Each year the editors of the MIT Technology Review identify 50 companies creating new opportunities by combining important technologies and business savvy. Some in the MIT 50 Smartest Companies 2017 list are large enterprises that seem to be growing ever larger, like Amazon and Apple. Others, like IBM, or General Electric are old-guard giants betting on technology renewal. And the list is full of ambitious startups like SpaceX, which is changing the economics of space travel with reusable rockets; Face ++, a pioneer in face recognition technology; and it also includes two pure player additive-manufacturing firms: Carbon and Desktop Metal.
As explained by David Rotman in his It Pays to be Smart Essay, the annual list of the 50 Smartest Companies is not merely a list of today’s biggest or most profitable players. It highlights technologically innovative companies whose business models allow them to exploit these advances. The list is MIT’s best guess as to which firms will be the dominant companies of the future. Amazon and Facebook and Google are on it, but so are plenty of newcomers.
“Though they might be unfamiliar to some – Rotman writes – they have an inside track to take advantage of the technologies that will define business in the coming years. Being smart about innovation won’t guarantee that these firms become superstars. But it does, at least, give them the potential to create and dominate new markets in an increasingly competitive business environment.”
Valued at $1 billion, Carbon made the list at number 18, for using its process for “pursuing an approach fundamentally different from other methods of 3D printing, which put down layers of plastic one at a time. The company says this technology enables it to print polymer objects rapidly, in some cases thousands of times faster than other 3D printers, and use a wider range of materials, including rubber-like elastomers and durable, hard plastics. Carbon has a growing number of clients, including Adidas (No. 38), which is using its technology to manufacture elastomer midsoles for athletic shoes. Other customers are using it to print parts for electric motorcycles, server farms, and cooling systems, all of which have been difficult to make with other methods.”
The only other 3D printing company in the list, Desktop Metal, came in at number 19. The startup funded by companies such as GE, Alphabet, and even the current 3D Printing market leader Stratasys, is on the list for “trying to use 3D printing, a technology that has focused on plastics, to reinvent how we make the metal parts essential to much of manufacturing. Making this kind of printing easy and cost-effective is a challenge, but Desktop Metal has laid out the pricing for its products, a promising indication of progress toward commercialization. Its first offering, including a printer and sintering furnace, will cost $120,000. Its full production system, to begin shipping in 2018, will cost $420,000. Renting is also an option.”
GE, which owns metal 3D printing companies Arcam and Concept Laser, is also on the list at number 40. MIT’s focused on the fact that “in recent years its focus has been on investing aggressively in forward-looking industries like wind and renewable energy and building up its data-driven services. Its large services business, built around monitoring of existing products like aircraft engines, locomotives, and gas turbines, is an area where the company has been focusing on capturing and interpreting data. These systems now incorporate artificial intelligence both to track performance and to predict failures in advance. GE’s stated goal is to become one of the world’s top software providers by 2020, even as it competes against longtime rivals like Siemens and newer ones such as IBM that are now expanding into industrial analytics.” The fact that its newest aircraft engines (LEAP and ATP) integrate several 3D printed parts plays right into the company’s strategy.
Other companies that made the list, such as Nvidia (1st), SpaceX (2nd), Amazon (3rd), Alphabet (5th), Apple (16th), DJI (25th), Microsoft (27th), Tesla (31st), Adidas (41st) and Daimler (46th) have also been adopting and investing in 3D printing technologies.
One could argue that there are many other 3D printing companies that could be on MIT’s list (for example Materialise, HP, Formlabs) just to name a few) however there is no doubt that Carbon and Desktop Metal, along with being very well funded, are trying to take metal and polymer 3D printing to the next level in terms of production. Neither company really invented new processes but they are taking existing technologies in new directions and they have the funding (and the marketing muscle) to do it.