Annual Roundup: Review of the 3D Printing Industry in 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 M&A 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 M&A 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.

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

In July 2022, Stratasys altered their constitutional documents to implement what is often termed a poison pill defense against possible company takeovers. This shareholder Rights Plan was introduced to safeguard the company from a potential hostile takeover, in the aftermath of Nano Dimension procuring a 12.1% share in Stratasys.

The reasoning behind this action became more discernible in February 2023 when Murchison Ltd., a relatively obscure activist fund, revealed its intentions to acquire Nano Dimension. During this period, Murchison was the corporation’s biggest shareholder, owning 5.1% of its available shares. With its accumulated cash on the balance sheet amounting to $1 billion, Nano Dimension was indeed a tempting prospect.

A seemingly minor disagreement inexorably blossomed into a conundrum involving 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Desktop Metal. These entities found themselves entrenched in escalating contention aiming to dominate a potentially monopolistic 3D printing titan.

Managing to attract Murchison, Nano Dimension’s cash balance incited the former’s intent to adjust the board’s composition and utilize the funds in a divergent approach. Earlier, Nano Dimension had already employed a portion of the funds garnered from numerous investment sessions to buy over 12% of Stratasys’ outstanding shares, plus NanoFabrica, Admatec/Formatec, Essemtec, Global Inkjet Systems, and DeepCube.

Informing its fellow shareholders openly, Murchison expressed dissatisfaction towards the leadership of Yoav Stern, Nano Dimension CEO and Chairman. Stern’s leadership style was described as characterized by “inappropriate capital allocation and unfortunate corporate governance”.

Murchison emphasized that Nano Dimension’s share value had trailed behind Stratasys, its only self-acknowledged comparable entity, by 27% over the preceding two years. The company’s shares were trading at a ‘considerable discount’ compared to the balance sheet. As per Murchison, this phenomenon mirrored market apprehensions surrounding Stern’s persistently value-destructing tendencies.

Throughout 2023, Nano Dimension carried out extensive due diligence surveys of the 3D printing sector according to messages from the Stern. Some believed around 100 prospective takeover candidates were considered. This strategy intended to deflect the spotlight Nano Dimension was garnering from Murchinson, paving the way for the year’s most exciting M&A development in the 3D print industry.

3D printing research initiatives

Research allows the testing of the feasibility of a specific technology before bringing it to a broader target group. Therefore, the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute (KERI) and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) created the core technology for 3D printed smart contact lenses. These lenses featured low-powered monochrome displays offering augmented reality functions such as live navigation.

Presented in Advanced Science, this innovation utilizes Prussian blue ink micro-patterns, proposing cost-efficient augmented reality (AR) devices. The Arduino Uno-manipulated prototype showcases pre-defined visuals and offers potential for real-time route guidance by projecting GPS-sourced directions. The next stage is testing on live human eyes prior to possible market entry.

The Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Center (IMCRC) and AML3D, accomplished the commercialization of a robust aluminum wire feedstock for welding and 3D printing. Conceptualized in cooperation with Deakin University, the wire takes just 30 minutes of thermal manipulation post-printing.

AML3D hoped to alter manufacturing operations, particularly within the shipbuilding and aviation sectors, handling obstacles related to existing aluminum alloys. Backed by IMCRC, the partnership advances metal part fabrication more proficiently and cost-effectively, possibly enhancing Australia’s industry standing.

German new venture iFactory3D allotted a dissertation comparing the economic feasibility of 3D belt printers for serial fabrication in manufacturing. The analysis juxtaposed iFactory3D’s One Pro 3D belt printer with 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 are crucial in the realm of 3D printing. Therefore, the introduction of new materials has been a highlight in February. Linking up with Tethon3D, Mechnano came up with a high-temperature, resilient electrostatic discharge (ESD) material, christened as C-Lite resin, utilizing Mechnano’s carbon nanotube technology (CNT).

C-Lite is engineered for the creation of custom ESD components that can withstand intense heat during wave soldering procedures. The material boosts flexibility in manufacturing, allowing for rapid production with exceptional accuracy. Trilogy-Net conducted reflow tests which substantiated the high dimensional stability and durability of C-Lite after 50 cycles.

Uniformity Labs introduced UniFuse AlSi10Mg Aluminum powder with refined Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) printing specifications at 50um and 90um layer thickness. UniFuse AlSi10Mg displays outstanding mechanical attributes, surface texture, printing yield, and component reliability. According to Uniformity, their progress facilitates a 75% expedited build rate compared to competitors with the same layer width, indicating the immense potential of additive manufacturing for industrial-scale production.

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.

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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