Inspired in part by the SPAC mergers of VELO3D with Jaws, Markforged with one, and Rocket Lab with Vector Acquisition Corporation, as well as the acquisition of EnvisionTEC by Desktop Metal, and of RPS and Origin by Stratasys, we’ve been brainstorming about the newly hot 3D printing stocks and renewed interest from investors in our markets. Is 2021 going to be a SPACtacular year for us? Here we speculate on some Merger and Acquisitions activity that we’d like to see in 2021.
Thank you for the many messages and questions about this series of potential and sometimes fanciful mergers and acquisitions for the 3D printing industry for this year. You can find all of the articles in this series here.
Ricoh Buys Aspect Biosystems
Ricoh, rather paradoxically given its expertise in inkjet, has a sintering solution for 3D printing. One way that the firm could further enter the market would be through Aspect’s innovative 3D printers with microfluidics heads. The knowledge sharing would be extensive there. In its ability to discretely dose amounts of liquid, microfluidics are a key future technology in an of themselves.
A huge part of Ricoh’s knowledge is complementary to microfluidics and IP could be positively or negatively impacted by it. Inkjet heads themselves could also be used on Aspect’s systems and the two firms could push the boundaries of bioprinting together. Bioprinting is a business with almost limitless potential but little in revenue at the moment. It is however an extreme trust-based business that requires precision and demands accuracy. There are only about 150 companies in bioprinting and very few large companies are showing an interest. Now would be a time to be bold and to enter a new market that is sure to alter humanity’s future but has no large OEM device manufacturers.
Henkel Buys e3D Online
Henkel has a rather unique strategy in 3D printing. Rather than just focus on shifting its existing polymers to 3D printing applications, the company has a support removal kit station, sells resins, and offers cleaning products to help you wash resin parts, as well. The company has looked at photopolymer 3D printing, both SLA and DLP, and used its expertise to develop solutions around the product itself. That’s why the giant firm would benefit from buying e3D.
e3D is a large retailer of spare parts, nozzles, and materials for FDM. The company is liked, if not loved, and has a lot of market knowledge and contact with the community. e3D could provide a lot of insight to the problems with FDM and other technologies. e3D works with many of the OEMs and provides nozzles to many 3D printer manufacturers. It is a leader in that space.
This would be a unique way for Henkel to have that relationship with OEMs. What’s more Henkel’s scientific help on wall slip, rheological properties, and more could really accelerate nozzle development and this is the critical part of the printer. Henkel, therefore, would be directly talking to R&D managers about improving their printers. Additionally, this knowledge would also help their development.
e3D can also really shift revenue, is inventive, is innovative and very good at customer service. This means that e3D could be used to generate, find and collate all sorts of problems users have. Together with e3D, Henkel teams could then come up with solutions for bed adhesion, nozzle clogging, better materials, etc. In that way, Henkel can become the problem solver for the 3D printing community through a canny acquisition.
Sick Buys AM-Flow
Sick is a 10,000-staff, $1.8 billion-revenue firm that deals in sensors, factory automation solutions. airport logistics and process automation. Its sensors measure gas flow at gas plants or track your Amazon shipment. It’s one of those hidden giants that is huge in its field but little known outside of it. Sick’s latest projects are all about Industry 4.0 and connecting the real with a digital twin. At the frontier between the digital and the real, its sensors and software will play a significant role. The company is deploying and developing scanning solutions, as well.
AM-Flow is a surprisingly similar company whose machine learning and machine vision software is being used to identify, sort and check parts. The challenge in 3D printing is to find, do QA, measure, handle and sort millions of parts cost effectively while all of them are unique. AM-Flow is meeting this challenge. AM-Flow could easily slot into Sick’s product lines and complement work in packaging, manufacturing, and logistics. Sick would be able to enter the 3D printing market but also use AM-Flow’s technology to complement its existing offering. The combination of the two would be ready as well to take on the unique challenges of mass customized manufacturing. A match made in heaven.
Yaskawa Buys MX3D
Impressing the world through its metal bridges and other large structures, MX3D uses a welding head on an industrial robot to make large scale metal objects. The relatively inexpensive process still needs more process control, but, overall, is the most straightforward way to scale metal printing for large elements. There really isn’t any process that works for reinforcing large buildings or making things that are tens of meters long. Significant investments would be needed to make the technology widely available.
For Yaskawa a $4-billion revenue company that makes motors, motion control systems, and, above all, its Motoman industrial robots, MX3D would be a tasty morsel. The company would instantly be pioneering large-scale metal printing and make the largest metal parts in the world. With existing clients, it would be able to explore applications and bring this to market. At the same time, it has vast expertise in welding robots and welding itself. By industrializing MX3D’s technology, the firm would pioneer large-scale metal construction with 3D printing.
Fujitsu Buys Twikit
Perhaps one may suppose that Siemens or Autodesk may be more obvious partners, but deep in the guts of enterprise, mass customization is becoming a thing to be reckoned with. SAP powers a lot of automation in the enterprise. Japanese conglomerate Fujitsu developed a special Engineered to Order (ETO) application on the SAP cloud platform and is a partner for it. This application aims to streamline the manufacturing process or ETO processes that make up mass customized goods. It has a configurator, as well. The company’s recent shift in focus towards digital transformation will put this app in the hot seat. The company has many more digitization and mass customization products, as well, from consultancy to projects and tools across many industries. Each time, the configurators in these projects will have to be unique for suits, forklifts or windows.
Twikit, on the other hand, has a configuration engine that is parametric and could be used for all of these types of operations. If Fujitsu wants to be the company to enable mass customization for manufacturers through project implementation, cloud platforms, and software, then they will have two options: build a new configurator all the time or have a strong configuration core to enable mass customization for all. The latter will accelerate their development considerably. What’s more the configurator itself can also be used by the customer on the front end. With excellent UX and usability for consumers, the Twikit tool could be a customer-friendly face for mass customization. Because Twikit was designed for 3D printing it would also let them enter our market. Moreover, Twikit is optimized to work with software such as what SAP and Fujitsu have in order to ensure that the right product gets made the right way.