The focus of this insight is Desktop Metal’s ExOne acquisition and its impact on product strategy.
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Desktop Metal (DM) has signed a definitive agreement to acquire ExOne, its largest and most formidable metal binder jetting (MBJ) competitor, for US$575 million. The transaction expands DM’s technical and material capabilities and provides a direct sales force from ExOne. ExOne will benefit from Desktop Metal’s GTM engine, including its 200 channel partners. Together, the combined entity greatly consolidates the MBJ landscape and clears any question of who the market leader is.
While the focus of this insight is the ExOne acquisition and its impact on product strategy, it’s worth highlighting a few other activities for context. In just the last 9 months, DM completed its IPO SPAC merger to become a public company; released new systems such as the Production System P-1 and Studio System 2; acquired EnvisionTEC to enter the market for volume production polymer AM (see IN-6057); launched a Desktop Health subsidiary; created a new AM process – and company (called “Forust”) – for volumetric production of sustainable, end-use wood parts; acquired Adaptive3D to grow the elastomer base in its materials portfolio; and acquired Aerosint for multi-material AM IP. This is all in addition to the acquisition of ExOne, which is the most recent development in the quickly growing list of investments made since DM went public.
MBJ was originally conceived in 1993 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), before Extrude Hone obtained an exclusive license to commercialize the technology in 1996. ExOne, which was spun off from Extrude Hone in 2005, was the only company to offer a MBJ solution until the early 2010s, when the initial MIT patents for the technology began to expire. Its main attraction as a technology is that it is superior to metal powder bed fusion in terms of speed, cost, and scalability.
Today, ExOne has 438 installed printers and estimates nearly 28 million parts are printed on its systems annually. It has more than 45 materials qualified or in R&D across metals, metal composites, ceramics, and sands (more than any in the industry), 280 patents (650 combined with DM), and a flexible material platform via the Triple ACT process employed by Pro series printers (see CR-DTM-101). Triple ACT is a flexible solution that supports mid-volume production and can easily be tuned to new materials. Pro series printers include the X1 160Pro, a MBJ printer with the largest build box on the market. DM’s SPJ technology is a better fit for higher volume applications like those found in automotive or electronics due to its speed and repeatability (SPJ is about 10X faster than Triple ACT, excluding the effects of build box dimensions).
Besides DM and ExOne, the only other real MBJ candidates are HP and GE Additive, but their products are still in trials. If you wanted to order a metal binder jetting printer today, you could only do it from ExOne or DM; you could not get a MBJ printer from HP or GE Additive. Digital Metal is another company with a great MBJ solution; however, it cannot support the same higher production volume applications as the others and is therefore reasonably excluded from comparison. The other main implications of the transaction are (1) more choice for customers and (2) faster material innovation.
Customers get more choice by virtue of the broader product portfolio DM plans to build. At a high level, these include a “good, better, and best” offering at each production tier: shop-size production runs, mid-volume, and mass production. DM’s high throughput SPJ production technology could be used on the very high end of the line and Triple ACT (sequential binder jetting) could be used on other versions. Furthermore, a frame/platform like the X1 160Pro could be adapted for new materials, such as wood, to address new audiences—in this case that of the Forust business.
For material innovation, a combined DM and ExOne reduces redundant qualification efforts and unifies existing offerings. The hope is that more qualified materials grow both the number of applications to which AM is relevant as well as the ecosystem of suppliers. The one area that is less clear from an ecosystem standpoint is software. It appears DM plans to support all ExOne products with its own software and the company more generally has a proclivity for integrated hardware + software + materials. The company’s Live Sinter product for post processing sintering simulation is a good example of a DM software product that could benefit ExOne products right away. However, it also begs the question of how much automation software is DM willing and able to build and at what point will it rely on partners.