AMS Spring 2023

Nikon Buys Metal 3D Printing Startup Morf3D

6K SmarTech

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This was not a merger and acquisition that Executive Editor Joris Peels predicted, but we can give him props for anticipating that Nikon might aid in the breakup of Renishaw assets. Nikon Corporation has announced that it has acquired a majority ownership of El Segundo, California’s Morf3D Inc. for an undisclosed amount.

Joris thought Nikon might go for Renishaw’s metrology division, but while GKN took the British manufacturer’s metal 3D printer business, it turns out that the Japanese giant was actually eyeing metal 3D printing services. Morf3D is a 3D printing design, engineering and service bureau that has received investments from such companies as Boeing. The firm boasts its experience in serial production with additive manufacturing and ability to design optimized functional structures and build processes.

Morf3D facilities. Image courtesy of Morf3D.

Nikon is a roughly $6.5 billion manufacturer of optics and imaging products, which extend beyond DSLR cameras to microscopes, measurement instruments, rifle scopes, spotting scopes, and ophthalmic lenses. It is also the world’s second largest maker of steppers for use in photolithography for semiconductor fabrication, as well as the eighth largest chip producer. In 2019, the company launched its Next Generation Project Division, meant to grow new businesses, such as material processing. This was in part meant to supplement the shrinking digital camera market caused by the rise of smartphones.

Yuichi Shibazaki, Corporate Vice President and General Manager of Next Generation Project Division of Nikon, said, “Morf3D has proven leadership in metal additive technology, a strong innovation pipeline and highly specialized aerospace manufacturing qualifications. It also brings a team of experts accustomed to partnering with customers to achieve their unique requirements. This combination is well-aligned with the Nikon’s vision for accelerating industrialization of AM through innovation, and we look forward to working together to deliver exciting next-generation AM solutions to customers globally.”

Stainless steel parts made by the Lasermeister 100A. Image courtesy of Nikon.

The acquisition of Morf3D expands Nikon’s existing, but small footprint in 3D printing, which previously consisted of the Lasermeister 100A, a system capable of metal 3D printing, laser marking, welding, and polishing. With Morf3D, the company may be able to expand this produce line or build up a large metal 3D printing service bureau or both. Outside of metals, Nikon has also invested in Carbon, is researching regenerative medicine, and its metrology equipment is used for quality control of 3D printed parts.

The Lasermeister 100A, available in white or black for ¥30M, depending on specifications, has a build envelope of 297 x 210 x 200 mm. Image courtesy of Nikon.

Joris Peels, who is also Vice President of Consulting for SmarTech Analysis, had this to say about the acquisition:

“Nikon is an established leader in metrology, 3D scanning, and video measurement. Their CT solutions have long been used to check 3D printed metal parts and their CMM and scanning tools have measured them. Now, Nikon has decided to jump in the pool at the deep end and get involved in metal 3D printing space and aerospace parts. This is a remarkable, bold, and strategically astute move by the company. Morph3D’s tribal knowledge and process control will let Nikon develop the metrology solutions for the future. What’s more, the combined knowledge could be used for automated, complete QA tools for 3D printed parts that significantly make our technology safer while lowering part costs. Additionally, Nikon could use this to further develop its own printer, extend post-processing and automation solutions, or it could make parts for the fast-expanding commercial space industry. This acquisition gives the company many options to engage with the 3D printing industry and develop solutions for this rapidly growing market.”

Due to the need of a large camera manufacturer to expand into other sectors, this is surely only the beginning for Nikon. The company says that it “intends to drive industrialization of digital manufacturing by leveraging synergies resulting from strategic investments and alliances with industry-leading companies worldwide.” Does this mean more 3D printing acquisitions? What can Nikon’s optics do for polymer 3D printing? With its interest in regenerative medicine, there’s a possibility for some moves in the bioprinting space as well.

This has been an exciting year for the 3D printing market. We have already seen announcements related to the SPAC mergers of VELO3D with Jaws, Markforged with oneRocket Lab with Vector Acquisition Corporation, the acquisition of EnvisionTEC by Desktop Metal, and of RPS and Origin by Stratasys. What will happen next?

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