Annual Round-Up: Trends and Highlights in 3D Printing Industry – February 2023

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The 3D Printing Industry Review of the Year continues.

By many measures, the biggest 3D printing news story in 2023 was Mergers and Acquisitions activity around several of the largest companies in the industry, including a rare 3D printing unicorn. As our detailed timeline of the takeover plans by Stratasys, Desktop Metal, 3D Systems and Nano Dimension shows, plans for consolidation began in 2021. However, the arrival of activist investor Murchinson and subsequent clash with Nano Dimension’s CEO made the previously behind the scenes battle for control front page news.

Away from Mergers and Acquisitions activity, February 2023 saw several updates around research projects and material developments. Elsewhere, Fabric8Labs concluded a $50M Series B investment round.

Read on for February 3D printing news from Nano Dimension, iFactory3D, IIT Bombay, IperionX, Sakuu, and more.

Nano Dimension 3D printed electronics. Photo by Michael Petch

3D Systems, Desktop Metal, Stratasys and Nano Dimension takeover talks

In July 2022, Stratays updated their articles of association to establish a poison pill defense against potential corporate takeovers. This strategy was implemented after Nano Dimension acquired a 12.1% stake in Stratasys.

This move became more understandable in February 2023 as Murchinson Ltd., a lesser-known activist fund, publicly revealed its intentions to take over Nano Dimension. At the time, Murchinson was the largest shareholder of the company, owning 5.1% of its outstanding shares. The substantial cash reserve of $1 billion made Nano Dimension a lucrative acquisition target.

What began as a small-scale dispute, would soon snowball into a complex web pulling 3D Systems, Stratasys and Desktop Metal into an escalating battle to control a potentially monopolistic 3D printing behemoth.

The cash balance of Nano Dimension drew the attention of Murchinson, who sought to change the board and deploy the funds in an alternative manner. Nano Dimension had already spent some of the funds raised from multiple investment rounds to purchase over 12% of Stratasys’ outstanding shares, as well as NanoFabrica, Admatec/Formatec, Essemtec, Global Inkjet Systems, and DeepCube.

In an open letter to its fellow shareholders, Murchinson expressed its dissatisfaction with Nano Dimension CEO and chairman Yoav Stern’s leadership, describing it as “poor capital allocation and unfortunate corporate governance.”

Murchinson pointed to Nano Dimension’s share value as lagging behind ‘its only self-reported peer Stratasys by 27% over the past two years,’ with the firm’s stock trades at a ‘substantial rebate’ to the balance sheet. Murchison argued that this reflected market concern that Stern would continue to ‘destroy value.’

Throughout 2023, it became clear via frequent announcements from the Stern that Nano Dimension had conducted substantial diligence in the 3D printing sector, by some estimates examining over 100 potential acquisition possibilities. This tactical move was a response to the kind of attention Nano Dimension was attracting from Murchinson, setting up the major 3D printing M&A narrative of the year.

3D printing research initiatives

Research plays a crucial role in determining the feasibility of any technology prior to its introduction to a wider audience. With this in consideration, Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute (KERI) and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) researchers have developed a core technology for 3D printed smart contact lenses, which feature low-power monochrome displays providing augmented reality features like live navigation.

Published in Advanced Science, this technology uses Prussian blue ink micro-patterns, promising cost-effective augmented reality devices. The Arduino Uno-controlled prototype showcases preset images and holds promise for real-time navigation by projecting GPS-based directions. Testing on living human eyes is the next step before potential commercialization.

The Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Center (IMCRC) and AML3D, successfully commercialized a high-strength aluminum wire feedstock for welding and 3D printing. Developed in collaboration with Deakin University, the wire requires only 30 minutes of thermal processing after printing.

AML3D aimed to reshape manufacturing processes, particularly in shipbuilding and aviation, addressing challenges associated with current aluminum alloys. Supported by IMCRC, the collaboration makes advancing metal part manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective, potentially boosting Australia’s competitiveness in the industry.

German start-up iFactory3D commissioned a thesis exploring the economic viability of 3D belt printers for serial production in manufacturing. The study compared iFactory3D’s One Pro 3D belt printer to traditional Cartesian FFF/FDM printers.

Findings revealed lower variable expenses for the 3D belt printer in all cases, with a significant reduction in manufacturing costs due to automation. The unrestrained length of the installation space and continuous production capabilities contributed to cost savings, making the 3D belt printer economically favorable for batch production in small to medium enterprises.

In other news, Dr. Pushkar Kamble, (Ph.D.) Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow, Rapid Manufacturing (RM) Lab, at IIT Bombay, provided insights on the ICE 3D printing research.

IIT Bombay’s proprietary ICE 3D printer’s Sub-Zero Additive Manufacturing (SZ-AM) process utilizes deionized water and glycerol solution to create ice objects at -30°C. The SZ-AM process involves simultaneous dispensing of material and support liquids, with controlled heating to avoid nozzle clogging. Ice components can be used as investment casting patterns, offering advantages over wax, as ice reduces support removal challenges.

Materials shaping the 3D printing industry

Materials play a pivotal role in the 3D printing sector. As a result, material launches have also been a focus in February. In alliance with Tethon3D, Mechnano developed a high-temperature, rigid electrostatic discharge (ESD) material, dubbed C-Lite resin, using Mechnano’s carbon nanotube technology (CNT).

C-Lite is designed for custom nano-uniform ESD parts enduring high-temperature wave soldering processes. The material enhances manufacturing agility, enabling quick-turn fabrication with ultra-high accuracy. Trilogy-Net‘s reflow tests confirmed C-Lite’s dimensional stability and durability after 50 cycles.

Uniformity Labs unveiled UniFuse AlSi10Mg Aluminum powder with advanced Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) printing parameters at 50um and 90um layer thickness. UniFuse AlSi10Mg demonstrates superior mechanical properties, surface finish, printing yield, and part reliability. Uniformity’s advancements enable a 75% faster build rate compared to competitors at the same layer thickness, showcasing additive manufacturing’s potential for industrial-scale production, says the company.

Elsewhere, 3D printer manufacturer Mantle Inc. highlighted successful implementations of its metal 3D printing technology at Nicolet Plastics and Westec Plastics. Both serving the medical device market, these injection molders utilized Mantle’s technology to streamline toolmaking processes.

Nicolet Plastics significantly reduced toolmaker time from 180 hours to 12.5 hours, achieving faster production of molded component samples. Westec Plastics adopted Mantle’s technology to generate 75-95% complete H13 inserts, cutting tooling costs and allowing toolmakers to focus on critical processes.

Fabric8Labs’ $50M Series B investment hits the headlines

Fabric8Labs secured $50 million in a Series B investment led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), with participation from Intel Capital, imec.XPAND, and more.

Fabric8Labs aimed to use the funding to expand the company’s Electrochemical Additive Manufacturing (ECAM) technology and establish a pilot production facility. The technology is aimed at resolving challenges in power density, thermal management, and sustainability across various applications, says the company.

Fabric8Labs team with their metal 3D printer. Photo via Fabric8Labs.

2023: 3D Printing Industry review of trends and news.

2022: 3D Printing Industry review of trends and news.

Read all the 3D Printing Industry coverage from Formnext 2023.

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