Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Large-Format SLA Maker UnionTech is Evonik’s Second Direct Investment in China

ST Medical Devices

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Continuing its investment focus in Asia, Evonik has recently announced the acquisition of a minority stake in UnionTech, a leading Asian manufacturer of stereolithography 3D printers based in China. The investment amount has not been disclosed but will serve to further develop Evonik’s market in Asia in industrial 3D printing. Known for its large-format industrial 3D printers, which it has been selling in record numbers, UnionTech also offers additive manufacturing services and materials through subsidiaries, and has grown to 190 employees since its founding in 2000.

Image courtesy of Evonik.

The investment was made through Evonik’s Ventura Capital arm, and seeks to strengthen and provide a platform to expand Evonik’s offerings in 3D printing materials—in this case, photopolymers in what is a fast growing 3D printing market in China. Evonik has been expanding its presence particularly in 3D printing-specific material solutions, ever since launching its broad portfolio of ‘Ready-to-use’ AM materials last year at Formnext. They were also the first to introduce a synthetic powder for AM in 1996, and set industry standards (for synthetic powders) that are still in use today.

Bernhard Mohr, head of the Venture Capital unit, said of the investment, “We expect great technical advances in the field of stereolithography. Evonik is preparing the launch of ready-to-use materials for this process. Our investment is therefore not only aimed at a profitable financial return, but above all at new insights in the use of this process.” Evonik expects an accelerated market access for the new photopolymer products, especially in the very fast-growing Chinese market, Mohr continued.

Image courtesy of UnionTech

Thomas Grosse-Puppendahl, head of the Additive Manufacturing Innovation Growth Field at Evonik, sees the investment as an excellent addition to the firms existing portfolio. Evonik is preparing the introduction of a set of new formulations to the market as a starting point of the group’s new INFINAM photopolymers product line.

“With the coming up introduction of the new products and the current participation in UnionTech, we are expanding our activities as a reliable partner of the industry in the development and manufacturing of high-performance materials for 3D printing to strengthen our business activities along the important photopolymer technology,” Grosse-Puppendahl said.

In addition to the polymer portfolio for powder-based processes and biomaterial filaments for medical technology, Evonik will offer a range of innovative ready-to-use resins for photopolymer-based technologies in order to further diversify the material landscape of the entire 3D printing market, according to Grosse-Puppendahl.

For UnionTech, sales of its open-source, comparatively low-cost, SLA platforms have been increasing steadily. With reseller partnerships in Europe (including with Europac 3D UK), the company has sold over 730 machines through 2019.

Image courtesy of UnionTech

Jinsong Ma, General Manager of UnionTech, also sees the partnership between the two companies as advantageous for both, from a strategic point of view: “Evonik produces materials for all common 3D printing processes. This makes the company an ideal partner to continue to grow with us. This gives us direct access to the materials we need for our customers.”

This investment follows several others Evonik has made in the area of Innovation Growth Field Additive Manufacturing, which is a strategic priority for the specialty chemicals company, and hence supported by the Venture Capital team. It is also the second direct investment made in the 3D printing market in China for Evonik, who, in 2019, led investment in Meditool, a Chinese 3D printed implant specialist for neuro and spine surgery. Evonik invested in the high single-digits in Meditool’s software and hardware solutions, looking to expand its presence (and applications of PEEK materials) in high-tech 3D printing applications and disruptive technologies.

In January of 2019, Evonik had acquired Structured Polymers Inc., a U.S. startup in 3D printing polymer powders for laser sintering, high-speed sintering, and multi-jet fusion. This would  further boost the company’s capabilities in converting any kind of polymer powder into 3D printing material. Interestingly, in July this year, Evonik and BASF, both known for recent expansions and acquisitions in the 3D printing industry, together invested in the agri-tech sector in China.

Another specialty chemicals company strengthened its offerings in the photopolymer materials segment this past month, with France-based Arkema acquiring US-based Colorado Photopolymer Options (CPS), which specializes in photocure resins and photoinitiators.

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