The recent high profile acquisitions that saw companies come together to develop a more complete and holistic offer of AM products, in their respective segments, could be just the start of a new phase of growth and consolidation for the AM industry. Something similar happened in the 2011-2014 period, although it was a much younger industry then. Today there are a lot more companies and large multinational groups involved and invested in AM. They all want to grab and defend their share of an increasingly attractive market segment. The latest Stratasys, Desktop Metal and Proto Labs deals were worth just under $1 billion combined. This could be a small amount compared to what’s to come in the AM merger lottery.
So, who could be the next?
Siemens and ExOne/Markforged or Siemens and EOS
ExOne first partnered with Siemens in June 2019 by implementing Siemens’ Digital Enterprise Portfolio of software and automation technology, including MindSphere, on the S-Max Pro sand printer, however, this first contact between the two companies could lead to something bigger. As powerhouses like HP, GE and the newly formed Desktop Metal-EnvisionTEC group move towards grabbing market share in the new metal binder jetting production market, Siemens could look towards segment pioneer ExOne to build up its own position. For ExOne, the underlying support of a giant company like Siemens could help better compete as it looks to scale up its capabilities.
Alternatively—or in addition—Siemens could try to take over Markforged to cement its position in the bound metal (and composites) 3D printing segments. Siemens became a major investor in Markforged when it contributed to helping the company raise $30 million in a Series C round via its Siemens next47 venture firm. Siemens uses Makrforged machines in a number of cases, especially for its oil and gas business. Acquiring the company could be an operation similar to what GE did with Concept Laser and Arcam, where it also became one of its own best customers.
Perhaps even more fascinating is the idea that the largest German company in the world merges with one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world. EOS is already partnering with Siemens on a number of projects and Siemens uses several EOS machines for its internal AM services. The union between Siemens and EOS would produce a true powerhouse in the world of AM.
ExOne recently established a new leadership team that has been working to scale up the company’s business into real production. After enduring some hard times, especially in the stock market, the company may want to go through the likely next phase of growth on its own. The same may be said of Markforged, one of the most successful “new 3D printing” companies. Markforged has already established a strong global structure and doesn’t necessarily need additional support through a potential acquisition. As far as the merger between EOS and Siemens, it is unlikely for a number of reasons, the first of which is that Siemens has set in place partnerships with all major AM hardware manufacturers, many of which (such as HP and Stratasys) are in direct competition with EOS.
Dassault Systèmes and Xometry
Dassault Systèmes and online manufacturing services provider Xometry have already partnered to offer Instant Part Production in a Design Environment. In this context, Xometry is Dassault Systèmes’ first “prime partner” providing buying experiences to users of Dassault Systèmes’ on-demand manufacturing service (MAKE Marketplace), which means engineers can get their designs made with instant access to Xometry part manufacturing price quotes without leaving SOLIDWORKS and CATIA design environments.
The announcement was made at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. With the upcoming 3EXPERIENCE World 2021 (online only), Dassault will certainly be making announcements on its AM growth and—seeing as the company has the buying power—a Xometry acquisition could be one of them.
Xometry is not a small firm. It is also a well-funded company, after raising $75 million in Series E investment last September in a round led by T. Rowe Price Associates, with participation from new firms Durable Capital Partners LP and ArrowMark Partners, along with previous investors including BMW i Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Foundry Group, Highland Capital Partners and Almaz Capital. This brought the total raised to $193 million and would make the company potentially worth well over $1 billion.
Xerox and XJet
There is no previous history of collaboration between these two companies however Xerox‘s decision to make significant investments in AM has led the company to acquire the startup Vader Systems to help develop its molten metal jetting technology. XJet is the only other company offering a material jetting metal AM process and Xerox may benefit from acquiring these capabilities, especially since the two technologies are very different: Vader systems makes parts quickly and cost-effectively to near net shape, while XJet’s technology rapidly produces extremely high resolution finished parts. IN addition Xerox actually looked into taking over HP and XJet, which is one of the companies aiming to conquer market shares in the next era of high-speed metal AM for parts production, could give Xerox the means to challenge HP in metal AM.
XJet has collected nearly $200 million in investments so far, with the latest $45 million coming from Chinese firm Shenzhen Hifuture. It remains to be seen how this would play out in the case of an acquisition by US Group Xerox.
BASF and Shapeways
Forward AM, BASF brand for high-performance AM materials and services, already partnered with Shapeways to offer customers the ability to order 3D printed items online made with Forward AM material. The co-branded website uses Shapeways’ proprietary technology and allows consumers to learn more about Forward AM materials, upload 3D models, get instant pricing for the manufacture of finished products, and quickly and easily place an order. Shapeways will not only produce finished products and fulfill online orders, but also provide the technology to leverage Forward AM’s current network of production partners and service bureaus to create products printed in Forward AM materials. BASF’s acquisition of French AM service provider Sculpteo (a former competitor of Shapeways), shows that the company clearly has an interest in having some of the largest users of its materials in-house and could justify a larger investment in taking over Shapeways.
The fact that BASF already acquired Sculpteo may indicate that the company is satisfied with having a smaller operation in-house while collaborating with larger AM service providers such as Shapeways and Materialise as external partners. In a 2018 Series E round led by Lux Capital, Shapeways raised an additional $30 million, putting its total funding north of $100 million. The company, now based in NYC, has proven it can be successful and scale up on its own by selling the technology as a service along with an Etsy-like online marketplace.
Evonik and voxeljet
voxeljet has partnered with giant material group Evonik Industries to develop methods for series production of plastic components using 3D printing. As voxeljet’s large-format HSS technology becomes increasingly advanced and viable for commercial production applications, it is likely to increasingly attract material companies such as Evonik and Creavis, the strategic innovation unit of Evonik Industries, specifically looking developing methods for series production of plastic components using 3D printing. The ability to both push for greater adoption of voxeljet machines and to be able to provide valuable production services using its own materials on voxeljet machines (that is the ability to sell its materials as valuable formed parts rather than as powders or liquid resins) could be an incentive for Evonik to invest in taking over voxeljet, even as the company finally seems to be emerging from a challenging period and to now be headed for growth. Nevertheless, scalability has been a challenge for the german 3D printer manufacturer and the strength of a mother company could be fundamental in squaring off with powerhouses such as HP in the segment for high-speed polymer part production.
While AM services can be relatively easy to integrate into a large materials company, hardware manufacturing is a different ballgame. Evonik may be content with a close partnership rather than jumping into an entirely new field. At the same time, voxeljet now seems to be out of the tunnel and achieving profitability. The company may want to explore its own potential before looking for mergers.
Google and Carbon
Alphabet’s Google Ventures was an early investor in Carbon when, in 2015, it led a $100 million funding round to support Carbon3D as it developed technology and materials meant to address the fundamental limitations of conventional 3D printing, as they move toward a flexible 3D manufacturing solution. Five years later, as Carbon market valuation has topped $2.4 billion, Google (Alphabet) may just be one of a handful of companies able to acquire it. The time may have come to really bet big on the future of digital manufacturing.
The main reason why Google (or Alphabet) wouldn’t buy Carbon is that the company may not yet have that significant an interest in “manufacturing hardware for manufacturing”. Google (or Alphabet) has been producing some of its own hardware (Chromecast, Google Pixel, Google Glasses), with alternating fortunes, and certainly not in-house. Internalizing Carbon would mean making a big bet on becoming a manufacturing company, an even bigger step than the one HP took in going from 2D to 3D printing. And, of course, there is the fact that Carbon may not want to sell, targeting an IPO instead.
Stratasys and nTopology or Ansys and nTopology
Many companies would like to acquire nTopology and would benefit from it, both AM hardware and AM software companies. Two likely candidates are Stratasys and Ansys, which have already set in place partnerships with the NYC software startup.
Stratasys first partnered with nTopology to address the need for a fast and efficient way to design components with the Stratasys FDM Fixture Generator. This is the first in a series of collaborations built on nTop Platform to enable engineers to quickly produce custom fixtures without the need to use time-consuming CAD tools to design manufacturing aids. As Stratasys moves into production AM hardware after the Origin acquisition and continues to be one of the largest AM services providers in the world—through the Stratasys Direct Manufacturing network—the company may intend to bring even more software capabilities in-house (like it did with GrabCAD).
Ansys is another rapidly growing large firm, on a shopping spree lately. Ansys is directly invested in AM and acquired simulation software developer 3DSIM in 2017. nTopology would be a perfect addition to its offer of design tools. In fact, nTopology is already part of the Ansys Partner Ecosystem.
nTopology just closed a $40 million Series C round led by Insight Partners and joined by Grant Verstandig and the company’s existing venture partners Root, Canaan, DCVC and Haystack, raising the firm’s total funding to $71 million. After launching only a couple of years ago, the company has been building its global distribution network with an increasing presence in Europe and Asia, after cementing its position in America. Scaling up is easier for a software company than a hardware company and nTopology just might not be seeking further external support.
What about Apple or Microsoft?
When I used to work as a reporter and market analyst in the gaming industry we were all wondering when Apple and Microsoft would get involved, especially as console gaming, in particular, went from a niche phenomenon to a mass product. Eventually, Microsoft did (big time), but Apple always remained on the sidelines, looking in, but never taking a step into a market that the company just did not consider large enough to invest in.
Something similar may happen in the AM industry. Today Microsoft is more directly involved in the 3MF project, which is not a commercial project as much as a collaboration among large firms (including Autodesk and HP) to expand the possibilities of AM. Apple has registered several AM patents but does not seem at all interested in investing directly in the AM industry (other than using the technology for product development). A former Apple executive is involved in Arris composites, leveraging AM for composites mass production. It may be an indication of new things to come.