Nikon Shakes up Metal 3D Printing with Bid to Buy SLM Solutions

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Japanese lithography, scanning and camera firm Nikon (TYO: 7731) is set to acquire metal 3D printer manufacturer SLM Solutions (ETR: AM3D). The Japanese firm has bid a premium of 83.7% over a three month average of SLM shares, offering a cash consideration of €20 as well as an offer to take over SLM bonds. Nikon estimates that the transaction value is €622 million. Nikon will also subscribe to new SLM shares amounting to a 10% capital increase for the firm. The firm says that activist investor Elliott Investment Management, ENA Investment Capital, and founder Hans-Joachim Ihde are in favor of the bid.

Porsche's E-drive housing, printed on the NXG XII 600 in only 21 hours. I Porsche’s E-drive housing, printed on the NXG XII 600 in only 21 hours. Image courtesy of SLM Solutions/Porsche.

“The Management and Supervisory Board of SLM welcome and fully support the takeover offer and investment by Nikon. The transaction provides an attractive opportunity for SLM’s shareholders and employees alike and will allow SLM to continue to thrive in the fast-developing space of Metal AM to serve its customers even better. Subject to the review of the offer document, the Management and Supervisory Board intend to recommend that SLM shareholders accept the takeover offer and have also committed to accept the takeover offer for any shares held by them,” SLM Solutions said in a statement.

The opening event at Wabtec’s new facility. Image courtesy of Trains.com.

A Good Deal for SLM Solutions

Financially this is a good deal for SLM shareholders. The laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) firm’s market cap is currently at around $443 million. SLM was valued sharply higher than this years ago, when GE offered to buy the firm. However, Eliot nixed the deal and GE went after Concept Laser instead. Given the current economic climate, this deal may be the best for all parties.

It also seems like Nikon is the right partner for SLM. Its experience in 3D scanning can give SLM an edge in quality assurance and in-process monitoring. This is further augmented by Nikon’s deep experience in lithography.

Nikon also has the financial wherewithal to win in the laser wars. Currently, SLM is vying for supremacy in 3D printing by offering the 12-laser NXG XII 600 printer. It seems like it is ahead of the pack but Velo3D, 3D Systems, EOS, and GE will have to release machines with multiple lasers, as well. Managing many energy sources requires much more complex machines, much more complicated controls, and a lot more software and monitoring. It is a sea change in complexity compared to the systems of only a few years ago. Optimal tool pathing, in addition to residual heat and error handling are all incredibly complex now. Nikon’s previous experience in lithography will aid the firm in dealing with these challenges. At the same time Nikon’s deep optomechanical manufacturing expertise will aid it in understanding requirements for 3D printing parts and developing new 3D printers. That same expertise will also aid them in improvements with optics as well.

“Nikon has more than a century of history in developing cutting-edge opto-electronic technology and precision equipment. I am excited for SLM to partner with Nikon to further extend our technology leadership position. We believe this transaction and partnership is very beneficial for all our stakeholders – shareholders, employees and customers alike,” SLM CEO Sam O’Leary said.

A Good Deal for Nikon

I think that this is a fantastic deal for Nikon and the firm buys itself a real future in additive manufacturing (AM). The only risk is if SLM Solutions has overpromised or has gotten itself in too complex a technological heap and its 3D printers do not work as advertised.

By acquiring Morf3D a few months ago, Nikon has essentially done excellent due diligence. Morf3D is a high-end manufacturer of aerospace components and has bough SLM Solutions machines, including the new 12 laser 3D printer. This experience will have given it a great look at how SLM´s equipment fares in production.

Going forward, by owning both Morph and SLM, Nikon could build true manufacturing solutions by understanding what is needed to produce and then making the machines that do just that.

“By acquiring SLM, Nikon is taking an important step towards our Vision 2030. We are focused on digital manufacturing as a growth driver and will create value through the promising market of metal additive manufacturing. Metal additive manufacturing will revolutionize mass-production by enabling our clients to manufacture highly complex parts, reduce cycle time, carbon emissions, energy costs and waste. Nikon and SLM share the vision that our technology-driven innovation will transform the future of manufacturing. This acquisition will be key to growing our digital manufacturing business,” Nikon CEO Toshikazu Umatate stated.

Shaking up the Metal 3D Printing Market

This is also an excellent move for Japan. The country has been rather aloof in the 3D printing game. Sony went into SLA machines but backed out before the market really got started. Since then Japan’s efforts have been limited to Sodick and Matsuura’s hybrid machines along with DMG Mori’s efforts. Comparatively, Japan has industrialized few 3D printing processes, parts and has few companies, OEMs and startups in the industry. Through Nikon, Japan could now really get into the driving seat of AM. All round, this is a fantastic move for Japan, Nikon and SLM Solutions.

For the market as a whole, this will make it more difficult for GE to lead in 3D printing. The company will have to allocate new capital to GE Additive in order to score on a multiple-laser playing field. What’s more, the logical approach is for Nikon to develop truly automated 3D printing production cells which will be more integrated, have higher yield and higher quality. Meanwhile, the L-PBF market leader, EOS, will now have to seek investors or partners to be able to take on Nikon. Perhaps, EOS will now be urged to partner with erstwhile investor Zeiss to add automation, quality control, and monitoring. Zeiss could perhaps purchase EOS, if only to make sure that it stays ahead of Nikon in lithography. It would hate to be bested in the future in lithography due to a surging Nikon and new manufacturing techniques.

Additive Industries now looks more likely to be acquired, perhaps by Canon? For Velo3D, VulcanForms, and Seurat the challenge is the same, but the numbers just got bigger. We expect a number of acquisitions or deep partnerships on the back of this.

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