Fluent Metal takes a stab at the metal 3D printing market

To say that it’s rocky out in the metal 3D printing world may be a bit of an understatement. Almost a decade ago, Desktop Metal was one of the early darlings in accessible 3D printing in metal. The company raised almost half a billion in VC funding. Since then, the company has had a hell […]

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Daedalus, which is building precision-manufacturing factories powered by AI, raises $21M

A fledgling startup founded by one of OpenAI’s first engineering hires is looking to “redefine manufacturing,” with AI-powered factories for creating bespoke precision parts. Daedalus, as the company is called, is based in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, where its solo factory is currently housed. Here, Daedalus takes orders from industries such as medical […]

© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.

Mighty Buildings raises $52M to build 3D-printed prefab homes

Mighty Buildings, a startup building tech for prefabricated, ostensibly environmentally-friendly homes, today announced that it raised $52 million in a funding round co-led by Waed Ventures and Bold Capital with participation by Khosla Ventures. The new tranche, which sources familiar with the matter say values the startup at between $300 million and $350 million, brings […]

Stratasys rejects Nano Dimension acquisition offer, agrees to talk to 3D Systems

Some of the biggest names in additive manufacturing are about to merge — we’re just not entirely sure who. One name we can say for certain is Stratasys — long one of the top names in 3D printing. As for with whom the company will eventually merge, there are three top candidates: Desktop Metal, 3D Systems and Nano Dimension.

Stratasys’ preference has long been leading metal 3D printing firm, Desktop Metal. The company has thus far been far less interested in engaging with competing bids. There has been some movement on that front, however. Today Stratasys announced that its board has unanimously rejected Nano Dimension’s offer.

The company says the offer is, “misleading, coercive, substantially undervalues the Company as a whole and is NOT [emphasis theirs] in the best interests of all Stratasys shareholders.” A statement about the deal doesn’t pull any punches.

“Nano has destroyed significant value and trades at negative firm value,” the company writes. “Yoav Stern, Nano’s CEO, cannot be trusted, has made misrepresentations about Stratasys and is not qualified to manage Stratasys. Since Yoav Stern’s appointment, Nano has spent more than $500 million in cash and increased its revenue by only $44 million.”

Nano Dimension, meanwhile, has suggested that Stratasys go ahead and replace the aforementioned shareholders. It writes:

The actions of the current Stratasys Board of Directors have raised significant concerns about their practices and lack of commitment to shareholder interests. Six of the eight directors have spent an alarmingly long time together on the Board, suggesting a lack of new perspectives and fresh ideas, not to speak about obvious years of “one-hand-washes-the-other” issues. They have demonstrated a blatant disregard for shareholders’ interests and resistance to change. Attempts to add a new independent director as recently as 2-3 years ago were met with pushback. While a new director joined the Board in 2020, he was ousted barely a year later in 2021 following some self-serving corporate governance maneuvers geared at maintaining the underperforming status quo and the mummified Board’s grip on power.

Stratasys also announced today that it plans to entertain 3D Systems’ counteroffer. “Stratasys intends to engage in discussions with 3D Systems with respect to 3D Systems’ July 13, 2023 revised proposal, subject to the requirements of the Desktop Metal merger agreement,” the company notes.

“We are pleased with the Stratasys Board’s determination. We anticipate prompt termination of the Desktop Metal merger agreement and countersignature of the agreement to combine 3D Systems and Stratasys so that we can deliver our collective stakeholders the unparalleled benefits of the envisioned combined company,” says 3D Systems CEO Jeffrey Graves. “Together, 3D Systems and Stratasys are well-positioned to capture the benefits of scale needed to lead in the additive manufacturing industry and deliver long-term profitable growth. We reiterate our confidence in the strength of the combined financial profile of 3D Systems and Stratasys, including our ability to realize $100 million of synergies jointly identified by our two management teams during due diligence exercises in September 2022.”

Nano Dimension, which already owned 14.5% of outstanding Stratasys shares, set the wheels in motion in early March by announcing a bid to acquire Stratasys for around $1.1 billion. In May, Stratasys announced plans for a merger that would find it owning 59% and Desktop Metal owning 41% of the combined company.

“Today is an important day in Stratasys’ evolution,” Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif said at the time. “The combination with Desktop Metal will accelerate our growth trajectory by uniting two leaders to create a premier global provider of industrial additive manufacturing solutions. With attractive positions across complementary product offerings, including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, healthcare and dental, as well as one of the largest and most experienced R&D teams, industry-leading go-to-market infrastructure and a robust balance sheet, the combined company will be committed to delivering ongoing innovation while providing outstanding service to customers.”

3D Systems threw its hat in the ring in June. Stratasys rejected the counter bid. At the end of the month, the Donerail Group, which owns 2.3% of Stratasys, wrote a letter to the board of directors urging serious consideration of the offers.

“As the Company disclosed in a June 20th regulatory filing, since January of 2021, Stratasys has been on the receiving end of at least 12 unsolicited acquisition proposals from at least three separate bona fide acquirers,” the investment firm wrote. “We also believe that the Board would receive additional acquisition interest if it would indicate a willingness to seriously entertain it. Implied acquisition premiums of the disclosed 12 unsolicited acquisition proposals have been attractive, with one proposal exceeding over 60% from the trading price at the time of the offer. In 11 of those 12 unsolicited acquisition proposals, Stratasys rejected the unsolicited proposal without engagement. Such blind and inconceivable rejections have cost Stratasys shareholders dearly.”

Stratasys’s own growth has been due, in part, to some strategic M&As over the years. The company merged with competitor Objet in 2012 and acquired prominent desktop 3D printing firm MakerBot the following year.

After Stratasys and Desktop Metal announce merger plans, 3D Systems proposes acquisition

It’s been a wild few weeks for some of the biggest names in 3D printing. Last week, Stratasys announced plans to merge with Desktop Metal, and now another industry bigwig is getting in on the action. 3D Systems marked the occasion by announcing its own unsolicited bid to purchase Stratasys.

“The combination of 3D Systems and Stratasys is simply the best outcome for the shareholders of both companies,” 3D Systems CEO Jeffrey Graves, said in a prepared statement. “We feel strongly that now is the time for all parties to recognize the overwhelming logic of our two businesses coming together. We are in a unique position to move with confidence and speed and we encourage the Stratasys Board of Directors to engage with our proposal and make this combination a reality for the benefit of the shareholders, employees and customers of both companies.”

If you haven’t been following the space, you’ve likely missed some of the earlier drama. The Desktop Metal bid came in the wake of shareholder Nano Dimension’s bid to take over Stratasys. Nano Dimension, a smaller additive manufacturing firm, formalized its plans in early March.

The company published an open letter detailing plans to increase its ownership of 14.5% (which already makes it the largest shareholder) to 85.5% at a price of $18 a share. It noted at the time:

We believe now is the time to combine our two companies and are pleased to present to you this non-binding indicative offer (the “Indicative Offer”), which outlines the principal terms and conditions under which NANO would propose to enter into a business combination with Stratasys (the “Proposed Transaction”). We are highly confident in the merits of the Proposed Transaction and we strongly believe the offer represents an attractive proposal for all stakeholders of the Company.

Stratasys’ board of directors unanimously rejected the bid before the month was out (by which time the price had risen to a $20.05 per share cash offer).

“Consistent with its fiduciary duties, and in consultation with its independent financial and legal advisors, the Stratasys Board of Directors carefully reviewed and evaluated the revised proposal,” Stratasys noted in a release. “Following its review, the Stratasys Board concluded that Nano’s proposal continues to substantially undervalue Stratasys in light of its standalone prospects and is not in the best interests of Stratasys and its shareholders.”

On May 25, the company announced a different move altogether. The $1.8 billion all-stock transaction would unite the large polymer-based industrial 3D printing firm with a pioneer in metal 3D printing.

“Today is an important day in Stratasys’ evolution,” said Dr. Yoav Zeif, CEO of Stratasys. “The combination with Desktop Metal will accelerate our growth trajectory by uniting two leaders to create a premier global provider of industrial additive manufacturing solutions. With attractive positions across complementary product offerings, including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, healthcare and dental, as well as one of the largest and most experienced R&D teams, industry-leading go-to-market infrastructure and a robust balance sheet, the combined company will be committed to delivering ongoing innovation while providing outstanding service to customers.”

Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop added, “We believe this is a landmark moment for the additive manufacturing industry. The combination of these two great companies marks a turning point in driving the next phase of additive manufacturing for mass production. We are excited to complement our portfolio of production metal, sand, ceramic and dental 3D printing solutions with Stratasys’ polymer offerings. Together, we will strive to build an even more resilient offering with a diversified customer base across industries and applications in order to drive long-term sustainable growth.

3D Systems, a massive player in its own right, low-balled Nano Dimension’s offer, at $7.50 in cash and 1.2507 in stock per share — a figure that comes in just shy of Nano’s $18 per share proposal. Stratasys told Reuters that it will “carefully review” the new proposal ahead of the planned Desktop Metal deal, which is set to close in Q4.

In addition to its massive presence in the industrial space, Stratasys has acquired its way into the consumer market. The company acquired MakerBot almost exactly a decade ago, before merging the brand with one-time arch competitor Ultimaker last May.

After Stratasys and Desktop Metal announce merger plans, 3D Systems proposes acquisition by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Relativity Space’s first launch fails to reach orbit, but proves its 3D-printing rocket tech works

Relativity Space achieved a massively important milestone at just before 11:30 PM ET on Wednesday, with the first ever flight of its 3D-printed rocket technology. Its Terran 1 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, successfully clearing the pad and launch structure, and achieving ‘Max Q’ – or the point during the launch sequence at which the vehicle is under the most pressure in terms of atmospheric resistance and stress – and also succeeded at cutting off its main engines and separating its first stage as intended.

The launch did not reach orbit, which is an extremely rare thing to happen on a new space launch platform’s first ever flight anyway. Relativity said during the launch that they encountered an anomaly with the second stage engines after main engine cut-off and stage separation that meant Terran 1 didn’t continue on its intended path to low-Earth orbit. This test launch did not include a payload or fairing, but instead carried a demonstration weight in the form of an early 3D-printed part from the company’s rocket development process.

Relativity Space’s first launch should definitely be counted as a success, with the company proving that its 3D-printed rocket body can withstand the extreme forces at play during that crucial ‘Max Q’ period. Basically, Max Q is the part of any launch when everyone in Mission Control holds their breath because it’s the point at which the odds are most stacked against the rocket surviving the various arrayed forces of physics.

Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone founded Relativity Space in 2015, and the company has been iterating and scaling its 3D-printing tech ever since, expanding to larger and larger manufacturing facilities. The company announced a 1-million square foot rocket factory in 2021, where it intended to build its larger-capacity Terran R rocket, the bigger sibling to the small payload Terran 1 that launched on Tuesday.

Relativity Space’s first launch fails to reach orbit, but proves its 3D-printing rocket tech works by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

Austin-based ICON awarded $57.2 million NASA contract for lunar construction tech

ICON, a construction tech company that’s raised more than $400 million in funding, has landed a new contract from NASA to develop new systems to build on the moon and Mars.

The $57.2 million contract is a continuation of a previous Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) dual-use contract with the U.S. Air Force, which was partly funded by NASA. This award will support the development of what ICON is calling “Project Olympus,” an ambitious plan to build structures on the moon and Mars using in-situ resources.

“To change the space exploration paradigm from ‘there and back again’ to ‘there to stay,’ we’re going to need robust, resilient, and broadly capable systems that can use the local resources of the Moon and other planetary bodies,” ICON CEO Jason Ballard said in a statement. It’s clear that NASA agrees. Indeed, the agency has explicitly stated that one of the goals of its ambitious Artemis lunar program is to establish a long-term human presence on the moon. But as of yet, NASA has established no clear plans on where those astronauts will stay once they get there.

ICON, which is best-known for its 3D-printed homes, has been working on Project Olympus for some time. The company was awarded the initial SBIR grant from the U.S. Air Force in October 2020 for $14.55 million. This latest funding will keep the project alive for a handful more years at least: the contract runs through 2028.

Under the terms of this contract, ICON will be working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, under an agency venture called the “Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technologies” project. The company is planning on working with samples of lunar regolith and bringing its hardware and software into space to help it develop construction approaches that can best function in the cold, low-gravity atmosphere of the moon. Habitats aren’t the only thing on the company’s radar: it’s also eyeing up landing pads and other infrastructure to support sustained lunar exploration.

ICON has seen explosive growth since its founding in late 2017. The company landed a $207 million Series B last August, and closed another $185 million scarcely six months later. Sources told TechCrunch that the latest funding pushed ICON’s valuation close to $2 billion.

Austin-based ICON awarded $57.2 million NASA contract for lunar construction tech by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

Pantheon Design alleviates supply chain uncertainty with factory-grade 3D printing

In the midst of the pandemic, Pantheon Design, a maker of industrial 3D printers from Vancouver, BC, suddenly found itself getting orders from factories in the Midwest, the center of heavy industries. The reason? These manufacturers were having a hard time getting parts out of China as COVID-19 restrictions in the country squeezed global supply chains.

One of Pantheon Design’s e-mobility customers waited 18 months before its injection molds, which are used for producing parts, arrived from China. If your electric vehicle or home appliance order is taking longer to arrive, chances are port closures and lockdowns in the factory of the world are messing up your supplier’s production timeline.

For a long time, 3D printers were too expensive, slow, and short-lived to be economically viable for manufacturers, observes Bob Cao, co-founder and CEO of Pantheon Design, as he speaks to TechCrunch as one of the Disrupt Startup Battlefield 200 companies. Many of the 3D printing startups that secure big VC checks are run by smart people who have never been in a real factory, which is hot and smelly, says the entrepreneur. “So their machines break down all the time.”

“They make the product for prototyping, but they try to sell the idea for manufacturing,” he adds.

Cao’s founder story follows a familiar pattern seen among engineers: five years ago, he and his co-founders bought a bunch of 3D printers to build products for industrial customers, but the third-party devices weren’t meeting their expectations, so they set out to build their own.

Parts created by Pantheon’s 3d printer.

The result is the HS3 3D printer, which is a sleek-looking cube measuring 300mm on each side and weighing 46.7 kilograms, featuring black anodized aluminum, which has been treated to achieve a durable finish. The device is able to print carbon fiber parts that are as sturdy as metal and 5-10 times faster than other options on the market thanks to the startup’s patented methods, according to Cao. Moreover, it’s able to do it at a competitive cost even in comparison to Chinese suppliers.

The startup has sold 40 HS3 units — all assembled in-house in Vancouver with parts manufactured in Canada — since starting shipping the machine nine months ago. Each printer costs $15,000, but the bigger chunk of the company’s revenues comes from selling filaments. Also called the “ink” for 3D printers, filaments range from $50-150 a kilo, which brings a nice 90% profit margin, and most of the company’s customers spend about $500-800 a month on them.

Pantheon Design has raised $800,000 in funding from a mix of investors in Canada and the U.S., including the Boston-based accelerator Techstars. The company is also buoyed by revenues it generated from its previous business of printing products and prototypes for clients, and two of its proudest moments include printing entire concept motorcycles for Honda and all the sci-fi props in the Netflix film The Adam Project.

Pantheon Design alleviates supply chain uncertainty with factory-grade 3D printing by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Sugar Lab buys back its tech to take 3D-printed foods mainstream

The 3D printing world can print in concrete, plastic, metal and pretty much everything else that starts off gooey and turns solid after a while. That includes a bunch of different types of foods, as Sugar Lab demonstrates. The company was originally acquired by 3D Systems in 2013, but co-founders Kyle von Hasseln and Meagan Bozeman decided to reverse course. Together, they wrestled the company loose again from its corporate overlords and they are having another go at growing it — and the Currant 3D printer the company sells — by themselves.

The genesis for the company was von Hasseln’s sister’s birthday party, and an absence of regular cooking tools. He hacked an old 3D printer to print cupcake decorations, and he’s been on a mission to create unusual cakes and sweets ever since. The company describes what it does as a “digital bakery,” and much of the tech involved is there to make the printers food-safe — not typically a huge consideration for most 3D printing applications.

“I recognized straight away that 3D printing with extruded food paste was too slow and rudimentary for wide adoption in the culinary world. That realization led me to immediately pivot to another 3D printing engine where thin layers of dehydrated food powder are bound layer after layer by water jetted from a printhead — which allows for precise, fast, full-color 3D printing,” says von Hasseln. “That invention, now called the CURRANT 3D Printer, solves the fundamental problem in the 3D-printed food space: mass adoption.”

Weird and wonderful custom-printed sugar cubes for the sweet, sweet win. Image Credits: Currant 3D

The new company acquired the 3D printing tech back in May, and now the race is on to raise more money and bring the products to market.

The company claims its printers are able to 3D-print complex foods in full color, with the ability to scale the production for large batches of tasty treats. The pritners can print a number of ingredients, including dehydrated fruits, vegetables, spices and plant proteins. The result is that the company has what appears to be the only NSF-certified commercial-scale 3D food printing solution.

“It may seem trivial, but our success is predicated on a simple design theory that every chef knows by heart — beautiful food is enticing, fun and engaging. And our 3D printer is best-in-class at creating beautiful food because we leverage all the promise of 3D design and 3D printing — color, precision and speed,” says von Hassln. “I am personally driven to make this new technology accessible to chefs everywhere. Chefs are artists at heart, and more than anyone they understand that well-designed food can create a completely new culinary experience.”

The company raised $5 million, most recently at a $16 million post-money valuation. The money is being used to take back full ownership of the tech and company, and spin up operations.

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“After Kyle developed his culinary 3D printer, it was quickly acquired by 3D Systems, where he and I teamed up to create and run the Culinary Technology division that built the CURRANT 3D Printer from scratch. We left 3D Systems in 2019, backed by our investor group, to found our company and quickly became the largest purchaser of the 3D printing technology. When an opportunity to acquire the tech arose this year, we went back to our investor network, which was hugely supportive, and raised capital to wholly acquire the CURRANT 3D Printer platform,” explains Meagan Bozeman, COO at Currant 3D and Sugar Lab. “We’re extremely proud and grateful that the technology is back in the hands of its original inventors and champions. This has put us in complete control of our future; we’re 3D printing food faster than ever, expanding into a much larger commercial kitchen where we will manage a 20+ printer fleet for this next rapid growth chapter, and enabling others to build their own 3D production kitchens through the purchase of our printers and supplies.”

The company says its ultimate goal is to take 3D-printed food from novelty to “indispensable ubiquity”. That doesn’t mean replacing how existing, well-loved foods are made, but to give chefs new powers to experiment and make new types of food.

“Adoption of digital design and 3D printing is critically important for a more sustainable and secure food future,” claims von Hasseln. “If you can download a new 3D design into a regional 3D printing kitchen, and 3D-print onsite with local labor and ingredients, you can cut deeply into the inefficiencies of legacy food production that rely on trucking ingredients all over the country — both to and from factories.”

Sugar Lab buys back its tech to take 3D-printed foods mainstream by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

Firehawk’s rocket engines and 3D-printed fuel hit testing milestones ahead of first launch

Although today’s rocket engines are advanced and powerful, they tend to rely on traditional — and naturally volatile — fuels like hydrazine or liquid oxygen and kerosene. Firehawk Aerospace has a safer and more stable new fuel, new engines, and millions in new funding to take it through the next round of tests to its first launch.

Firehawk appeared on the scene two years ago with a fresh take on hybrid engines — those that use a fuel with both solid and liquid qualities. The breakthrough made by CEO Will Edwards and chief scientist Ron Jones was to give that fuel a structure and 3D print it in a specially engineered matrix.

The structured, semisolid fuel is more stable and easier to transport than other fuels, and burns in a very predictable way. The company designed engines around this concept and tested them at smaller scales, but recently graduated to the kind of engine you might actually use if you were going to space.

“It’s a unique engine with its throttling ability, low cost of manufacture, and a parametric design, so we can design for a missile interception system or second stage booster,” said Edwards.

The company recently performed full engine burn tests at Stennis Space Center with NASA supervision, and they’re ready to fly — the last step before reaching a technology readiness level that would permit the company to step up its revenue.

Firehawk CEO Will Edwards (left) and chief scientist Ron Jones hold 3D-printed fuel tubes Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

In addition to better safety, printing the fuel grains differently makes it possible to create different thrust characteristics. And the whole thing can be safely slowed, stopped and started again multiple times — not something you see often in a launch vehicle rocket engine. Normally once you fire those up, they blast at 100% until they run out of fuel, meaning you only get one shot at it and your options for force vectors are limited — more like a drag racer than a normal car.

“Our engine can replace solid rocket motors with something significantly lower cost, on par with fuel performance, but you can control its burn — that’s something the industry finds incredibly compelling,” Edwards noted.

A Firehawk engine being tested at Stennis Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

Not in the sense of first-stage launch vehicle engines, for which that high-thrust, full-throttle fire is desirable, but for systems where a little more complexity would be welcomed: second-stage thrust (e.g., boosting payloads to a certain orbit once they’re out of the atmosphere) and missile interception systems, for which precision is paramount.

Edwards also suggested in-space propulsion like satellite maneuvering as a potential application, since due to the volatility of fuels, more low-impulse methods like ion engines are often used. Firehawk’s fuel is “inert by nature,” making it a lot less of a liability in, for example, a multipayload launch. Would you want your satellite stored next to a barrel of kerosene?

The new Series B funding round will enable more tests, more R&D, and the production of more engines to meet demand — though predictably with a company working with the likes of Raytheon, NDAs prevent the nature of that demand to be described with any specificity. They’ve raised $15.5 million so far but are expecting to close at $17 million shortly.

The list of funders is a bit long, but for the record: Star Castle VC led the round, with participation from Raytheon, Draper & Associates, Goff Capital, Cathexis Ventures, Plains VC, Victorum Capital, Stellar VC, Capital Factory, Echo Investments, and Hemisphere Ventures.

Although the engines currently being tested are nearly ready for use by customers, Edwards stressed that this is just the start. New applications are potentially just a few keystrokes away:

“We can create really unique fuel grain geometries, and by changing the design we can improve its performance. It’s just a matter of rewriting some code and uploading that to our 3D printers,” he said, adding that the new funding has let them buy and customize their own printers, CNC machines, and test setups for deployment in a new Addison, Texas, location. “We’ll be able to move through our next test campaign much more quickly.”

Here’s the happy team at the new HQ:

Image Credits: Firehawk Aerospace

More tests should be coming next month, which should clear the way for a launch of some kind in the near (but still unspecified) future.

Firehawk’s rocket engines and 3D-printed fuel hit testing milestones ahead of first launch by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch