The University Hospital Trust in Paris acquired 60 FDM 3D printers from Stratasys at the end of March 2020 to create a rapid-response internal supply chain for Covid materials.
In this weekly series, CNBC takes a look at the companies that made the inaugural Disruptor 50 list 10 years later.
The 3D printing industry started with the creation of trinkets and toys, but it is slowly making its way into traditional industrial production chains.
The full range of what 3D printing can accomplish ranges from the novelty (swimming pools and cheesecakes) to the essential (custom human body parts such as the ear that just made the headlines worldwide and much-needed medical supplies during the initial Covid response). It also includes potentially game-changing economy-wide applications, from 3D-printed homes to jet engine parts — GE started doing this years ago — and rockets, including those from the CNBC Disruptor relativity space twice.
3D printing technology has advanced exponentially over the past decade, but it hasn’t been a straight line of financial success for companies like Shapeways and MakerBot (now part of Stratasys), which were all in two on the original CNBC Disruptor 50 list in 2013.
For Shapeways, the idea originated in the electronic design department of Philips over ten years ago in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Then in 2012, it introduced 3D printing to the United States with a factory in Long Island City, Queens, housing 50 industrial printers and capable of producing millions of consumer-designed products a year, from art to fashion, lamps, necklaces, gadgets, games, drones, medical devices and robotics. It now claims to have helped its partners produce over 21 million 3D printed components and has also expanded to Livonia, Michigan.
Co-founder Robert Schouwenburg explains that when the company started, 3D printing was relatively new, and he and his co-founders were so intrigued by the idea of just pushing a button and an object popped out. However, they were surprised when printing a single 4×4 cube cost $100. This moment sparked their interest in figuring out how to make technology more affordable. Schouwenburg and his co-founders Marleen Vogelaar and Peter Weijmarshausen came up with the concept of allowing individuals to download any game they wanted Shapeways websitefixing it and shipping it directly to them.
At the same time, companies like MakerBot, founded by former Seattle art teacher Bre Pettis and backed by Jeff Bezos, among others, were also entering the market and building Thingivers, the largest 3D printing community in the world, which has the largest installed base of 3D printers. Stratasys, which focuses on additive manufacturing, and Makerbot, a leader in desktop 3D printing, merged in 2013 to unite the two markets into a single entity. MakerBot continues to operate as a separate subsidiary of Stratasys, maintaining its own identity, products, and go-to-market strategy.
With all the buzz around 3D printing, manufacturers thought the technology could quickly replace traditional industrial production. But as with many disruptive technologies, innovative newness is still a long way from scaling a business to compete with the cost structure of traditional industries.
“If you fast forward 10 years later, that hasn’t materialized, and we’re still at that point where 3D printing is being used more and more, but it hasn’t replaced traditional manufacturing,” Schouwenburg said. “It’s just one of many manufacturing technologies that companies can use in their manufactured products,” he added.
The path from the original 3D printing disruptors to the public market has taken some time. It was only last year, in October 2021, that Shapeways went public amid the SPAC frenzy in the market, via a merger with Galileo Acquisition Corp. Its performance since that deal, like many of its SPAC counterparts, has been abysmal, down nearly 90% from its first trade.
The theme caught the attention of one of the market’s most closely watched disruptive stock market investors: Ark Invest’s Cathie Wood, who runs the 3D Printing ETF. Wood’s 3D printing ETF, which owns both Stratasys and Shapeways, has also had a tough time, as have most of its funds focused on high-potential growth stocks which have suffered the most from the current bear market. . Wood’s ETF has been on the rise since its inception in 2016, but it’s not a pure play on 3D printing, counting among its top picks of stocks from tech giants including Microsoft and Microsoft. many broader industry names.
Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC last year that his 3D printing process to build rockets requires thousands of fewer parts than traditional aerospace manufacturing and can be completed in less than 60 days thanks to to a streamlined supply chain. In 2021, it expanded to a former Boeing C-17 plane manufacturing plan of over a million square feet, “an absolutely monstrous building,” Ellis said, with “the scale for us to continue to grow over the next two years, but also the next decades to come.”
Both at the industrial and consumer levels, the technology has matured and become more affordable, Schouwenburg says, but it hasn’t made up for the system’s manufacturing technology. Although he too thinks that many more changes will occur in the next decade.
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