According to a recent article, 3D departmenthas a significant amount of metal 3D printing equipment up for auction through Tauber-Arons Inc. and Aaron Industrial Solutions, including machines for printing, processing, and manufacturing metal powders. The timed online auction is scheduled to be held on February 7, 2024, with bidding starting at 11 a.m. and the equipment will be worth his $10 million. It is not reported that these assets belong to Northern California-based Uniformity Labs, a small startup specializing in producing metal powders for the additive manufacturing industry.
Founded in 2014 as a spinout from Princeton University, Uniformity Labs aims to introduce unprecedented quality and throughput to metal 3D printing by providing uniformly processed powders. The company has made significant progress toward that goal, shipping up to 100 tons in 2022, raising more than $50 million, releasing more than 10 products, and a number of other products in the AM sector, including AddUp and Desktop Metal. We have partnered with major companies. The company's products range from stainless steel and aluminum to titanium, nickel alloys and cobalt chromium for laser powder bed melting (LPBF) and binder jetting.
Nevertheless, in June 2023, 3DPrint.com started hearing rumors that Uniformity might not be on a stable trajectory. Given the overall negative macroeconomic environment, many AM companies, both public and private, faced such a situation. The startup's management could not be reached for comment.
Given that many of the machines up for auction are new, it seems clear that Uniformity is likely trying to stay in operation for as long as possible. Among the equipment sold will be a 2022 ALD Viga 35 vacuum gas atomizer valued at $3.5 million, a CNC machine, a Netzsch classifier, a plasma spheronization reactor, and a variety of other high-end laboratory and production equipment. Uniformity also has the following metal 3D printers up for auction: 2021 SLM Solutions SLM 280HL Dual 700W LPBF System, 2016 SLM Solutions SLM 125M, 2016 EOS EOS M290, 2021 Desktop Metal P1 Binder Jet 3D Printer, and 2021 Desktop Metal Shop system.
The auction is emblematic of the current financial downturn that is negatively impacting the AM sector, a particularly difficult time for start-ups and listed companies. However, problems for one party may present opportunities for the other party. For the past few years, private equity firms have developed a strategy of acquiring distressed assets and creating AM rollups (most often service bureaus). One can imagine groups like CORE Industrial Partners or American Industrial Partners purchasing Uniformity's equipment to augment their service departments.
Otherwise, more wealthy powder manufacturers could step in to buy the assets. This could be Praxair Surface Technologies or Carpenter Technology Corporation, which owns LPW Technology, as well as Höganäs AB or GKN Hoeganaes. Other options include NanoSteel Company, GE Additive's AP&C Advanced Powders and Coatings, and AMETEK Specialty Metal Products.
Regardless of who acquires the machines, the auction sends a signal to other advanced manufacturing sectors in the United States and beyond. More than just an indicator of financial conditions, the message is that advanced manufacturing intellectual property (IP) may be at risk. Uniformity is a relatively small company, with only three of his U.S. patents and numerous patents outside the United States. But if large companies were to face the same predicament, bailouts by the government or its top contractors could be essential from a national security perspective. Businesses need to protect their intellectual property from falling into the hands of competitors.
3DPrint.com Macro Analyst Matt Kremenetsky said:
In the current global geopolitical climate, allowing more scenarios like this one to occur is in fact separate considerations, both from a security and optics perspective. Not acceptable. In 2023, the U.S. Congress proposed several bills aimed at strengthening existing laws aimed at preventing federally funded research and development from leaving the U.S. domestic manufacturing ecosystem. Notably, not long after one of these bills was proposed for the second time, the Biden administration issued an executive order aimed at accomplishing just that, stating: Products developed with support from the U.S. government are manufactured in the U.S. to the extent possible and comply with applicable laws. ”
In this context, at least some of the research that led to Uniformity Labs' first patent was funded by the National Science Foundation. Currently, it is not entirely clear what specific mechanisms are in place to prevent, for example, the assets of Uniformity Labs from falling into the hands of interests contrary to US national security. But in many ways, increasing spending levels on domestic manufacturing, which has been a top priority for the Biden administration, teeth The mechanism: No matter how dire the U.S. AM industry may seem today, imagine what the situation would be like without this mechanism. de facto Financial spending by the Department of Defense, etc.
Still, this development requires clear, concrete, and effective policy initiatives that can help the United States prevent further such incidents before they occur, as well as initiatives that can improve the situation in the event of an emergency. This makes me keenly aware of this point. If that actually happens, it will be very advantageous to U.S. interests. For example, I hope the Biden administration will use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to incentivize more US-based 3D printing OEMs to purchase US-made lasers, allowing related laser companies to increase production capacity. I wrote an article recommending that you do this. To achieve that purpose in the long term.
Although it may sound alarming on the surface, it is within the control of the U.S. government to use the DPA to create something like the Sustain America's Advanced Manufacturing Fund. right. While it probably has a bad name, the very idea of such a fund would be exactly in line with the role the government should play in the domestic manufacturing ecosystem. The AM Forward Small Business Investment Fund, established by ASTRO America at the Department of Defense in August 2023, will serve this same purpose.
If Americans want to compete with economies that are currently overtaking the United States in manufacturing, they need to abandon misplaced skepticism about industrial policy. That skepticism is especially misplaced given the fact that it was government-led industrial policy that built the modern American economy in the first place.
With this in mind, we could see key US actors swooping in to acquire key assets if necessary. And if not, the government itself may have to intervene.