AMS Spring 2023

2023 Dream 3D Printing Mergers and Acquisitions: Will Apple Buy…?

Inkbit

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2022 saw far fewer mergers and acquisitions, as well as initial public offerings, than the cash-flush year before. However, this year’s drought may mean next year’s glut, as inflation slows and economies recover. Moreover, those larger companies that could weather the downturn will be able to acquire weaker startups. All of this may combine for a year of surprising mergers and acquisitions in 2023. In this list of predictions for next year, we consider some moves that could be surprising alongside others that may seem more predictable. 

Stratasys Buys Nano Dimension

Electronics 3D printer manufacturer Nano Dimension (Nasdaq: NNDM) has a pile of cash on hand with which it was meant to make a bold move in 2022. However, it also lost all of its market support from ARK Investment Management, which sold all of its shares as Nano CEO Yoav Stern sought to gain majority control over the company. It already owns a 10% stake in Stratasys (Nasdaq: SSYS), but lacks the force to perform a hostile takeover of the 3D printing stalwart. Yet, Nano Dimension’s inkjet-based process for 3D printing circuit boards aligns well with Stratasys’s own inkjet-based PolyJet line. Electronics 3D printing is highly desirable by the defense, space, medical and electronics manufacturing industries. If Stratasys could perfect it, it would become quite powerful. Nano’s subsidiary Essemtec would give the added ability to perform robotic assembly of electronic components. 

3D Systems Buys Xerox Elem Additive 

From what we know, Xerox (NYSE: XRX)’s metal 3D printing system, the ElemX, was canned prematurely. The company essentially dismantled its Elem Additive division, leaving the technology and staff that supported it out to dry. It was almost as if the R&D-heavy Xerox were building up a product only to pass it along to someone else. Whether or not this was a convoluted play by activist Xerox investor Carl Icahn against/toward HP investor Warren Buffet is difficult to determine. Because the technology is still valuable, it’s hard not to think it won’t get bought. The more difficult question is who the buyer would be. 

From Siemens’ CATCH grand opening, a Xerox ElemX machine in operation. Image courtesy of Siemens.

One possibility is 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD), which already offers metal powder bed fusion (PBF) that could be complemented by the ElemX. While PBF is good for expensive, complex parts, the ElemX would work for quick, less expensive metal components. The U.S. Navy showed a great deal of interest in Xerox’s machine as something that could make quick and dirty spares aboard a vessel at sea. Like most AM companies, 3D Systems has a solid relationship with the U.S. military, including the Navy, and could be an ideal partner for overseeing ElemX for the Navy. 3D Systems also has a legacy relationship with Xerox through the acquisition of part of its solid inks division in 2014.  

3D Systems Buys nScrypt

Though 3D Systems has showed a large interest in bioprinting, it has not stopped investing in new technologies that complement existing AM products. This includes establishing a material extrusion division and purchasing dp polar, a maker of high-throughput 3D printers. This latter move was reminiscent of a time when 3D Systems showed a great deal of interest in electronics 3D printing for Google’s Project Ara, when it worked to develop a high-throughput machine for producing phone modules. 

To embed electronics, however, 3D Systems could use some help from a smaller firm with those capabilities. Among the options, nScrypt is near the top of the list with its SmartPump dispenser, capable of depositing over 10,000 commercially available materials, ranging from solder pastes and adhesives to living tissue. nScrypt has combined its various technologies to create hybrid manufacturing systems, capable of plastic extrusion, micro-milling, pick-and-place and other operations alongside dispensing of conductive inks and other materials with the SmartPump.

GE Buys 3D Systems

GE (NYSE: GE) has shown some financial stress, but is probably considered too integral to the global economy to become too distressed. Instead, it is following the path of Siemens, by breaking into smaller, publicly traded units: GE Aerospace, GE HealthCare and GE Vernova. GE Additive, then, will likely stick with the aerospace division, but its technology has also been crucial to its energy division (soon to be GE Vernova). Perhaps lending its operations to all three divisions, GE Additive could build itself up to become a digital manufacturing giant, which it already is in our small industry. To fully accomplish this, it could expand its portfolio greatly simply by acquiring a stalwart with an already expansive portfolio, like 3D Systems. 

HP Buys Stratasys

As GE becomes one pillar of Industry 4.0, HP (NYSE: HPQ) could seek to become another. With its own powder-based processes, it is already a leader in polymer 3D printing and will likely become one in metals. In order to tackle the full gamut, it could pull the same move that hypothetical GE did above and acquire its own stalwart. Stratasys could make the most sense, given the existing relationship between the two companies. 

In 2010, the two businesses collaborated to release an extrusion 3D printer only to discontinue it two years later. That was timed just four months after Stratasys announced it would merge with Israeli inkjet 3D printer manufacturer, Objet. Though the relationship with HP and Stratasys didn’t last, it’s possible there are still feelings there. HP has had a large presence in Israel since 1998, while Objet introduced several former HP Scitex executives from the region to the board. 

Apple Buys Optomec 

Electronics 3D printing is already happening at some level at Apple. It’s just difficult to determine what that level is due to the sensitive nature of the applications and companies involved. It seems safe to assume that Apple is 3D printing electronics at least at the R&D level. If Apple ends up using Optomec’s Aerojet technology at scale for 3D printing chips, circuits, antennas or other elements, it could feel the need to secure its supply chain, which would require purchasing the company outright. 

LITE-ON Mobile’s setup for 3D printing electronics onto devices.

3DPrint.com and SmarTech Analysis are hosting Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7-9, 2023. Register for the event here to learn from and network with the most exciting companies and individuals in AM.

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