Former GE CEO Joins Board as Formlabs Reaches Over $1 Billion Valuation
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 20, 2018 |
Engineering.com speaks to Formlabs about its latest funding round and the future of the 3D printing ...

Since its massive success on Kickstarter in 2012, Formlabs has been one 3D printing startup that has remained unshaken by the ups and downs of the industry. With a recent infusion of $15 million from New Enterprise Associates, the company has raised over $100 million in funding and is now valued at over $1 billion. Further underscoring Formlabs’ success is the addition of former chairman and CEO of General Electric Company Jeff Immelt to its board of directors.

At left, the Form 2 3D printer, followed by the Form Wash and Form Cure systems. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)
At left, the Form 2 3D printer, followed by the Form Wash and Form Cure systems. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)

To learn about the company’s trajectory, we spoke to Dávid Lakatos, chief product officer of Formlabs.

From Crowdfunding to Venture Capital

The company was spun out of MIT in 2011, before launching what at the time was one of the most successful 3D printing projects on Kickstarter, where it raised nearly $3 million for its flagship system, the Form 1. The desktop stereolithography (SLA) machine, which was the first industrial quality 3D printer to be available for less than $5,000, propelled Formlabs to the top of the desktop market, while also presenting a challenge to industrial manufacturers.

Since then, the firm has passed through multiple funding rounds, with the latest bringing Formlabs to over $100 million in investment. More importantly, while other businesses in the space have faltered since the 2014 consumer 3D printing bubble burst, Formlabs is bringing in $100 million in revenue annually after achieving five years of consecutive growth nearing 100 percent.

The Form Cell is Formlab’s automated factory for SLA 3D printing. The solution is made up of a series of Form 2 3D printers, a washing system, a curing unit, and an industrial robotic gantry system that automatically moves parts from the printers to post-processing stations. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)
The Form Cell is Formlab’s automated factory for SLA 3D printing. The solution is made up of a series of Form 2 3D printers, a washing system, a curing unit, and an industrial robotic gantry system that automatically moves parts from the printers to post-processing stations. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)

Representing industry’s seal of approval, GE’s Jeff Immelt has joined the board. About the board’s new addition, Lakatos said, “We look for investors who will add strategic value and insights to Formlabs’ endeavor. 3D printing is entering a new direction, pushing further into manufacturing. GE covers the widest range of manufacturing technologies. Jeff, as former CEO of GE and with his expertise and connections in manufacturing, will be invaluable to have as an advisor to Formlabs.”

“I’m excited to work with Formlabs at this pivotal time in the company’s development,” Immelt said in a press release. “[Formlabs co-founder and CEO Max Lobovsky] and the team have demonstrated outstanding progress to date, with best-in-class technology and impressive momentum across a wide swath of industries, including engineering, healthcare and manufacturing. Since the company’s founding in 2011, they have outpaced competitors and established themselves as a leader in 3D printing. I look forward to supporting this next phase for the company as they accelerate adoption and continue to advance the technology.”

From SLA to SLS

The new direction that Lakatos referenced has been clear in the past year or two. Formlabs is, notably, no longer focused solely on SLA, but has expanded to tackle desktop selective laser sintering (SLS). Known for producing detailed, functional parts, SLS was previously only available in the form of industrial equipment that sold for over $100,000. Recently, however, several manufacturers have looked to reduce the price of these systems significantly. Formlabs is the most recent entrant with its Fuse 1 3D printer.

Lakatos hinted that the Fuse 1 isn’t the end of Formlabs’ new product releases: “Some of our priorities include expansion into more product lines, as well as introducing professional 3D printing into more verticals and markets all over the world. Overall, we’re continuing to build the biggest ecosystem of accessible, industrial 3D printing technologies. We started with our signature Form 2 3D printers, which are now the top-selling stereolithography 3D printers in the market,” Lakatos said. “Last year, [we] announced our first benchtop SLS 3D printers called the Fuse 1, as well as our fully automated 3D printing platform called the Form Cell. We’re constantly adding new resins as well. We most recently announced two new materials: Ceramic and Castable Wax. Overall, what this means is that we will have even more R&D going into existing and new areas of hardware, software and materials for a wide array of industries.”

Parts printed with Formlabs’ experimental Color Kit. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)
Parts printed with Formlabs’ experimental Color Kit. (Image courtesy of Formlabs.)

What may be most interesting about Lakatos’s comments is his reference to more product lines. As the company grows, this may mean larger SLA or SLS systems, which could allow the company to needle further into the professional market. It could also mean more affordable versions of existing industrial technologies, such as digital light projection (DLP), continuous DLP (currently offered by Carbon, 3D Systems and EnvisionTEC), or even some form of low-cost metal 3D printing.

Global Expansion

As of right now, the company is considered the leading seller of SLA 3D printers around the globe, in terms of market share. After a previous round of funding, Formlabs spread its reach across Europe, and more funding earlier this year has seen it expand in China and the Asia-Pacific region. The company now has more than 500 employees in North America, Europe and Asia.

Lakatos didn’t mince words about the future of Formlabs, saying, “[W]e’re building the largest 3D printing company in the world with the widest portfolio of accessible, powerful 3D printing technologies. In terms of international expansion, we continue to see tremendous growth out of Europe, where Formlabs has an office. Right now, we’re also seeing opportunities in Asia, particularly China, which is the second largest market in the world for 3D printing. Earlier this year in April, we closed a round of funding with Chinese investors, which has been pivotal in opening access and connections into the Chinese market. We are also opening new engineering offices, including one in Budapest, Hungary, specifically focused on software development.”

Based on the company’s track record, becoming “the largest 3D printing company in the world” doesn’t seem unreasonable. Because Formlabs will be selling systems at lower prices than industrial competitors, getting more printers into more hands should be much easier. The oft-used analogy of the shift from industrial to personal computers is relevant here, as Formlabs seems to be shrinking both the price and size of industrial technologies. What those technologies will expand to include in the future remains unseen, but we’re excited to see them.

To learn more about Formlabs, visit the company website.


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