EPSON and Development Bank of Japan Bet on 3DEO’s Metal 3D Printing Tech

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Japanese investment into the additive manufacturing (AM) sector is increasing and it’s bringing new, powerful players to the table. Los Angeles-based 3DEO announced a substantial investment from the Development Bank of Japan Inc. (DBJ) and Seiko Epson Corporation. Whereas Epson has slowly been increasing its presence in the 3D printing industry, this is a first move for DBJ in the space.

3DEO’s Saffron 3D printer utilizes the firm’s Intelligent Layering process, which begins by distributing a fine layer of metal powder across the bed before a binder is evenly applied across the entire build area using a specialized spray mechanism. Subsequently, a CNC mill precisely carves the part’s external contours and any intricate internal details. Once the printing phase is complete, the object, still in its green state, undergoes a sintering process in a furnace, where it achieves its full density.  The company has carved a niche for itself with its specialization in complex metal 3D printed components and assemblies.

Metal parts that have been CNC’d during the Intelligent Layering process. Image courtesy of 3DEO.

Although specifics have not been revealed, Nikkei reports that the investment by the two Japanese companies amounts to approximately 1 billion yen ($6.8 million), which equates to an estimated 5% ownership stake. In conjunction with their American investment firm partners, their collective shareholding is around 40%. This strategic investment will drive 3DEO’s growth, especially in North America and Japan. The company’s expansion plan is particularly significant in critical sectors such as semiconductors, aerospace, medical devices, and industrial equipment.

“The collaboration with DBJ and EPSON is a powerful endorsement of our mission to empower product and engineering teams across the globe,” said Matthew Petros, CEO and Co-founder of 3DEO. “This investment is not just capital; it’s a commitment to a shared vision of challenging what’s possible through the combination of additive design principles and differentiated capabilities.”

In Japan, where there’s a strong inclination towards conventional metalworking, this collaboration aims to break barriers in the adoption of AM technologies and Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). It presents an opportunity to blend 3DEO’s AM capabilities with Japan’s meticulous engineering tradition, opening new frontiers in productivity and manufacturing possibilities.

Parts made with Intelligent Layering. Image courtesy of 3DEO.

In March 2022, Epson introduced its first 3D printer, marking a significant shift in the imaging industry as companies transition from traditional 2D printing to 3D technologies. While the new Epson 3D printer remains unnamed, its unique technology is derived from the company’s experience in injection molding, utilizing a flat screw mechanism to extrude third-party resin and metal pellets. Epson’s printer is designed for final part production and mass customization in small batch production, boasting precise control of material injection and temperature for producing strong and accurate industrial parts.

This was followed by an announcement by Epson’s subsidiary Atmix, known for producing artificial quartz and metal injection molding (MIM) parts, stating that the firm would be initiating a project to manufacture metal powders for MIM and 3D printing by recycling metal scrap from Epson and its partners. This initiative aligns with Epson’s goal to become “underground resource free by 2050,” aiming to cease mining for virgin nonrenewable materials. The new factory, designed to process out-of-spec metal powders, waste from factories, and used molds and dies, is expected to cover 25% of Atmix’s total raw metal needs with recycled metal within three years of operation.

This development is part of Epson’s broader strategy to venture into high-throughput production machines that reduce environmental impacts, reflecting a growing trend among imaging companies like HP, Canon, and Konica Minolta in embracing 3D printing technologies for various applications, including industrial and healthcare sectors. This move is a culmination of Epson’s seven-year journey in developing mass production 3D printing technology since its announcement in 2015.

Beyond the imaging sector, Japanese multinationals have been increasingly investing in AM in the U.S. and beyond. Most notably, of course, is Nikon, a Mitsubishi Group company that has established an advanced manufacturing division in the U.S. that includes its SLM Solutions and Morf3D 3D printing subsidiaries. In addition to outright acquisitions, Nikon has invested in several other AM firms. Mitsubishi itself is involved in various 3D printing activities, ranging from metals to polymers, machines to gasses, services to materials, bioprinted meat to bioprinted organ tissues. At this point, the conglomerate’s AM products and projects are too numerous to count. NAGASE, another Japanese materials company, is increasing its investments in U.S. 3D printing operations, as well. DMG Mori, which is both Japanese and German, is also moving its 3D printer production to the U.S.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that the government of Japan itself is investing in a U.S. startup like 3DEO. That’s right: DBJ is solely owned by the Government of Japan through the Minister of Finance. 3DEO says that the investment by DBJ, through the DBJ Startups and Innovation Fund, and EPSON was “secured after careful review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).” Nevertheless, it does give Japanese national and corporate interests a partner in the U.S.’s bustling AM scene, while also allowing 3DEO to grow at home and abroad.

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