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GE’s AM Acquisitions

October 23, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:41

Last month, GE surprised the world when it announced the company’s plan to acquire Arcam of Sweden and SLM Solutions of Germany for $1.4 billion. Both companies offer additive manufacturing systems that produce world-class metal parts for medical, aerospace, and other industries. Arcam also owns a prominent producer of titanium and other metal powders (AP&C of Canada), which supplies materials to many organizations. For more than two decades, some people in the AM industry have speculated whether a large OEM might acquire an AM manufacturer to give it an advantage, rather than relying on relatively small companies to serve its needs. In more than 28 years, no such corporation had made a commitment, until now.

ge-arcam-slm

Why would GE want to buy these two companies? I believe it’s mostly about the company’s need for machines, materials, and capacity. GE stated that it would need in the range of 1,000 industrial-grade machines over the next 10 years. If it relies on the status quo, it may need to get in line and wait. With the recent demand for metal AM, the wait could become lengthy. (Growth of metal AM has averaged 59.2% over the past three years, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2016.) With ownership of machine and material producers, GE can accelerate development and expansion, and it can be first in line to receive what it needs. Also, it can dedicate serious resources to the advancement of process control software and hardware, as well as other features to help ensure system reliability and part quality.

Greg Morris, GE Aviation’s leader of additive technologies, said that the company plans to sell Arcam and SLM machines to others, even to competitors of GE’s many businesses. It’s difficult to know exactly how sales and support of these products will be handled, but I believe it’s safe to assume that GE will receive high priority. Why wouldn’t it? As GE improves its AM technology, to what degree will these enhancements be made available to others? This is a question that may not be answered for some time. Regardless, GE is positioning itself in ways that have not been seen in the past. This is exciting for it and the influence the company will have on the entire AM industry.

Late Breaking News: On Friday, October 21, GE refused to raise its price for SLM Solutions after Elliott Management said it would reject GE’s tender offer. Elliott owns 20% of SLM Solutions and more than 10% of Arcam, according to 3DPrint.com. GE and SLM management are urging shareholders to accept the offer before it expires on Monday, October 24.

Proto Labs

October 8, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:30

Yesterday, Proto Labs celebrated the grand opening of its new 7,154 sq meter (77,000 sq ft) 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina, located at the west edge of Raleigh. Proto Labs is best known for quick turn injection molding and CNC machining, with headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota. The company entered the 3D printing business when it acquired FineLine Prototyping of North Carolina in April 2014. FineLine, headed by Rob Connelly, had a strong reputation for quality over a period of many years. Whenever I would hear something about FineLine, it was positive.

Connelly told me that the new site is running 48 stereolithography, 10 laser sintering, and 13 metal powder bed fusion machines. With its Germany and Finland sites, Proto Labs is operating 121 industrial 3D printing systems and growing. This represents a tremendous amount of prototyping and manufacturing capacity and is now one of the largest in the world.

proto-labs

Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs since 2014, and Connelly generously gave me a personal tour on Thursday after I arrived into Raleigh. I received a second tour yesterday as part of the grand opening. As expected, I was impressed by the organization and sheer number of machines and jobs running through the facility. The company’s software for scheduling and tracking jobs, produced entirely in-house, is at the core of the operation. Large monitors in many places graphically show new and existing jobs that are making their way through the system. On average, about 275 customer projects are quoted daily for 3D printing. The site’s 150 employees handle everything from customer inquiries to scheduling jobs and shipping. For a premium, customers can obtain parts that are produced and shipped the same day.

Holt explained to me that the company’s “sweet spot” is its very quick turn around. Proto Labs is not competing on cost, but rather on consistently delivering high quality parts in the shortest amount of time possible. As a chemist and veteran in polymers and manufacturing, she knows what it takes to make customers happy. From 1979 to 2013, Holt held various positions at Monsanto, Solutia (a Monsanto spin-off), PPG Industries, Spartech Corp. (owned by PolyOne), and other companies. Holt and Connelly’s attention to detail, and that of their employees, coupled with their strengths in interacting with people, play a big role in attracting and keeping customers. Congrats to Proto Labs for its new and very impressive facility.