Large-scale 3D printer maker voxeljet (Nasdaq: VJET) has been navigating troubled waters lately, marked by a looming cash burn earlier this year and a decision to review potential strategic changes. However, in a positive turn of events, the company experienced a significant surge in its stock price, up by 23%, after landing a $14.9 million contract. This notable collaboration, backed by GE Research and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), is part of the country’s commitment to pivot towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy landscape.
Central to this partnership is voxeljet’s development of an ambitious sand binder jet 3D printer named the Advanced Casting Cell (ACC). With the capability to construct mammoth sand-casting molds, the ACC promises streamlined production of metallic near-net shape (NNS) components, crucial for the rapidly expanding wind and hydro energy sectors. The magnitude of this project becomes even clearer when considering the capacity of the 3D printer. It’s engineered to produce sand molds suitable for casting massive parts, ranging between 10 to 60 tons.
An immediate beneficiary of this innovation would be the nacelle of the GE Haliade-X Offshore Turbine – a protective housing that encloses key turbine components and weighs over 60 metric tons. The potential to significantly reduce production time for such vital components is one of the standout advantages. The ripple effects of this innovation could be immense, promising a reduction in production durations and costs.
One of the primary objectives of this technological leap is to cut the production time for patterns and molds. Currently, the process can stretch up to ten weeks, but with the implementation of the ACC, the aim is to bring it down to just two weeks.
Additionally, the new manufacturing technology is projected to cut hydropower costs by 20% and reduce four month lead times. One of the focal points of this initiative is enhancing the production of a 16-ton rotor hub, a central component in wind turbines that connects the blades to the shaft, allowing energy conversion. The ACC, voxeljet’s cutting-edge 3D printer, is optimized to produce this hefty component more efficiently.
Furthermore, the project intends to pioneer a robotic welding process designed to assemble the Francis runner. This is an integral part of hydropower turbines that converts water energy into rotational motion. This particular runner has an impressive weight of over 10 tons. Finally, a new training program is being created to help workers use the ACC effectively. This program will teach local workers about the new 3D printing method and its benefits.
The recent announcement appears to have provided voxeljet with a much-needed vote of confidence from the market. Following the news, The company’s stock hovered at $1.04 on October 10, 2023, and reached a remarkable $1.35 on October 11, 2023. This increase could suggest that investors recognize the partnership’s potential significance in the company’s journey to address its recent challenges. While the uptick is a positive sign, the broader context of voxeljet’s stock performance and future endeavors remains essential for stakeholders to watch closely.
According to voxeljet, its latest collaboration doesn’t just end with the ACC development. The broader initiative also includes contributions from other industry giants and academic institutions, including GE Hydro, GE Onshore Wind, GE Offshore Wind, Clemson University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and Hodge Foundry. The collective goal of these partnerships is to enhance and optimize the ACC project.
In the backdrop of this collaboration is the DoE’s September 2023 announcement describing a $72 million fund allocated for domestic wind energy and hydropower projects. The government has earmarked more than half of this amount, specifically over $40 million, for advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, demonstrating its interest in innovating the manufacturing landscape. GE Research emerged as a significant player in this initiative, securing over $20 million, primarily dedicated to manufacturing R&D.
However, the path to this ambitious collaboration wasn’t without its challenges. Earlier this year, voxeljet grappled with a cash crunch situation. By December 2022, the company had a cash reserve of €12 million ($12.7 million) with a cash burn rate of €10 million ($10.6 million) over the past year. This left them with a cash runway of approximately 15 months, raising concerns over its financial sustainability.
Adding another layer of intrigue to voxeljet’s journey is its recent announcement regarding a formal review process to explore strategic alternatives. Guided by BNP Paribas Securities and Hogan Lovells, the company is eyeing several possibilities, ranging from mergers and joint ventures to strategic partnerships. Although the timeline and the outcome remain uncertain, the move will be crucial in defining voxeljet’s roadmap in the coming years.
3DPrint.com Editor-in-Chief Michael Molitch-Hou recently shed light on voxeljet’s ongoing situation, noting that the company, possibly the only manufacturer of massive-scale sand 3D printers, has a unique position in this emerging market. Molitch-Hou highlighted that voxeljet appears to be in a precarious financial situation based on its 2022 numbers. The firm’s persistent negative operating and free cash flows pose challenges to the company’s sustainability. On the upside, the positive investing cash flow and a relatively stable end cash position might provide some relief. The company directs much of the financing cash flow towards debt repayment, potentially as a strategy to diminish long-term liabilities. Yet, the decline in its end-of-year cash position from 2021 indicates the need for new capital infusion to sustain its ongoing operations. Despite the challenges its stock has faced, Molitch-Hou says voxeljet has consistently pushed the envelope in innovation and secured collaborations with influential partners.
Their collaboration with GE Research, which captured the lion’s share of the DoE’s funding, strengthens voxeljet’s stance in the industry and sets a precedent for future collaborations. Voxeljet’s CEO, Ingo Ederer, is optimistic about the future. He emphasized the company’s unwavering commitment to advancing clean power-generation technologies in response to global climate challenges.
“The transition to cleaner energy solutions is not just an economic necessity; it’s a moral imperative. With the Advanced Casting Cell, we’re poised to make a tangible difference,” concludes Ederer.
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