The rise and rise of 3D Systems over the last acquisition-fuelled couple of years has taught us one thing: once a company starts to acquire companies it has a positive effect on the ability of that company to continue buying. Once 3D had grown to a sufficient size it went after Z Corporation — surely inconceivable just 2 years ago.
Stratasys have always taken a different approach to their closest rivals, staying largely out of the limelight save for a couple of high-profile announcements. The first coming on the eve of my first day with the magazine when they announced a deal with Hewlett-Packard that led to the DesignJet 3D range of HP-branded, FDM-based systems.
The second was just over 12 months ago when Stratasys snapped up Solidscape for what now looks like chump change. Then it all went quiet again, with the Minneapolis-based company going about it’s business of converting it’s tried and tested FDM technology into both full-on production systems and 3D printers for the ‘masses’.
Together with Israel-based Objet, Stratasys must have been been looking over its shoulder at the growing size and strength of Rock Hill’s 3D printing giant, wondering when the call would come.
So, taking a safety in numbers approach the two companies decided to merge, creating a $1.4 billion behemoth of their own. With the merger comes a significant change in the AM and 3D printing landscape, but judging on Stratasys’ handling of the SolidScape takeover, we may not notice much beyond the rebranding of Objet as Stratasys in the near future.
Technology-wise the two companies are highly compatible. FDM is perhaps the most versatile of all the 3D printing technologies, forming both the backbone of the consumer 3D printing explosion (they’re nearly all a variant of the FDM theme), but equally of use for prototyping applications and full-scale production processes.
I recently saw a comment that alluded to the fact that investing in 3D printing companies was a waste of time, because eventually the consumer would be able to build their own version of the printer without the need for corporate help… This completely misses the mark. While it is true to say FDM and the ‘build-it-yourself’ revolution are closely linked, one look at a Fortus machine shows that AM and 3D printing aren’t just about makers.
It’s very easy to get caught in the hype about 3D printing technology, and it’s true that it’s an increasingly important aspect of AM as a whole. But where 3D Systems are obviously pushing hard at the consumer door, I would anticipate that Statasys/Objet will concentrate on filling all the niches from consumer to production with a suite of scalable, complementary technologies.
People still prototype with AM / 3DP. People still model with it, make tools with it, make parts with its help or directly on an AM / 3DP machine. And any company would have to shift a hell of a lot of sub $1k printers to make the same money as selling a few high-end production systems. It’s also hugely costly to promote sub $1k kit to consumers, where reaching a more targeted business community is much easier.
All Stratasys/Objet really need to add to confirm their standing as a cradle-to-grave supplier of additive tech is some metals capability. There are a handful of smaller, less established manufacturers of laser sintering/melting or electron beam melting of metals out there — and Stratasys would do well to choose both the best technology, but also the company with the least number of IP issues. Lawyers still make a lot of money in AM.