October 23, 2016
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.
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.