AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

Lockheed Martin Space Takes on Metal 3D Printing from Velo3D

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One of the most financially impressive companies in the additive manufacturing (AM) sector last year was Velo3D (NYSE: VLD), which went public in October, 2021, after an SPAC merger with Jaws Spitfire Acquisition Corporation. The company’s share price has been down a bit lately — but, of course, so has been the stock market in general, and especially the currently quite volatile S&P 500.

On the bright side, the company has announced that one of the world’s leading aerospace manufacturers, Lockheed Martin Space, recently acquired Velo3D’s Sapphire XC printer. The printer is in use at Lockheed’s Additive Design & Manufacturing Center, in Sunnyvale, CA. The Sapphire XC is capable of printing parts up to about two feet in diameter, and up to just under two feet in height — 500% larger than what the previous Sapphire system is capable of — and was probably the key to the company’s 2021 financial performance.

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin Space

Notably, when Velo3D’s customers buy the Sapphire, they aren’t just purchasing printers. Rather, large industrial outfits like Lockheed are buying into Velo’s “end-to-end” platform, as is becoming increasingly standard for customers in the AM sector across the board. For instance, a story I covered earlier this week highlighted the world’s largest supplier of parts for wind turbines, Vestas, and its end-to-end adoption of Markforged’s Digital Forge platform.

Image courtesy of Velo3D

In Lockheed’s case, in addition to the Sapphire XC, the company is also using Velo3D’s print preparation software, Flow, and its quality assurance and control software, Assue. Moreover, all three products (the printer and the two software platforms) are integrated by Velo’s Intelligent Fusion technology, which is built into all Sapphire hardware, and is the key to truly making the entire process “end-to-end”. The purpose is not simply to ensure optimal repeatability and reliability for an individual printer, but to provide such an experience for customers on any Sapphire printer, anywhere in the world.

As Velo3D’s CEO and founder, Benny Buller, puts it, “An additive manufacturing solution that can print identical parts anywhere you have a printer can not only help solve some very specific, complex challenges in our global supply chain, it can also lower production costs and lead times, and enable the manufacturing of parts in closer proximity to where they’re needed.”

The higher that the prices of energy sources of every kind continue to climb, alongside the growing unreliability and changing dynamics of existing global supply chains, the more likely it is that companies of all kinds, no matter the size or sector, will turn to distributed manufacturing solutions. In this sense, the firms that “got there first”, when it comes to creating end-to-end platforms, will be in the best position to capitalize in the AM sector. This has been surmised by analysts in the sector for some time; 2022 may be the year when that prediction finally begins to materialize, in practice.

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