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AMS Spring 2023

Stratasys Goes on the Record on Buying Covestro 3D Printing Materials Unit

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In light of the recent acquisition of Covestro’s additive manufacturing (AM) business by Stratasys, we interviewed executive vice president of Product Strategy and Corporate Development at Stratasys Omer Krieger and the head of Covestro’s AM unit, Hugo da Silva.

Integrating 3D Printing Materials

Prior to the purchase, Covestro had bought the 3D printing materials unit of another leading player in the space, DSM, in 2020, which had only months earlier acquired the additive division of Swiss chemical giant Clariant. This meant that, just as those businesses were in the process of combining their operations, it would be time for the new owner, Stratasys, to integrate all of these units under its own corporate umbrella.

¨The integration of the DSM Additive Manufacturing and Covestro Additive Manufacturing teams was ongoing and now both of these teams, without distinction between them, are a part of the [Stratasys] deal,” da Silva explained to 3DPrint.com. “Everything we used to do be able to do in Covestro in terms of research and manufacturing, Stratasys will be able to do. We had a mixed manufacturing strategy, where we performed internal and external manufacturing, with all of these assets available. This gives us access to a library of many chemistries. That will let us use these existing materials for different platforms.¨

da Silva implied that the combined businesses would work well together, given the fact that they maintained a similar concept for the future of 3D printing. And part of this would mean focusing not on Stratasys’s proprietary AM technologies alone, but beyond to other equipment. This is important, obviously, because Covestro’s AM business supplied materials for use with machines aside from Stratasys 3D printers.

¨We both had a vision to do industrial manufacturing,” da silva said. “With that vision you can’t restrict yourself to only be on your platform. To benefit 3D printing and to let it move to real manufacturing, you need to be more open. All of your manufacturing platforms have a strong interaction between how the machine, materials, and software interact. That interaction is specific for a given application and is present at a deeper level than with other technologies. We want to achieve massive production. So, it will be very helpful for a material that is not in our library to still be able to be used. This is especially true as we are getting into real manufacturing.¨

Krieger concurred, saying that there is a “strong match between the two entities,” though there is still a lot of work to be done to integrate them and take the best of both sides.

The SAF-powered Stratasys H350 3D printer. Image courtesy of Stratasys.

¨We’re very much aligned about strategy for polymer manufacturing. With this acquisition, we’re advancing by a few years in one shot,” Krieger said.

3D Printing Materials for Stratasys Printers and Beyond

There has been speculation in the 3D printing industry about whether the polymer unit will now focus more on delivering products to the market or on making materials for Stratasys printers. After all, these printers now span a multitude of AM processes, including fused deposition modeling (FDM), programmable photopolymerization (P3), selective absorption fusion (SAF), stereolithography (SLA), and PolyJet.

“There is a strong benefit to developing and integrating materials into existing Stratasys processes. In general, there is a strong intimacy between hardware and software and we want to leverage that,” Krieger said. “Nevertheless, it doesn’t prevent us from supplying materials elsewhere. We have to consider and assess the value to our customers. We now have a strong on focus on customizing and developing Stratasys technologies, but we’re definitely committed to an open solution. We can call this a hybrid solution, technology-wise. We work on our own solutions, as well as collaborate with other market leaders on products that we don’t have in house. For [digital light processing], SLA, SAF and P3, we’re all going be working for an open, hybrid solution.”

Image courtesy of Stratasys.

We wondered if Stratasys’s R&D budget will be rather stretched, given that the company now has so many technologies and materials.

“With five manufacturing technologies, this can be a challenge,” Krieger said. “Essentially, you don’t need to compromise because you develop the right solution on the right platform, alone or with a partner, FDM applications do not fit P3, for example, so there is no compromise on technology. We work with the one that has the accurate fit. The ocean of manufacturing is infinite, and our biggest challenge is prioritise, those incremental pockets of manufacturing success for AM.¨

More recently, the company has been targeting specific verticals with tailored printers and materials. For instance, there seems to be a PolyJet machine for nearly every industry, with some machines designed for industrial design, engineering and prototyping, while others are made for medical, dental, or even textile applications. This had us wondering if the company would be dedicated to creating specific printers for specific verticals, use cases, and materials. Krieger told us:

“We have a fundamental strategy of focusing on medical, dental, aerospace, industrial, automotive and very specific use cases. Here, we match the materials with the exact application and this is the strategy that we are aligning all our teams around. And in these vertical there are very interesting use cases. We’re not limiting ourselves to only these but the focus is here. We think that we have a strong position, especially now. Dedicated products for a specific vertical let us solve the manufacturing challenge end to end. But, we also have a broader perspective here. We’re aiming for manufacturing solutions where we need exacting performance and produce parts to spec.”

With that in mind, it seems as though Stratasys is moving forward with its tailored printer solutions as it integrates its new materials division. With its P3 offering from Origin, the focus has always been on open materials while the rest of the firm was closed. Now a new hybrid model will see others´ materials on Stratasys´ machines and Stratasys materials on other machines.

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