For 3D printing companies, manufacturing on the stock market was not easy.

The University Hospital of Paris purchased 60 FDM 3D printers from Stratasys at the end of March 2020 to build their own rapid response chain for Covid materials.

Stratasis

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The 3D printing industry began with the creation of trinkets and toys, but it is slowly making its way into mainstream industrial production lines.

The full spectrum of what 3D printing can do ranges from novelty (pools and cheesecakes) to vital (non-standard human body parts such as the ear that just hit the headlines around the world and much-needed medical supplies during the initial Covid response). It also includes applications for the entire economy that can change the rules of the game, from 3D printed houses to jet engine parts – GE started doing this a few years ago – and missiles, including from the two-time CNBC Disruptor Relative space.

3D printing technology has evolved exponentially over the last decade, but it hasn’t been a straight line of financial success for companies like Shapeways and MakerBot (now part Stratasis), which both made the original CNBC Disruptor 50 list in 2013.

For Shapeways, the idea originated in the Philips electronics design department over a decade ago in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Then, in 2012, the company introduced 3D printing to the US at a plant in Long Island City, Queens, which has 50 industrial printers and can turn out millions of consumer products a year, from art to fashion, lamps, necklaces and i.e. gadgets, games, drones, medical devices and robotics. The company now claims to have helped partners produce more than 21 million 3D printed components and has also expanded to Livonia, Michigan.

Co-founder Robert Schuvenburg says that when the company first started, 3D printing was relatively new, and he and his co-founders were very intrigued by the idea of ​​simply pressing a button and making an object appear. They were, however, surprised when printing just a 4×4 cube cost $100. At this point, they became interested in figuring out how to make the technology more accessible. Schuvenburg and his co-founders Marlin Voegelaar and Peter Weimarshausen came up with the concept of allowing individuals to download the part they wanted. Shapeways websiterating it and then sending it to them directly.

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 creating Universe, the largest 3D printing community in the world, boasting the largest installed base of 3D printers. Additive manufacturing specialist Stratasys and Makerbot, a leader in desktop 3D printing, merged in 2013 to merge the two markets into one corporate unit. MakerBot continues to operate as a separate subsidiary of Stratasys, retaining its identity, products and go-to-market strategy.

With all the hype around 3D printing, manufacturers thought the technology could quickly replace traditional industrial manufacturing. But, as is the case with many disruptive technologies, innovative novelty is still far from scaling a business to compete with the cost structure of traditional industries.

“Fast forward 10 years, that hasn’t happened and we are still at the stage where 3D printing is being used more and more, but it hasn’t replaced traditional manufacturing,” Schuvenburg said. “This is just one of many manufacturing technologies available for companies to use in their industrial products,” he added.

It took some time for the early 3D printing revolutionaries to reach the public market. Just last year, in October 2021, Shapeways went public amid the SPAC frenzy in the market through a merger with Galileo Acquisition Corp. His results after this trade, like those of many similar SPACs, were horrendous: they were down almost 90% compared to the first trade.

The topic has caught the attention of one of the market’s most closely watched breakout investors: Cathy Wood of Ark Invest, who manages 3D printing ETFs. Wood’s 3D Printing ETF, which owns both Stratasys and Shapeways, has also fallen on hard times, as have most of its funds, which are focused on high-growth stocks that have suffered the most in the current bear market. Wood’s ETF has grown since its inception in 2016, but it’s not just a 3D printing game, and tech giants including Microsoft and many other industrial companies are among its best stocks.

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis told CNBC last year. that its 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 a simplified supply chain. In 2021, it expanded to more than 1 million square feet of a former Boeing C-17 aircraft factory, an “absolutely monstrous building,” Ellis said, “which we will continue to scale in the next couple of years, but also the coming decades.”

At both the industrial and consumer levels, technology has matured and become more accessible, Schuvenburg said, but it hasn’t compensated for system manufacturing technology. Although he also believes that much greater changes will occur in the next decade.

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