3D Printing Metal – The 7 Most Funded Startups
The 3D printing industry has seen its booms and busts during its short lifespan. The industry first shot into prominence in 2009, after a key patent that covered the technology expired. Then in 2014, the patent for laser sintering technology, the most prominent tech for 3D printing metals, expired as well. Since then, we have seen a rush of startups looking to find their footing in the emerging metal 3D printing industry, with a handful securing high levels of funding. Although much of the hype surrounding the 3D printing industry focused on in-home solutions, the biggest opportunity for growth lies in 3D printing metal parts.
Metal 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, could revolutionize metal parts manufacturing and allow companies to cut costs and production times. Parts that would typically take weeks to arrive could be 3D printed in a matter of hours. Manufactured parts are in nearly every product we buy, and the industry generates an estimated $12 trillion annually.
There are actually two publicly traded pure-play 3D printing metal stocks accessible to retail investors – ExOne (NASDAQ:XONE) and Arcam (STO:ARCM). We bought into all that 3D printing hype back in the day and picked up some shares of both. While Arcam did well and ExOne sank, we promptly disregarded every tenet of successful investing and doubled down on our losses by buying more XONE. Then it sank even lower resulting in a stock chart that looks like this:
Since Warren Buffet said the number one rule of investing is to not lose money, we’re going to hold onto those XONE shares for now and while we’re waiting, see what new technologies are being developed by metal 3d printing startups which might make our XONE shares look even more unattractive. Here’s a look at the 7 metal 3D printing startups with the most funding to date.
Desktop Metal – $96.76 Million
Founded in 2015, Desktop Metal is a Massachusetts based startup with a stated mission of “reinventing the way design and manufacturing teams print with metal.” We noted that this startup was #2 out of the “The Top 5 3D Printer Companies Funded in 2016” with Carbon3D being the first.
To date the company has raised $96.76 million through 4 rounds of equity funding from companies like Google Ventures, BMW, Lowe’s and General Electric. Their most recent fundraising efforts raised $45 million in a Series C round that closed just a few weeks ago.
Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop previously founded battery tech company A123 Systems. The Company states that their printing system is able to complete projects end-to-end at scale, from the prototyping phase through mass production. The company’s fundraising has been for the purpose of bringing their 3D printer to market, although the company has been tight-lipped about the specifics of the metal 3D printer they are expected to release this year.
XJET – $25 Million
XJet is an Israeli 3D printing company that places an emphasis on metal 3D printing and is also the 4th most funded 3D printing company in 2016 (Formlabs was 3rd). To date they have raised $25 million through one round of venture funding. The Company boasts the “world’s first direct 3D metal jetting system,” driven by their innovative NanoParticle Jetting technology.
While most metal 3D printers require that the operator handle metal powders which can be dangerous, the XJet system delivers the required metal nanoparticles in sealed cartridges, which are then easily loaded into the XJet system. In that way, the XJet system isn’t much more difficult to use than your standard desktop inkjet printer. The system allows for complete design freedom with no geometric limitations.
NPJ is entirely unique from other metal printing technologies both in terms of process and output. XJet claims unprecedented layer thicknesses of 2 microns, unheard of in metal 3D printing, and printing speeds five times faster than laser sintering techniques. The speed of the process is further enhanced by the lack of post-processing required.
The company also recently announced that their printers were capable of 3D printing ceramic objects, and said that they are targeting ceramic 3D printing for dental, medical and some industrial applications.
MarkForged – $24.5 million
Markforged is a 3D printing company that made their mark on the industry by reinforcing parts with extremely strong continuous carbon fiber. To date, the company has accepted $24.5 million in funding through to their last Series B round. The Company claims that their 3D printed parts are up to 10x stronger than their standard counterparts, and already has several systems available for purchase that print with carbon fiber.
Their most recent release is The Metal X, a metal 3D printing system that is capable of printing materials that include stainless steel, aluminum, tool steel, alloys, and titanium. Their system also includes upgrades over previous systems in inspection processes, utilizing laser sensors and their Eiger software to ensure measurement accuracy within 1 micron.
Velo3D – $22.09 million
Velo3D was founded in 2014 with the goal of developing metal laser 3D printers that use sintering technology. Sintering is when you form a solid mass of material by heat or pressure as opposed to melting it. To date, the Company has taken in $22.09 million through a single round of funding. Velo3D is still what many startup experts would consider “stealth tech.” The term refers to companies that have received funding, but haven’t publicly disclosed the products that they are working on. Right now, there isn’t much info available about Velo3D, but their current funding suggests high confidence levels from investors in their technology.
Their website simply states “Velo3D, Inc. develops and manufactures metal laser sintering printing machines for 3D printing.” This is confirmed by the company’s conference talks and job postings, both of which have frequently mentioned metal 3D printing. Some have speculated that the company may be looking at printing robot parts.
MatterFab – $13.23 million
MatterFab is based in San Francisco and has stated that their goal is to “reinvent 3D printing with the first affordable, scalable, 3D metal printer using next generation laser technology to print solid metal parts.” The Company has raised $13.23 million through 3 rounds of funding which included General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) as investors. Although MatterFab has been open about developing a metal 3D printer, there is still very little information available regarding their future product. The Company’s website has been “under maintenance” for a while leading us to believe they’re either really busy building 3D printers or they’ve run out of money and don’t want to tell anyone.
Vader Systems – $1.3 million
Vader Systems is a father-and-son led startup based in East, Amherst, New York. The company has secured $1.3 million in seed funding, after originally wowing crowds at the 2013 Maker Faire in NYC with their MagnetoJet 3D Printing technology. MagnetoJet manipulates liquid molten metal with magnetic fields to eject liquid droplets through a nozzle. Their newest system, the MK1 Experimental, is able to deliver 1,000 droplets per second. The next version, the MK2, which the company claims will print 30x faster, is expected to be available in 2018. The innovative technology helped the company land a partnership with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of an unspecified number of printers.
Founded in 2015, Fabric8Labs is a secretive startup that wants to change the fundamentally change the way that we use metal for 3D printing. While the amount of funding is undisclosed, we can only assume that they have access to some deep pockets since Mark Cuban is backing them alongside 3D printing and robotics investor Asimov Ventures. Now here’s where things get a bit weird. They don’t use lasers, they don’t use powders, and they don’t use heat. It’s a patented process called “Stereo-Electrochemical Deposition” or SED and it can produce objects out of nearly any kind of metal. The Company claims that SED is an order of magnitude cheaper than current metal printing technologies and the only process that can print metals and plastics together in the same print. It’s also as fast or faster than lasers or electron bean processes. How interesting does that sound!?!
There certainly seems to be a lot of “reinventing” going on here so we’ll have to keep a close eye on what transpires and how this affects exOne and Arcam. We can be certain that the adoption of metal 3D printing will accelerate and eventually the manufacturing industry will be revolutionized as promised. Even now, there are companies that offer systems using multiple technologies, that are capable of manufacturing metal parts without geometric restrictions, allowing companies to not only improve costs and production speed, but also enjoy a higher quality build. Companies that are able to offer effective metal 3D printers at reasonable cost and with a minimal learning curve are poised for success as the industry grows. For the sake of our portfolios, let’s hope some of that success is enjoyed by ExOne and Arcam.
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