Nikon’s Innovative Leap: Unveiling AM Synergy and the Restructuring of 3D Printing Service Morf3D

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Nikon Advanced Manufacturing, the U.S. subsidiary of Japanese tech leader Nikon, will reorganize its Morf3D subsidiary. Morf3D was a service bureau that worked for the most demanding clients in defense and aerospace. The NADCAP-certified facility grew and became a significant SLM Solutions client, one of the first to buy the NXG XII powder bed fusion 3D printer. After acquiring SLM Solutions, the Morf3D acquisition seemed like the ultimate due diligence. Through Morf3D, Nikon could assess the quality of SLM’s systems and understand the requirements for making aerospace parts. Morf3D could also help accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing for new clients. However, Morf3D also had other machines, and clients had parts qualified on rival OEM systems, which was bound to lead to some give. We appreciated former Morf3D CEO Ivan’s vision of an integrated cell-based approach to manufacturing. Additionally, using other machines could lead Nikon to a deep understanding of its competitors. However, Nikon has decided that its subsidiary will be more central to Nikon SLM’s efforts.

After completing its acquisition in 2023, Nikon has changed the management at its subsidiary. In a rather shocking move, the company has closed the El Segundo plant. The focus will now be on the Long Beach facility. The company also says it is selling off non-essential equipment. We’re not sure what this means, but it could indicate that the company is about to dump a whole bunch of M400s on the market. The focus is shifting from contract manufacturing to accelerating additive adoption. The facility will now concentrate on Nikon equipment and launch DED as a technology. The new unit will be called Nikon AM Synergy and will target defense and aerospace customers.

“Our strategic realignment has sharpened our focus and optimized our global resources to drive the Nikon Vision 2030 plan forward. By facilitating the adoption, enablement, and scaling of advanced manufacturing solutions, we are positioning Nikon as a leader in on-shore industrial manufacturing. We look forward to announcing the next significant phase of our plan to transform the manufacturing landscape,” said Hamid Zarringhalam, CEO of Nikon Advanced Manufacturing.

This pivot towards Nikon-only machines creates a Nikon equipment-only service geared towards defense and aerospace. I understand that Nikon would like to grow its AM business. It’s also natural for the firm to prefer doing this with its own equipment. If it moved gradually towards this, it would make a lot of sense. The combination of Nikon SLM’s equipment, Nikon metrology tools, and the firm’s precision manufacturing expertise should make it a natural leader in the metal 3D printing space. However, there are only so many customers in 3D printing.

If we’re talking about people with high-volume critical parts, we may be speaking of around 1,000 customers. If Nikon had gracefully moved away, it would have been fine. However, Morf3D already has customers with qualified parts being made on its EOS equipment. It would take them months and a lot of money to requalify these parts for SLM equipment. The firm should have continued to make the parts. I thought this was the entire point of having the second El Segundo facility.

If Nikon quickly dumped these companies without grace, it would indeed be a very inelegant move. If it incentivized them and moved them to SLM equipment, that would be good as well. But what if they didn’t want to move? We know that certain material and part geometry combinations run better on some machines. Maybe then these customers were offloaded to EOS-loving shop Incodema, which just purchased six M400s a few weeks after buying four? Or perhaps they went to i3DMFG, who recently bought 12? If Nikon helped this process along, it could be lauded, but it was still inconvenient for their customers. If it angered these customers and made life hard for them, Nikon may have some bridges to mend. I, for one, would sooner risk running off with a Greek god’s girlfriend than angering Raytheon or Northrop.

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