One of the most famous events in the 3D printing industry this year was the acquisition of ExOne – a pioneer in 3D printing technology from Binder Jetting metals, by Desktop Metal for over half a billion dollars. Thus, until recently, the manufacturing method has become one of the most discussed and considered among companies planning to invest in 3D printing from metal powders. Moments after the announcement of the acquisition, ExOne boasted fantastic increases in sales of its machines – we, in turn, will take a closer look at what numbers are behind the high percentages …?
First, a few words of reminder, what is the Binder Jetting method and how is it different from other powder 3D printing techniques?
Binder Jetting is an additive technique that selectively sprays a binder onto powdered materials (such as metal alloys or sand), “glues” objects together, then cures and fires them in high-temperature kilns. The advantages of the technology include fast work, the possibility of any “stacking” of parts in the working chamber (in laser metal sintering technologies, support structures are necessary to keep the detail on the work table) and no need to use technical gases. The disadvantages of multi-stage post-processing, including the need to use high-temperature furnaces and high material shrinkage – usually before starting additive manufacturing, the model should be scaled up by 19% in the XY planes and by 21% in the Z axis.
The technique of gluing powders with a binder was invented by scientists from the Boston-based MIT, who founded the Z-Corporation company, which produces machines that print full-color details from gypsum powders. In 1999, the German start-up Generis developed a similar method, where sand was bonded instead of plaster. Generis produced the first 3D printers to print sand molds or cavities for making them. In 2003, the company split into two entities – Voxeljet and ProMetal RCT. Two years later, ProMetal RCT transformed into ExOne, becoming the most important supplier of this type of solutions in the world. At the same time, the company was developing a similar manufacturing technology where sand was replaced with powdered metal.
During the first several years of its existence, ExOne was a fairly well-known, but very niche company in the field of industrial 3D printing. The leading machines on the market are the manufacturers of laser 3D printers such as 3D Systems, EOS, SLM Solutions, Concept Laser (now GE Additive) and Realizer (now DMG Mori). This changed only a few years ago, when the American start-up Desktop Metal announced its intention to produce its own Binder Jetting machines, and the hype surrounding the company made many people look more interested in this additive technique. On the wave of this interest, Desktop Metal was acquired by ExOne.
We go back to the financial results that ExOne boasted. In the second quarter of this year, the company reported record revenues of $ 18.8 million, and quarterly sales increased by 69% compared to the second quarter of last year. At the same time, it was as much as 44% higher compared to the first quarter of 2021. Together with the record overall revenues, ExOne announced that revenues from sales of 3D printers increased by 114% compared to the quarter of the previous year, and revenues from materials sold and services provided increased by 34%.
How does all this relate to the real numbers? Let’s start with the fact that the company for which its direct competitors paid over half a billion dollars, in its historically record-breaking quarter generated revenues of 3% of this amount … that last year it ended the same period with 8 machines sold.
Realizing that the specifics of metal powder additive technologies is quite demanding and each customer is worth its weight in gold, when we compare these numbers ($ 18.8 million in revenue) to the figures achieved by 3D Systems ($ 162.6 million) or Stratasysa ($ 147 million), this is really bad. Interestingly – Desktop Metal had the same financial result as the acquired ExOne = $ 19 million).
As you can see, despite a lot of media hype, businesses based on Binder Jetting technology are currently very modest and it takes some time before they start to become comparable to other, more popular 3D printing methods.