reveal many of their customers’ identities or projects. The team will continue to ramp up production efforts to meet this growing demand and meet the new challenges that arise along the way. “Nothing is easy,” Hanan acknowledges. “Nothing goes smooth; this is life.”

What’s next for the man who’s driven so much innovation in 3-D printing? Hanan remains deeply committed to moving forward with XJet and is eager to continue sharing the story of production applications for NPJ additive manufacturing. XJet has operations in Israel and the US, and will see more work in Europe in the near future. “New areas, new applications, new teams, new materials to come: in every direction of the company I think we see amazing development and amazing progress,” Hanan says.

Rather than look back at past successes and challenges, or even looking forward to the Next Big Thing, Hanan takes a stance of appreciating all that’s happening right now. He says as we end our conversation a simple statement of gratitude: “It’s a really exciting time, and it’s amazing to be here.”


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