April 23, 2014

Head in the Point Clouds

A brief history of 3D Systems acquisitions

Sam Pfeifle

As I'm working on the story about 3D Systems buying Rapidform, I thought I'd quickly put together a brief collection of 3D Systems' buys in the recent past. Taken together, they paint a picture of a company looking to provide every portion of the scan/create-to-print workflow.

• May, 2011 - 3D Systems begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange, an indication the company is ready to be more aggressive in the marketplace. However, at this point, the company has already acquired in the last couple of months both Freedom of Creation and The3dStudio.com, which give them collections of printable 3D objects, many of them consumer-oriented, along with Print3D, a start-up aimed at the industrial CAD market. The company in this period also split its stock and raised funds for an upcoming shopping spree. Further, the company expanded its headquarters in Rock Hill to allow for more manufacturing of the printers it already had in its portfolio.

• July, 2011 - Alibre, Inc. (purchase price not disclosed), a maker of parametric CAD software. With a full suite of solutions that target both the hobbyist and the professional, this is 3D CAD software designed to be both powerful and easy to use, expanding the number of people likely to create 3D objects for eventual printing.  

• September, 2011 - Formero (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services. Basically acquired to create a beachhead in Asia-Pacific - renamed 3D Systems Asia-Pacific.

• October, 2011 - Kemo Modelmakerij (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services. If 3D Systems believes that the use of 3D printing (and scanning) for one-off custom replacement parts and prototypes has a business future, it makes sense to have an arm that provides this service, thus the buys of Formero and Kemo and conversion to non-U.S. headquarters. Will this scare off potential competitors in the on-demand parts market, who may not want to buy a 3D printer from one of its competitors? Maybe 3D Systems doesn't care, considering its current market share and the small number of companies making this a business currently. This has become 3D Systems Benelux.

• November, 2011 - Huntsman's stereolithography line ($41 million), print materials and actual 3D printers. Basically, buying up a competitor and adding to 3D Systems' line. The buy plays to the industrial and medical markets.

• January, 2012 - Z Corporation and Vidar Systems ($135.5 million), including the purchase handheld scanner technology and manufacturing, along with simply consolidating the industry and purchasing a competitor. An early indication the company was looking to really invest in the capture-to-print workflow.

• April, 2012 - My Robot Nation (purchase price not disclosed), a company with software that allows people to design their own robots and other figurines for 3D printing. Basically, if you're going to have a Cubify, a consumer-oriented 3D printer, you better have some content for people to print. Not everyone can just design their own robot in 3D software (actually, very, very few people can do that...).

• April, 2012 - Paramount Industries (purchase price not disclosed), a company providing direct manufacturing and product development solutions for the aerospace and medical industries. They added industrial 3D printers to capabilities that already included tooling and assembly. 3D Systems got a window into big industries it feels should be using 3D printing for product development.

• May, 2012 - Bespoke Innovations (purchase price not disclosed), a company that targets the medical industry, with technology that allows for the design and print of prosthetics and orthortics. The medical industry has shown itself to be a ripe market for short-range scanning, 3D imaging in general, and 3D printing, and 3D Systems is here making an obvious play to secure a position there.

• May, 2012 - FreshFiber (purchase price not disclosed), a small firm that allows people to buy customized iPhone cases and the like, created with 3D printers. Again, stuff you can print yourself instead of buy from other people, and the kind of customization 3D printing makes much easier. Does this deal make other companies think twice about buying 3D Systems printers to create a similar business, since they'd be competing against their supplier?

• August, 2012 - Viztu Technologies and its flagship product, Hypr3D (purchase price not disclosed), an online resource for users to upload photos and create printable 3D models, not unlike the 123D Catch solution provided by Autodesk, but completely browser-based. If the goal is to make it easier for users to create things they are able to print, this should help them get there.

• October, 2012 - The Innovative Modelmakers (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services, much like Kemo, bought a year prior. Adds to 3D Systems Benelux's capabilities and builds out abilities to provide rapid prototyping and part replacement.

• October, 2012 - Rapidform ($35 million). Working on this right now, but basically brings software specifically targeting the data capture marketplace. Will they merge this with Alibre? Is Rapidform a competitor to Alibre? These are things to watch going forward. EDIT: Here's the story on Rapidform, plus an interview with Rapidform.

Conclusion? That's a lot of companies - 16 since the beginning of 2011. Even the best management team is going to have a task in front of them when acquiring that many companies in such a short amount of time. Can 3D Systems possibly be realizing all of the benefits each of them might bring to the table? Seems like much of this would have to be seen as a work in progress, but the potential is pretty easy to see: Whether you're a consumer or professional, you've got an ability being offered to you to go all they way from the very beginning of a design idea to its actual production and then even its sale online through the Cubify store.

You have to wonder, though, whether a company like Shapeways isn't square in Abe's crosshairs...

EDIT: January, 2013 - Geomagic (price still unknown). A competitor of Rapidform's and also vital to the scan-to-print workflow, according to 3D Systems.




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