Metal 3D Printing is now the new battle within the aerospace and automotive sectors. Consider that with the acquisition, GE, a major manufacturer of aircraft and aircraft engines controls TWO of the very few 3D metal printing companies; Arcam and SLM.
This is important because in recent years these two industries in particular have discovered ways of using metal 3D printing technologies in very profitable ways. In fact, it may be a defacto standard requirement for future products in these industries.
Thus, GE (and likely others in this area) feel they need to secure the supply of metal 3D printing equipment and associated powdered metals. That’s what they’ve done here: acquired two metal 3D printing companies, each with a slightly different process to cover off a wider range of industrial needs. As a bonus, Arcam also operates a major production facility for powdered metal material in Canada.
There’s now no fear from GE that these companies might shut down, because they own them. But what happens to the 3D Printing competitors? Will this mean a that all boats will rise on this tide of metal 3D Printing?
According to Gartner, nearly 456,000 3D printers will be shipped globally by the end of the year, doubling the 219,000 units that were shipped last year.
The global 3D printer market is booming, with the number of units shipped in 2020 estimated to reach more than 6.7 million, according to Gartner’s forecast.
3D printing was once a niche market, with the technology primarily being used for prototyping.
But over the last decade, more and more uses have come to market, especially in the healthcare and manufacturing industries. For example, last month researchers at Northwestern University developed a new 3D-printable synthetic bone that could help transform major surgery. This is not to mention consumer use and use by large outlet stores as well.
“3D-printed personalized medical devices — hearing aids, dental implants and braces, and prosthetic limbs — are more common than many people know. So, too, are the uses of 3D printing to produce not only prototypes and finished goods, but also the tools, jigs and fixtures that are then used to make something else,” the Gartner report states.
3D printing industry remains highly fragmented across different printers, materials, and software. This fragmentation in the 3D industry will be a catalyst for growth, as no single company controls the majority of the market, according to The Information Network’s report The Information Network.
There are nearly 200 printer suppliers described in the report with products on the market, and an average of 1.4 different printers per supplier. This does not count home-made 3D printers that can be built in one day for less than $200.
The large market for FFF printers has cultivated another business that is further fragmenting the 3D printing market – materials. Materials represented 19.4% of the 3D printing industry in 2013, which in our analysis includes materials, printers, service bureaus, and spare parts. In the report, we note that materials will be the fastest growing sector of the industry, representing a 22.1% share in 2020. This would include 3D Printing Plastics.
General Electric Co. announced plans to acquire two suppliers of additive manufacturing equipment, Arcam AB and SLM Solutions Group AG, for $1.4 billion. GE expects Arcam and SLM to bolster its existing material science and additive manufacturing capabilities. Each acquisition is structured as a public tender offer for all of the outstanding shares of stock of each company.
Arcam AB, based in MÃ¶lndal, Sweden, invented the electron beam melting machine for metal-based additive manufacturing, and also produces advanced metal powders. Arcam generated $68 million in revenues in 2015 with approximately 285 employees.
SLM Solutions Group, based in LÃ¼beck, Germany, produces laser machines for metal-based additive manufacturing. SLM generated $74 million in revenues in 2015 with 260 employees.
Does this once again show his multiples paid? If you add the revenue together, you get $142,000 in total revenues for the two targets and GE is paying 10x. But both firms do have great technology and more importantly, revenue.
Autodesk, The 3D design software giant is using the investment as an opportunity to build a partnership with Formlabs, a deal that will develop collaborative software and marketing between the two companies — though specifics on what all of that will mean are still forthcoming. Autodesk is a pioneer in 3D Printing, and also an investor.
Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, quoted in today’s announcement: “Formlabs has brought a lot of innovation and great execution to the desktop 3D printing market, and Autodesk is excited to invest in the company’s future. But even more importantly, we’re eager to work together to improve digital design and manufacturing for product designers everywhere.” Autodesk is one of the multi billion dollar firms invested in 3D Printing.
The latest round of funding also means that Foundry Group co-founder Brad Feld, who funded Maker Bot which was acquired, will be joining Formlabs’ board. “There has been an enormous void for a new market leader in 3D printing,” Feld told TechCrunch ahead of the announcement. “It’s evident Formlabs has emerged as the leader in desktop 3D printing.”
So what happened to this company that once held such promise?
According to a former employee, the company has been struggling for some time now. This employee, known only as Solinonymous, has peeled back the curtain and given us a peek at what s/he has been seeing:
“It started with the Press, which without getting into too much detail, was/is a complete disaster. Production tapped out most of our funds and the port delays meant that we weren’t able to re-coup those costs as quickly as we needed. Plus, the Press pre-order campaign meant that we were pretty much shipping the printers at a net loss.”
“problems continued to mount, the company began to miss payroll deadlines…in addition to completely dropping the ball on refunds for unprovided services. However, loyal employees tried to tough it out and soon there was some promise of new investors who would give the company the necessary cash infusion to keep it afloat. As the round of fund raising was completed, there was new money, and with that, new hope.
Unfortunately, it didn’t do as much to alleviate the situation as would have been hoped, Solinonymous continues:
“Turns out most of the funding was used to pay off debts and it wasn’t long before the prospect of missing payroll again became a reality. Last month they called a company meeting and laid off pretty much everyone…obviously, there’s a whole lot more to this story but the bottom line is that things don’t look good. If you have an unfulfilled order, unfortunately, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. If you’re looking for a refund, I would start exploring other avenues to recoup…because there isn’t any money there, and if there was, refunds are not very high up on the list of priorities.”
3D printing becomes industrial strength.Â Once reserved for prototypes and toys, 3D printing will become industrial strength. You will take a flight on an airliner that includes 3D-printed components, making it lighter and more fuel efficient. In fact, there are aircrafts that already contain some 3D-printed components. Overall, the number of 3D printed parts in planes, cars and even appliances will increase without you knowing. But do you care?
3D printing keeps saving lives.Â 3D-printed medical implants will improve the quality of life of someone close to you. Because 3D printing allows products to be custom-matched to an exact body shape, it is being used today for making better titanium bone implants, prosthetic limbs and orthodontic devices. Experiments in printing soft tissue are underway, and may soon allow printed veins and arteries to be used in operations. Todayâ€™s research into medical applications of 3D printing covers nano-medicine, pharmaceuticals and even printing of organs. Taken to the extreme, 3D printing could one day enable custom medicines and reduce if not eliminate the organ donor shortage.
Customization becomes the norm. You will buy a product, customized to your exact specifications, which is 3D-printed and delivered to your doorstep. Innovative companies will use 3D printing technologies to give themselves a competitive advantage by offering customization at the same price as their competitorâ€™s standard products. At first this may range from novelty items like custom smartphone cases or ergonomic improvements to standard tools, but it will rapidly expand to new markets. The leaders will adjust their sales, distribution and marketing channels to take advantage of their capability to provide customization direct to the customer.
3D printing might halt development in the developing world and inhibit societies there from becoming wealthier and more democratic.
Ultimately there is no money in 3D printing. Meaning, that it will suck the value out of any and all manufacturing while becoming cheaper approaching the point of free. This might lead to mass unemployment or at its most extreme the cessation of much of the economic activity on this world.
By decoupling people from companies, states, society at large 3D printing might accelerate our current trend towards ever less trust in each other and institutions.
Criminals could use 3D printing for crime. As ATM scammers have already done.
The 3D printing bookof accurate face masks that resemble other people would wreak havoc on the way crime is fought now and make all witness testimony unreliable. How do you catch someone if you don’t know what he looks like? If he’s discarded his fully articulated realistic face mask to reveal his own face or perhaps even another mask beneath and then enters a crowd. Face Off, All the time.
If machines without recyclable materials predominate then impulse 3D printing could cause an adverse environmental impact.
3D printing will make terrorists & spree killers more powerful and will also let armies iteratively improve their war fighting capability.
1. 3D printers are energy hogs
When melting plastic with heat or lasers, 3D printers consume about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight, according to research by Loughborough University. In 2009, research at MIT’s Environmentally Benign Manufacturing program showed that laser direct metal deposition (where metal powder is fused together) used hundreds of times the electricity as traditional casting or machining. Because of this, 3D printers are better for small batch runs. Industrial-sized 3D printers may not be the answer to lessening our use of coal power any time soon. That may be true, but can we print less? Are we comparing apples to apples?
2. Unhealthy air emissions
3D printers may pose a health risk when used in the home, according to researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove. The 2013 study was the first to measure these airborne particle emissions from desktop 3D printers. While heating the plastic and printing small figures, the machines using PLA filament emitted 20 billion ultrafine particles per minute, and the ABS emitted up to 200 billion particles per minute. These particles can settle in the lungs or the bloodstream and pose health risk, especially for those with asthma. True to a point, but the technology is moving towards cleaner air and self contained units
3. Reliance on plastics
One of the biggest environmental movements in recent history has been to reduce reliance on plastics, from grocery bags to water bottles to household objects that can be made from recycled materials instead. The most popular—and cheapest—3D printers use plastic filament. Though using raw materials reduces the amount of waste in general, the machines still leave unused or excess plastic in the print beds. PLA is biodegradable, but ABS filament is still the most commonly used type of plastic. The plastic byproduct ends up in landfills. If 3D printing is going to be industrialized, that byproduct or other recycled plastic needs to be reused. Again true, but no need for alarms. We are printing from more and more materials.