BASF has really shaken up the 3D printing industry yet again by buying Sculpteo today. The German chemical giant has previously bought Dutch filament leader Innofill3D, launched a new brand and materials, invested together with Materialise in Essentium, invested in Prismlab, invested in Materialise and bough Advance3D and Setup Solutions. Whereas a few years ago it was 3D Systems that was keeping the M&A lawyers in suits now it seems that dueling polymer firms BASF and DSM are trying to out invest each other in the space. It is these two companies that are making the biggest splashes of late.
Dr. Dietmar Bender, Managing Director BASF 3D Printing Solutions says,
“Through the acquisition of Sculpteo, we can provide customers and partners with even faster access to our innovative 3D printing solutions. In addition, our customers will benefit from an extended range of services.” “Together with Sculpteo, we are pursuing our goal of establishing additive manufacturing as a proven technology for industrial mass production”
“We are excited to join the BASF team and thus benefit from BASF’s outstanding R&D to provide our customers with innovative solutions”, says Clément Moreau, Sculpteo CEO
Terms were not disclosed but the impact of this move will be significant.
- BASF is now in the parts business not just in the chemicals business. Does this mean that they will make more parts outside of 3D printing as well? We’ve seen moves as well by Victrex, makes of PEEK, to move from relatively low-value chemistry and polymers towards parts manufacturing. If this trend continues it has a lot of broad implications for many BASF suppliers and customers.
- Materialise now has BASF as a partner and investor as well as through Sculpteo as a competitor with 3D printing as a service, this is awkward to say the least and may strain the partnership. If BASF communicated this acquisition well then this should not be an issue.
- Will this mean that DSM could buy Shapeways to put itself in the driving seat once again? Or would Shapeways be too expensive?
- Perhaps this will unlock a roll-up strategy for some market player by making it valuable for them to buy a series of local service bureaus.
- What will Quickparts and Stratasys direct (and other services) do when faced with a company that wants to sell them materials while competing with them? Will services not buy BASF materials any longer? After all, more money for BASF may mean more investment in the highest margin part of their business and this is now Sculpteo.
- What will other materials firms such as SABIC and Solvay do? Will they be forced to partner with services as well or take another route and be super platform agnostic?
- Will this mean that more OEMs such as HP will invest in platforms as well?
- With GKN buying Forecast will we now see a global battle between truly international services?
- For Evonik, this will mean loss of the Sculpteo volume but do they stand to lose more if others take over platforms as well?
- For Xometry and others, this means that reinvestment prospects have dimmed slightly because investors must be slightly weary to play in the same backyard as manufacturing giants such as GKN and Jabil as well as a chemicals to polymers to parts company such as BASF.
- Addup wasn’t interested in buying a French 3D printing company, who knew?
- Does this mean that our industry is just a stress ball for large polymer companies? Are the big polymer firms the only players that count now in 3D printing for polymers?
Is this a good deal?
For Sculpteo this exit seems like it was the maximum achievable. Clement and his team have fought hard for years to make Sculpteo more international and to compete with Shapeways, Materialise and others. Assumptions by investors are all based on the assumption that winner takes all. The truth is likely more nuanced, but Clement and his team get a well-earned exit plus lots of skill and polymer expertise to build their business within BASF. We won’t know the purchase price but it seems a solid move rather than trying to wait it out another year and risk getting crushed by new entrants.
For BASF this is an astute move. Higher margin, closer to the customer businesses could give them an edge. I’ve always considered BASF quietly weak in 3D printing because they don’t really understand customers or applications and always insulate themselves from them. By getting in closer they could develop more consumer-friendly and application-ready materials directly. Of all the polymer companies I’ve considered BASF to be brave with their money but the firm has a decided lack of understanding in customer needs and applications when compared to DSM, Sabic, Lehmann Voss, Mitsubishi, and others. Information now flows more directly to and through BASF which may help them. If we look at the bigger picture in polymers then moving from chemicals towards parts puts them at a much better point in the chain and improves their prospects long term.
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