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Sony Discontinues SL Business in NA

May 21, 2006

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:17

Early last week, Sony Manufacturing Systems America quietly began to shut down its stereolithography (SL) business in North America. After nearly three years of presence in this part of the world, the company had sold four systems. The machine, called the Solid Creation System, is based on mature technology that was first commercialized in 1989. The hardware is rock-solid and builds excellent parts, but the system software was never fully finished. It was one of several obstacles the company faced in penetrating the U.S. market.

In Q2 2003, I had the privilege of meeting with Mr. Ichiro Mihara, president of Sony Manufacturing Systems, and other company executives at the SMS manufacturing facility in Japan. This was at the time when they were about to launch the SCS machine in the U.S.  Mr. Mihara asked what I thought about the idea. I was candid and told him that his timing could not be much worse. The sale of large frame systems were then on a decline—and the decline has continued—as lower cost additive systems (e.g., 3D printers) were increasing in popularity. The decision to enter the U.S. market had already been made.

It’s unfortunate that Sony’s SL business did not succeed in the U.S. Competition is healthy and now there’s less of it. Sony received a license to sell SL in the U.S. from 3D Systems in 2002 when the U.S. Department of Justice required 3D to license its technology to another company. Sony may try to sell it. All SL manufacturers, except for 3D Systems, are located outside the U.S., so it would likely take months (best case) for another manufacturer to ramp up. And, given Sony’s experience, SL manufacturers are not waiting in line to enter the U.S. market.