ExOne (XONE) Releases Office-Friendly Bound Metal 3D Printer

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The competition in Binder Jet is heating up. Just a week ago, Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM) announced the two-step bound metal Studio 2 System. By eliminating one step of the usual three, Desktop Metal could have a very efficient, easy-to-use technology on its hands. In that article, we pointed out that a company called Rapidia had previously introduced a two-step bound metal technology. Now, ExOne (NASDAQ: XONE) has announced that it will offer the ExOne Metal Designlab by Rapidia 3D printer in Q2 through a strategic partnership with ExOne having “a right of first refusal for majority ownership of Rapidia.”

ExOne now has printers ranging from million dollar industrial units for large parts and large scale manufacturing to smaller, more compact units and an office-type system, as well. The two-step process means that a separate debinding no longer has to occur. The loss of this step represents fewer nasty chemicals and reduced time to part. The X1F oven has also been designed to work in an office-like environment

The company also specifically claims that part of the advantage of the Rapidia process is that, “Unlike competing systems that require chemical or thermal debinding, and limit the thickness of 100% solid (no infill) parts for successful debinding, the ExOne Metal Designlab allows you to print any part thickness without infill. Many applications require the strength of solid metal, restricting the use of infill. This means strong solid parts suitable for more end-use applications.” The company is launching with 17-4PH and 316L steels for its canister-based system and says that ceramics are on their way. The company touts it as a safer in-office solution that doesn’t require hydrogen, just comparatively little argon, and doesn’t give off fumes.

ExOne CEO Josh Hartner said of the new system:

“We are delighted to partner with the visionary Dan Gelbart and the Rapidia technology team to offer the new ExOne Metal Designlab and X1F furnace, This technology is a true time-saving innovation that complements ExOne’s portfolio. Now, researchers, educators, and industrial designers will be able to bypass days of waiting and produce high-quality parts without the limitations faced by parts that require traditional debinding.”

Inventor Dan Gelbart contributed:

“We set out to develop a simple, environmentally friendly system that creates the toughest, most intricate parts overnight. Today, we’re excited to leverage ExOne’s global marketing and sales team to help customers around the world enjoy the benefits of our revolutionary technology. I also expect a lot of innovation to come from combining the deep technical knowledge of both companies. Now, users can 3D print complex parts today without any thickness limitations for solid parts and produce high-strength parts overnight.”

ExOne is clearly chasing Desktop Metal here. While ExOne has more revenue and a much longer history in binder jet, it is Desktop Metal that has stolen investors’ hearts. DM is on a tear on the stock market, while ExOne’s stock has long languished—until recently. Since January, ExOne itself has seen huge gains, with its stock price quadrupling. For five years, ExOne traded between $11 and $16, but now it has shot up. The reason? ExOne’s strong position in binder jet is interesting all of a sudden since Desktop Metal has become a company with a market cap of $7 billion. With Desktop Metal up from a $1.5 billion offering, all of a sudden ExOne looks inexpensive. In similar news, the stock of voxeljet (NASDAQ: VJET), which has the same technology, has also more than doubled since the beginning of the year.

Image courtesy of SmarTech.

By releasing an office-based system, ExOne is taking the fight directly to Desktop Metal. Analysts should conclude that the company is relatively cheap, which will buoy its efforts to raise its price and perhaps undertake acquisitions of its own. Meanwhile, analysts looking at Desktop Metal could conclude that ExOne and voxeljet validate the space and find this more of a reason to believe in Desktop Metal. A rising tide, therefore, lifts all boats. This fits with the projections of SmarTech Analysis, which notes in its “Bound Metal Additive Manufacturing Market Outlook – Metal Binder Jetting and Bound Metal Deposition” report that the bound metal printing market will grow at twice the rate of the overall metal additive manufacturing market over the next ten years.

Across the board, however, current bound metal revenues will not be able to sustain inflated expectations, at the moment. Even with the rise in interest in the technology, it will take some months for customers to evaluate and adopt bound metal systems. It will be interesting to see what the OEMs do in response: gently watch their valuations deflate or aggressively seek revenue through acquisitions. Or they could attempt new raises to propel themselves forward. Bound metal, as a technology, has a lot of promise and, from what we can see here, Wall Street wants to be in the driving seat to companies that deliver on that promise. We’ll need to look to GE, Voxeljet and HP’s responses over the coming weeks to see if they will help fan the flames for heatless 3D printing.

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