Well, this is certainly interesting: Stratasys is apparently investing in 3D metal printing.
The company receiving the investment is not a 3D metal printer manufacturer, but instead one that makes fine metal powder used in such machines. LPW, a UK-based firm, produces metal powder and powder management systems and equipment for use by almost any powder-based 3D metal printers.
They’ve announced they are investing £20M (USD$25M) in both establishing a new production center as well as further refining their powder lifecycle management system, PowderLife.
It’s not at all clear how much of that USD$25M is from Stratasys, but it must be enough to warrant such an announcement.
I believe this is very interesting as it indicates a change in strategy from Stratasys, who up to now has been focused on plastic 3D printing technology. In fact, Stratasys higher ups have privately indicated they may have missed out on acquiring a 3D metal printing vendor during GE’s buying spree as they were instead focusing on their new large-scale production demonstrator units.
There are a couple of possibilities here, all of which are interesting.
One is that Stratasys is shoring up risks for their Stratasys Direct Manufacturing operation. This subsidiary is a contract production facility, focused on 3D printing and associated manufacturing technologies. While Stratasys does not itself make 3D metal printers, they must have some from other vendors in their SDM sites. To provide comprehensive service to their clients, they are forced to use other vendor’s equipment.
But think about this: as part of the Arcam acquisition by GE, GE also scooped up AP&C, a powder manufacturing operation similar to LPW.
It’s possible Stratasys feared a constraint on their metal powder supply, so making friends with another supplier like LPW makes sense.
But it’s also possible Stratasys is now turning it’s eyes toward 3D metal printing in general, and securing a powder supplier may be a step in that direction.
It may be they are shopping for a 3D metal printing company that hasn’t yet been acquired by GE. There aren’t that many notable ones left.