A press release showed up in our inbox recently announcing the acquisition of Vista Technologies Additive Manufacturing Division by In’Tech Industries, two Minnesota-based companies making their mark in the additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing business.
The press release is pretty straightforward except for one thing: It contains the usual upbeat quotes from executives from both companies, but these statements go beyond positive – they are positively euphoric. In’Tech representative notes that this is an “exciting time for our company,” that they are “delighted” to welcome VistaTek employees and customers, and “thrilled” to expand their portfolio of products and capabilities.
Yes, it appears to be a good match, adding Objet Poly-Jet Printing and Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling ® capabilities to the In’Tech Rapid Prototyping and Additive Manufacturing Center.
But In’Tech’s optimism may also be fueled by another larger consideration – with the acquisition it is positioned to be an integral part of a manufacturing industry sector that is poised to take off like a rocket.
Terry Wohlers, the undisputed top analyst/guru of the AM and 3D printing sector, publishes an annual report on the state of the industry. Wohlers Associates released the Wohlers Report 2012 last May with this comment, “The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of additive manufacturing was 29.4% in 2011, according to the new report. The CAGR for the industry’s 24-year history is 26.4%. The AM industry is expected to continue strong double-digit growth over the next several years. By 2015, Wohlers Associates believes that the sale of AM products and services will reach $3.7 billion worldwide, and by 2019, surpass the $6.5 billion mark.”
While many segments of the manufacturing industry have floundered in recent years, AM has continued to grow. This year, it appears that the industry may have reached a point where this growth is ready to shift into overdrive.
Signs and Portents Abound
In’Tech wasn’t the only company positioning itself to catch the coming wave. Last March, Objet filed for a $75 million initial public offering, then agreed to merge with Stratasys in a $1.4 billion deal the following month.
Not to be outdone, 3D Systems, another major player in the field, has been on an acquisition binge of its own. In January of this year, the company acquired Z Corporation and Vidar Systems Corporation. Z Corp. is a provider of personal and professional 3D printers, 3D scanners, proprietary print materials and printer services. Vidar makes medical film scanners that digitize film for radiology, oncology, mammography and dental applications.
April was a busy month for 3D Systems. It acquired Fresh Fiber, a company that designs and markets innovative 3D printed accessories for retail consumer electronics, as well as Paramount Industries, a direct digital manufacturing provider of laser sintering solutions for aerospace and medical device applications, from the design to final production of certified end-use parts and products.
Somewhat off the beaten track, there was the April acquisition of Kodama Studios, which operates My Robot Nation. This is a consumer technology platform that provides intuitive, game-like content creation for 3D printing. Of course, 3D Systems wryly commented in its quarterly report, “The My Robot Nation acquisition is not significant to the Company’s financial statements.”
And let’s not overlook the May acquisition of Bespoke Innovations, an industrial design firm that is paving the way for more products to be created on demand, and the July acquisition of Viztu Technologies, a provider of custom multi-dimensional, 3D scanning and imaging solutions.
Growing Prosumer, DIY Market
Stories on AM are appearing more frequently in the press, especially with the emergence of low cost 3D printers such as 3D Systems’ Cube which is designed for the home and costs $1,299 for the basic model. On the professional side, Stratasys earlier this year introduced Mojo, a desktop 3D printer for prototype or production printing that leases for $185/month.
MakerBot, which in the past made wooden 3D printers and sold them as kits, has moved into the contentious prosumer marketplace with the MakerBot Desktop 3D printer. Other preassembled personal printers include the BotMill Glider 3.0 and UP! Personal Portable 3D Printer.
And, if you want to see some amazing uses of 3D printing including creating solar panels, concrete walls, or toasted designer bread, check this out.
AM and the Mainstream
Corporations have been using 3D printing to create prototypes for decades. But just recently, with the introduction of new, high performance polymers and metal-based systems, production runs of geometrically complex parts in the automotive, aerospace, medical, dental and other industries are rapidly becoming more commonplace.
Another indication that AM is going mainstream is the attention it’s receiving from the government. For example, in August we ran a story titled “Stratasys and Oak Ridge National Lab Team Up to Launch an Additive Manufacturing Revolution,” in which Jeff DeGrange, the company’s VP for direct digital manufacturing says, “Throw away all your traditional design and assembly rules for manufacturing. New design handbooks will have to be written – all the old approaches just aren’t relevant anymore.” It appears that preserving the status quo, something governments are inordinately fond of, is under siege.
One other example: The U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Defense, have asked the Society of Manufacturing Engineers to play a major role in the new National Additive Manufacturing Institute. The institute is a partnership between dozens of companies, universities and NPOs in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The stated goal of the initiative is to “increase the successful transition of additive manufacturing technology to manufacturing enterprises within the United States.”
SME’s role will be center around technology transition and dissemination as well as education and training. This will come naturally to SME – the organization has been involved in the technology since the 1980s with its Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing Community and organizer of the RAPID Additive Manufacturing Solutions event, one of the top annual conferences to focus on additive manufacturing and 3D imaging. The RAPID 2013 event will take place June 10-13 in Pittsburgh next year.
In the meantime, suppliers of additive manufacturing services are beefing up their inventory of 3D printing machines, ranging from huge printers capable of handling large, complex geometries to small desktop systems for prototyping and limited production runs.
In’Tech’s aggressive acquisition strategies, which sparked this whole discussion, are typical. With the merger, the company’s complement of machines in its In'Tech Rapid Prototyping & Additive Manufacturing Center includes three 3D Systems iPro 9000 SLA production printers, five 3D Systems iPro 8000 SLA production printers, six 3D Systems Viper Si2 SLA systems, one Objet Connex500 3D printer, two Objet Connex350 3D printers, one Objet Eden500 3D printer, one Objet Eden333 3D printer and one Stratasys Titan 3D production system. All this housed in an 8,000 sq. ft. climate controlled laboratory. In the past, In’Tech focused on the dental and hearing products industries. Now the company is positioning itself to take full advantage of the additive manufacturing boom that seems to be underway and bring new products to market across a broad range of industries.
Now, all of us who have been involved with technology over the years have seen the boom and bust cycle happen over and over again – consider the predictions of the “paperless office” many decades ago or the dot-com bubble which burst at the turn of the century. It's encouraging that additive manufacturing, like a tree with deep roots, has thirty years of successful and steady development to support and sustain a substantial growth spurt.
As Terry Wohlers commented in a September 15 blog, “Now could not be a more exciting time to be a part of this exciting industry.”