Leading metal 3D printing powder specialist LPW has been acquired by Carpenter Technology Corporation.
LPW was a fascinating company we’ve followed for several years now. They specialize in equipment, software and processes surrounding the management of metal powder for 3D printing.
Metal powder-based processes dominate the exploding market of metal 3D printing. The powder bed fusion process, in which lasers or other energy sources selectively illuminate flat beds of metal powder, is now used in dozens of different 3D printer models.
The preponderance of such machines is a statement of the current demand for the technology; it has been recently “discovered” by several industries including automotive and aerospace, which are both revolutionizing their industries with the creation of previously impossible-to-build parts.
But each of these users of powder-based metal 3D printing have a significant problem in managing their expensive powder inventories. The material is quite volatile: it’s toxic to breathe, explosive in the presence of oxygen and almost instantly oxidizes if exposed to humidity. These make it very challenging to manage metal 3D printing operations, and require considerable effort and cost.
The cost of powder, up to US$500 per kg, means that you cannot afford to lose any material, and that maximizing recycling of unused powder is imperative.
LPW’s approach was to design equipment to store and recycle the powder in a secure manner and instrument it. Their associated software allowed a 3D printer operator to manage their powder inventory in a very precise manner, almost as if each particle of powder had its own provenance.
The company also provided significant analyses of print results and powder inventories for clients, able to identify obscure issues causing quality problems.
But now LPW has been acquired by Carpenter Technology Corporation. They are a large publicly traded corporation based in Philadelphia that specializes in the production of hundreds of different types of metals for industry. Carpenter, founded in 1889, is a significant force for manufacturing and now appears to be increasing their interest in metal 3D printing.
Their acquisition of LPW will allow them to perform additional function. According to Tony R. Thene, Carpenter’s President and Chief Executive Officer:
“Our aggressive development in key aspects of Additive Manufacturing (AM) demonstrates our commitment to build on our industry-leading position in this space. The acquisition combines LPW’s metal powder lifecycle management technology and processes with our technical expertise in producing highly engineered metal powders and additively manufactured components.”
This is clearly a fantastic arrangement for Carpenter – and for the owners of LPW, who apparently received some US$81M for the company. But what about other clients?
Users of LPW equipment, software and services span the breadth of the metal 3D printing world, and most of them most likely did not purchase their metal powder from Carpenter.
It’s not clear whether Carpenter will continue to sell LPW-style services to those operations not using their metal powder, but that is a possibility. However, Carpenter customers could certainly count on being able to use the LPW services.
This could put other providers of metal powder at a slight disadvantage as compared to Carpenter’s position.