Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Musical Chairs: GKN Buys Forecast3D

ST Medical Devices

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We’ve known already for a number of years that aerospace, automotive and defense company GKN is serious about 3D printing. The company acquired one of the first Additive Industries systems, collaborated with GE Additive also, set up a powdered metals sales and production business, printed new steels with Porsche,  and opened the prerequisite to be one of the big boys: the center of excellence. Now the firm has doubled down once again, acquiring Forecast3D.

Carlsbad, California-based Forecast3D was long focused on short-run production, molds and 3D printing. The firm moved and expanded into 3D printing early, bet big on HP MJF, bet more on MJF, and in an interview with us seemed to really know where they were headed. With a strong focus on manufacturing end use parts, especially out of polymers and deep experience, Forecast3D seems to complement GKN well. It could let GKN make millions of polymer parts for its automotive business in PA 11 GF grades for automotive for example.  Or it could let GKN do more polymer mold making in house. The firm could also let GKN enter very different new businesses such as footwear manufacturing.

On the whole, this looks like an astute move by both parties. Increasingly manufacturing as a service looks to be either a super niche or global business. Either you’re the best 3D printing shop in Juneau, Alaska or the most specialized EOS titanium acetabular cup producer on the niche end or you have a true global network and the scale and scope to compete. Essentially this completely changes the 3D printing service market. Strong regional players and national powerhouses now have to fear that GKN will play in their backyard while direct to customer firms such as Shapeways, Materialise and Xometry now have a 500 pound gorilla playing in their space. The combination of GKN with a strong direct to customer firm such as Shapeways would make the firm seem damn neigh unstoppable in 3D printing as a service.

We’re faced with the reality that GKN could make this move based solely on a strong polymer 3D Printing commitment by one automotive customer such as Volkswagen. Our industry is but small fry in the world of giant corporates. Along with established regional service bureaus and players such as FKM and Pro-Fit the service industry looks to be dominated by Jabil and GKN. What will the people at FKM and companies such as 3TRPD do? Will 3D printing as service be a two or three-horse race? or is it even a winner takes all? Or could firms using clusters of much cheaper desktop systems still make inroads? Or will local service and production mean that granular local companies will still stay strong? I believe that Jabil and GKN will play a huge role perhaps together with UPS, Shapeways and Xometry. Although the hunters now look like the hunted. Meanwhile, super trusted niche players will dominate their respective niches eg FIT for cutting edge orthopedics and Materialise for cutting edge medical devices. And for local hands-on services that offer high quality, there will always be a place.

Peter Oberparleiter, CEO, GKN Powder Metallurgy said, 

“FORECAST 3D is a perfect fit…They are everywhere we aren’t – geographies, markets, technologies and base materials. Combining our individual capabilities will present unparalleled advantages to our customer bases and enable us to cross-promote additive manufacturing in metal and plastic over more diversified markets. It is an important step on our journey to become No. 1 in this high growth market.”

“At FORECAST 3D, our roots run deep in the world of nimble, low volume polymer additive manufacturing. As we continue to branch out and focus on high volume additive production, what better partner to pair with than GKN; a company that produces over 13 million parts per day?GKN’s resources, production experience and footprint will be the perfect fuel for this new FORECAST 3D engine as we prime it for the new world of local, on-demand manufacturing.” Corey Weber, CEO and co-founder, FORECAST 3D, stated.

This will have everyone toss their business plan into the trash and has big ramifications for the industrialization of manufacturing for 3D printing. It also brings together two large HP customers which could be good for HP in giving them a quasi instant network but also could put pressure on their margins.

 

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