Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Benny Buller on VELO3D’s SPACtacular Rise in Metal 3D Printing

ST Medical Devices

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2021 has already been a SPACtacular year for the 3D printing industry, with several companies already announcing mergers with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). This includes Markforged, Rocket Lab, and VELO3D. This, of course, follows, Desktop Metal’s 2020 SPAC deal and coincides with other 3D printing firms going public, specifically Rokit Healthcare, Massivit3D, and MeaTech.

Perhaps most exciting was the news from VELO3D, a startup that has improved on laser powder bed fusion (PBF) technology to an unprecedented extent. spoke to VELO3D CEO Benny Buller to learn more about what led to the decision to pursue an IPO and how it will fuel the company’s future.

A titanium fuel tank printed on the VELO3D sapphire, without the need for internal supports. Fuel tanks like these are used in defense and commercial aircraft. (Image via VELO3D).

Buller explained that the SPAC deal was driven in part by the success of its Sapphire metal 3D printers, which rely on a combination of simulation software, a tightly controlled printing environment, and closed loop control to enable high quality metal prints that generally don’t require support structures. This, in turn, significantly reduces post-processing through the removal of supports, but also enables first-time-right printing, as simulation and a lack of supports improves the rate of success in 3D printing metal parts.

Due to all of these factors, various sectors, such as aerospace, oil and gas and space, have been excited about the Sapphire. This and the announcement of an even larger Sapphire XC—capable of printing five times higher in volume and at three times lower cost than the previous Sapphire—saw VELO3D closing Q1 of 2021 with a substantial number of machine reservations. Additionally, VELO3D’s customers would likely continue to purchase systems and further require support from the manufacturer.

VELO3D’s Sapphire XC 3D printer. Image courtesy of VELO3D.

To meet these demands, the firm needed further funding, according to the CEO.

“We would have to extend our manufacturing capacity pretty significantly to be able to deliver all of those systems. For the first half of 2022 we have a very significant backlog,” Buller said. “We ended 2020 about doubling our customer base compared to where we started 2020. And this this year, our intent is to double this again. So we, we intend to add 15 more customers this year. For Q1, we met our goal in terms of the number of new customers and the number of systems that were sold. We had a really good quarter this quarter. The business is in real momentum right now expanding in the, in the directions we wanted.”

The company is also expanding its presence globally. Buller said that, upon establishing VELO3D’s first salesperson in Europe in Q4 2020, the firm is expanding to establishing a commercial entity roughly the size of its business in the U.S. This means incorporating sales, applications development, marketing, and field service engineering. It is also gradually working on building a presence in the Pacific.

VELO3D CEO Benny Buller. Image courtesy of VELO3D.

As we have already learned from VELO3D’s customers so far, the company is very application focused. For this reason, it has taken on Boom Supersonic, SpaceX, Primus Aerospace, and Knust-Godwin, working hand-in-hand to develop the applications.

“We are focused on industrial production applications. We tend to avoid prototyping and people that are doing research,” Buller said.” We have three applications that we operate in. The first is companies that have a large portfolio of parts with relatively low consumption that are generally most traditionally focused and that they have very long lead times. The disruptions associated with this type are actually more important regarding those parts and the sheer cost of those parts.”

Buller described this application as often made up of legacy parts, in which circulation is already and redesign is not being considered because a customer doesn’t have the resources or qualification would be too intensive.

The next application, often seen in aerospace and oil and gas, is the consolidation of assemblies. Finally, the company is working with businesses on designing heat exchangers.

“One of the most common applications we have for that is in the area of heat exchangers” Buller said. “We have a lot of work with heat exchangers where people have been making compromises to make the heat exchangers ineffectual for either them—and we allow them to relax those designs.”

As the company begins to grow at its exponential pace, with the help from an IPO slated for later this year, we are likely to see it evolve further. Just as Desktop Metal grew from a metal 3D printing firm to a company with a diverse technology and materials portfolio once it became public, VELO3D could diversify its portfolio. Buller concluded by speaking to this point:

“We don’t think of ourselves, first and foremost, as a 3D printing company,” Buller said. “We think of ourselves more as a company that is serving the manufacturing needs or providing manufacturing technology for a very specific type of industrial low-volume, higher-value customers. When we talk about expanding our portfolio product portfolio, we think about expanding this portfolio in this direction. We definitely are not going to become a 3D Systems and we definitely are not going to be the one-stop-shop for any extra 3D printing needs that someone may have, but we definitely would like to expand and provide more complete offering in this in this kind of high-value application segment. We think in different directions about how to still deliver in terms of our vision and expanding our vision for those customers through our current technologies, but we are not limited to that. We also looking at complimentary technologies that are serving the same needs of the same customers.”

What this means exactly we won’t know for sure until bullish Benny Buller enters the public market and makes his already impressive company bigger and better.

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