The consumer goods market is just now beginning to see minor penetration by additive manufacturing (AM) technology. The entry point seems to be luxury products, with the latest company to make a foray into AM being Swiss giant Compagnie Financière Richemont SA (SWX: CFR), whose Italian watchmaker Officine Panerai aims to 3D print high-end timepieces. Moreover, the products will be 3D printed from fully recycled titanium using patented technologies from IperionX (NASDAQ: IPX).
IperionX collaborated with Panerai’s product and technical experts to select watch designs that could be 3D printed using the former’s “low-carbon”, recycled titanium powders. So far, IperionX has produced watch blanks for the Italian subsidiary, aiming to produce a watch case for a limited-edition design that will hit the market in 2023. From there, the two will continue to work together on further watch designs.
Luxury Giant Enters 3D Printing
The third largest luxury goods company in the world, as of 2017, Richemont is $65 billion company, in terms of market capitalization. It is well known for its many luxury brands that include Cartier, Montblanc, Chloé and more. Interestingly, the Swiss firm has its roots in the Rembrandt Group, founded by Anton Rupert, once the wealthiest person in South Africa with a history of intrigue in his association with the World Wildlife Foundation.
Founded in Italy, Panerai was originally linked with Rolex SA, who designed and manufactured all Panerai watches aside from the dials. Paneria developed uniquely luminous dials using, first, a highly radioactive radium-based compound before switching to a safe compound in 1965. When it was purchased by Richemont in 1997, it became a luxury brand with increased prices. This included a 2005-2010 partnership with Ferrari, which resulted in timepieces with prices as high as $30,000.
Recycling Titanium for 3D Printing Luxury Watches
IperionX is in the process of commercializing its hydrogen assisted magnesiothermic reduction technology, which exposes titanium oxides to hydrogen gas to create titanium metal in a way that creates fewer carbon emissions. Then, granulation-sintering-deoxygenation is used to produce spherical titanium powders in a cost-effective manner.
The Aussie-American company is still young and most of the projects it is engaged in are in the research and development stages. This not only marks the move of IperionX into the luxury goods market but represents an early application for its recycled titanium materials. With that in mind, it’s actually somewhat surprising that it was able to obtain such a larger partner in this business.
“Panerai has steadily expanded its efforts to promote sustainable practices through operational, outreach, and educational initiatives to maintain a sustainable environment and healthy oceans. IperionX’s fully recycled titanium provides a way for Panerai to produce top of the line luxury goods with sustainable titanium which provides a high end experience for our customers. Panerai is leading the way for luxury brands in both quality and sustainability. The next generation metals such as IperionX’s fully recycled titanium will enable Panerai to deliver on both quality and sustainability,” Anthony Serpry, Research and Development Director at Panerai said.
“Panerai and Richemont have been leaders in the application of titanium metal alloys in luxury watches, and they are again the leading the market to build a low carbon, circular supply chain using IperionX’s superior titanium product range,” said Anastasios (Taso) Arima, CEO and Managing Director said. “Our partnership agreement with Panerai represents a major milestone in the luxury goods sector. For IperionX this demonstrates the potential in other consumer facing sectors which are demanding fully recycled and sustainable, low carbon materials. One of the most exciting sectors are the high growth markets in smart watch, wearable device and smartphone markets.”
3D Printing Luxury Goods
Despite the possibilities for 3D printing, consumer goods have somewhat struggled to take off as an AM market. There have been countless promising applications, from jewelry to “shelfies,” but the high cost of the technology typically made the end products cost prohibitive. However, there have been more recent percolations in the sector that indicate a potential sea change.
In some ways, consumer goods are mirroring the adoption path of AM for end parts in the automotive space, where high-end applications justified the comparative expense of the technology. There, auto sports and luxury vehicle manufacturers could use AM for improved performance and/or due to the low volume of cars that would be made.
In the consumer goods industry, 3D printing is being applied to products for which customers might be more willing to pay premium. This includes running shoes from adidas, golf clubs from Cobra, bicycle and e-bike parts from a variety of companies, and eyewear. Jewelry has so far been the most lucrative area for the production of consumer goods, due to the high use of 3D printed sacrificial molds for casting of rings and other items. We have yet to see if personalized action figures or 3D printed video game stills will be as promising.
One major difference now compared to a decade ago when 3D printed consumer goods first began to really enter the market is that new AM technologies are able to bring the price of parts down through increased throughput. For instance, Cobra clubs are made using HP’s powder bed fusion techniques. Adidas midsoles are 3D printed with Carbon’s high-speed vat photopolymerization process. 3D printed bikes are being made with Arevo’s large-format carbon fiber 3D printing technique.
Presumably any watches made by Paneria and IperionX will be expensive enough to justify the cost to make the parts. IperionX’s process could be capable of reducing the price of the materials, if/once the firm begins scaling. At that point, we could see an increase in large luxury goods companies could utilizing the technology.
This will drive a significant boost to the consumer 3D printing market, which, according to the Polymer and Metal Data Services reports from SmarTech Analysis, is currently worth about $1.1 billion. Of that, the jewelry market is valued at $305 million, which is close to what we might estimate the slightly larger luxury goods market to be worth.
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