GE Shirks Billionaire, Acquires Concept Laser

GE Aviation will be purchasing metal 3D printer manufacturer Concept Laser instead of SLM Solutions.

Christopher Marlowe said it best: “All the 3D printing industry is a stage, and all the companies merely players.” Though I’ve updated the phrase for the 21st century and it may not have been Marlowe who said it, the phrase holds true.

After its offer to purchase a 75 percent stake in metal 3D printer manufacturer SLM Solutions was rejected, GE reached an agreement to acquire a 75 percent stake in Concept Laser, a German producer of metal 3D printers, for $599 million. According to the agreement, GE will be able to take full ownership of the company in “a number of years.”

A Deal Gone Awry

In September, GE announced its intent to acquire two leading metal 3D printer companies, SLM Solutions and Arcam, at which point, the billionaire CEO of Elliott Management Corporation, Paul Singer, increased his stake in SLM to gain leverage in the deal. Singer then rejected the deal, aiming for GE to raise its bid.

Billionaire and activist investor Paul Singer.(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Billionaire and activist investor Paul Singer.(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Though GE most likely won’t be attempting to purchase SLM Solutions in the very near future, it hasn’t ruled out the acquisition of Arcam, which manufactures electron beam melting 3D printers and of which Elliott Management Corporation also owns a stake. GE has raised its bid and lowered its minimum acceptance condition for the purchase of Arcam, leaving open the possibility of an acquisition.

In response, GE Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein told Bloomberg Markets that if the deal does not succeed, GE could walk away from the deal altogether: “We and the leadership at SLM think the offer we put on the table was a very good offer. We have other options.”

The most obvious other option was the acquisition of Concept Laser, given the fact that the company had made public the fact that an unnamed company had shown interest in its acquisition. Now, that speculation has proven true, as GE will acquire a majority stake in the manufacturer of metal powder bed fusion machines.

With the acquisition, what exactly would GE be getting?

Concept Laser’s Metal 3D Printing Technology

Founded in 2000, Concept Laser is one of the leading pioneers in metal powder bed fusion, dubbing its brand of metal 3D printing LaserCUSING. A member of German toolmaker the Hofmann Innovation Group, Concept Laser has been granted over 50 patents and has over 100 patent applications.

The LaserCUSING process is similar to other metal powder bed fusion technologies in that lasers are used to melt metal powder into three-dimensional objects; however, LaserCUSING relies on a unique scanning routine in which square segments of a build layer are consecutively scanned, ultimately decreasing stress in the 3D printing process. Concept Laser’s technologies are capable of 3D printing with titanium, nickel alloys, precious metal alloys, steels, aluminum and cobalt-chromium.

Concept Laser currently offers four different metal additive manufacturing (AM) systems. The smallest, the Mlab cusing, features a 100 W laser and is available with a build volume starting at 50 mm x 50 mm x 80 mm. Larger sizes are available, however, and the Mlab cusing R is able to handle titanium and titanium alloys.

The M2 from Concept Laser on display at RAPID 2016.

The M2 from Concept Laser on display at RAPID 2016.

The M1 cusing system has a 250 mm x 250 mm x 250 mm build volume and can use either one 200 W laser or one 400 W laser, whereas the M2 cusing is slightly larger at 250 mm x 250 mm x 280 mm and can have up to two 200 W lasers or two 400 W lasers, thus speeding up the printing process.

This leads up to the X line 2000R, the world’s largest metal powder bed fusion 3D printer, which features a massive build volume of 800 mm x 400 mm x 500 mm and two 1kW lasers. In other words, this machine is not only big, but it is powerful. With a price of over €1.5 million, the X line 2000R is meant for production parts. So far, at least three customers have purchased this machine, including the Blok Group, FKM Sintertechnik and Airbus 3D printing subsidiary Premium AEROTEC.

Concept Laser has also revealed that it has been working on a modular metal AM factory, which it calls the AM Factory of Tomorrow. The concept for the AM Factory of Tomorrow involves multiple LaserCUSING systems, material preparation and post-processing stations working in parallel, with robotic assistants carrying powder to sieving stations and finished parts to post-processing stations. According to the company, the first products for the AM Factory of Tomorrow would be manufactured by the end of 2016 and would begin delivery in early 2017.

Metal 3D printing firms have been working to update their quality control technology. In the case of Concept Laser, the company recently released its QMmeltpool 3D platform. The system features a high-speed camera and photodiode to capture data related to the meltpool, which it then uses to create a 3D model of the build as it is taking place. This information can communicate potential errors within the print so that, in subsequent builds, it’s possible to adjust the parameters, such as laser intensity, to improve output.


How Does Concept Laser Compare to SLM Solutions?

While SLM Solutions doesn’t have a machine quite as large as Concept Laser, it has developed quad-laser technology for increased production efficiency. The SLM500HL falls somewhere in between the X line 2000R and the M2 cusing with a 500 mm x 280 mm x 365 mm build volume and up to four 700W lasers, though the laser configurations can vary.

SLM Solutions' booth at RAPID 2016.

SLM Solutions’ booth at RAPID 2016.

SLM Solutions outperformed Concept Laser in terms of unit sales and revenue growth, selling about 61 percent more machines in 2015 than in 2014, and increasing revenue by about 56 percent to €60 million. Concept Laser, in contrast, reported 46 percent unit sales growth and 54 percent revenue growth.

For Concept Laser, it seems that little will change except for the new support provided by one of the world’s largest manufacturing conglomerates. Frank Herzog will continue as CEO of Concept Laser and will also take a senior leadership position within GE. The firm’s Lichtenfels headquarters will also be maintained, with GE investing significantly into the site as a German center for GE. Concept Laser will proceed to work with Hoffman Tool Manufacturing. Employees and management will stay on with Concept Laser as the metal 3D printer manufacturer sells systems across a range of industries.

Herzog hinted that his firm has new products coming to market, including the AM Factory of Tomorrow, which will further push GE’s vision for Industry 4.0.