$25 Million from Chemical Giant Advances Materialise’s 3D Printing Partnership with BASF
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 01, 2018 |
Materialise speaks to engineering.com about its growing partnership with chemical giant BASF.

Numerous large chemical companies have been increasing their stake in 3D printing materials manufacturing, but BASF is the largest chemical producer in the space. The German chemical giant has continued to throw its weight around, most recently investing a massive $25 million in Materialise, the nearly 30-year-old Belgian 3D printing software developer and service provider.

To learn about the deal, we spoke to Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager of Materialise North America.

Powder Bed Fusion machines located at Materialise’s 3D printing facilities. (Image courtesy of Materialise.)
Powder Bed Fusion machines located at Materialise’s 3D printing facilities. (Image courtesy of Materialise.)

Crutchfield explained that Materialise has been working with BASF for some time, but that the partnership really deepened at the 2017 Materialise World Summit in Brussels and, later, at the 2018 Materialise Experience event in North America.

“We established this strategic reliance, in which we’re going to work on a common goal of bringing materials and software and applications to the market to make meaningful changes inside of the industry—to drive it forward in various vertical industries, such as automotive, aerospace and consumer,” Crutchfield said.

Materialise sees a “strategic alliance” between the two companies as one that builds upon their mutual interest in approaching the 3D printing market in an “open and neutral” way, according to Crutchfield. With such an approach, the partners are hoping to increase widespread adoption of the technology, which will see each company bring its strengths to the alliance.

On the BASF side, this means extensive knowledge of material development and what manufacturers need from their materials. Additionally, the chemical giant is connected to a wide variety of very large manufacturers, and has the potential to give Materialise access to those clients, which would not only provide the company with a larger customer base but also a better understanding of the workflows necessary for large-scale manufacturers.

For its part, Materialise has been in existence for 28 years, developing software and providing industrial 3D printing services, including the production of parts certified for aerospace and medical applications. Thus, the company has significant knowledge of producing parts with 3D printing, as well as how additive manufacturing (AM) systems operate, particularly since Materialise develops its Build Processor software, which works with a number of large AM machine manufacturers.

Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager of Materialise North America. (Image courtesy of Materialise.)

Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager of Materialise North America. (Image courtesy of Materialise.)

As the largest AM service bureau in Europe, Materialise manufactures over a million parts per year. “That provides us with an interesting footprint from a BASF point of view because we see a wide variety of applications through that service bureau and 190 machines,” Crutchfield said. “That helps us understand how parts can be built, their orientations, material properties and the appropriate [AM] technologies that might be applicable to best achieve the desired end use.”

It was in July when Materialise announced a new release for shares that BASF expressed the desire to buy an interest in the company with a $25 million investment. Materialise since went to market with its stock offering at $13 per share.

“That investment is also going to help us drive expansions, software and material offerings for the industry,” Crutchfield explained. “By going to the market and getting more funds, it’s also a way for us to establish ourselves as a sizable player and to keep ourselves independent in the industry. We have our own capital sources, so we don’t need to go and be bought out or take a significant partner on in order to fund our operations and our further expansion. It helps us to remain independent and neutral in the industry, which, frankly, our position depends upon because, if we weren’t open and neutral in this way, these players wouldn’t partner with us.”

BASF isn’t the only large business that Materialise has partnered with. The firm has also established alliances with Siemens and PTC, as well as a long list of AM systems manufacturers. The BASF deal is also nonexclusive, meaning that Materialise will continue working with other materials makers to ensure that their feedstock will work for intended applications and machines.

This neutrality, Crutchfield suggested, is necessary to drive the industry forward. Right now, there are obstacles to advancement on both the software and materials side, according to the Materialise vice president. On the software side, the digital thread that weaves digital content through to manufacturing and shipment needs further development and refinement. On the materials side, many AM systems manufacturers have a closed approach to the materials their machines use, making it difficult to open up more applications for use with a wider range of materials.

“Recently, at our Materialise Experience event in North America, we had large [original equipment manufacturers] such as Ford saying that [a closed] model is not going to drive AM forward in the automotive industry,” Crutchfield said.“They’re looking for partners that are going to do it in an open and agnostic way, like the injection molding industry, where they go out and pick the appropriate machines that they believe in and pick the appropriate materials that go along with it to do what’s most appropriate for the end use of the parts.”

This latest partnership and investment is meant to overcome some of these hurdles to increase 3D printing adoption. “We certainly see that now is the right time to do this because we feel like there’s a bit of an inflection point in the industry, where widespread adoption of AM is really spreading throughout the manufacturing base,” Crutchfield concluded.“You read announcements from anyone from Caterpillar to Jabil to GE and others—they’re all now exploring what it means and how they can make a difference inside of their operations.”

To learn more about Materialise and its offerings, visit the company website.

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