5 Companies Pushing the Boundaries of 3D Printing

A surge of investments in 3D printing as businesses benefit from the technology

In a recent study carried out by ING, the international law firm suggested that 3D printing could be responsible for over half of worldwide manufacturing by 2060. To make this leap, investment is key. This, however, shouldn’t present too much of a problem. According to ING’s study, investment in 3D printing over the past five years has been three times higher than investment in traditional machinery. This is relative, of course, but it’s a sure sign that 3D print technology is evolving at an incremental rate. There are countless 3D printing companies out there, but which businesses are grabbing the attention of investors, and how are they taking the technology to the next level?

1. Luxecel
At the start of the month, venture capital fund Innovation Industries invested €4m in Luxecel, a Belgian 3D printing company with a view to transform lens manufacturing. Creating a lens suitable for human use is a lengthy process when using traditional methods, however Luxecel’s VisionMaster software is able to combine these steps. Prior to attracting the interest of Innovation Industries, the company gained €8.5m in funding in May. The investment will contribute to co-development programmes and partnerships with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality businesses, moving closer to human augmentation. By the end of 2017, Luxecel aims to expand into the US and UK.

2. CollPlant
Last week, Israeli bioprinting company CollPlant Holdings Ltd. received a reported $5m investment from US investor Alpha Capital. CollPlant’s organs are formed using rhCollagen technology that converts plant based products into tissue. They have also found a way to make plants produce collagen, which is the most common protein in the human body. By chemically modifying the collagen so it remains a liquid, it can be used as printing ink. In other words, CollPlant are edging closer to creating the first, much anticipated bioprinted organs. The funding also demonstrates the global outlook of US investment firms, as well as the continuing growth of tech hubs outside of Europe and the States.

3. Voodoo Manufacturing
Earlier this year, Brooklyn based 3D printing startup Voodoo Manufacturing revealed a ‘robot operated 3D printer cluster’ called Project Skywalker. Nine 3D printers are controlled by a central robotic arm that collects 3D printed products, moving them to a conveyor belt. It’s simple, but effective – within the next three to five years, Voodoo expects the system to reduce operating costs by 90 per cent. The project represents the first steps towards a fully digitalised factory, which is their ultimate goal. This summer, the two year old startup received $5m in seed funding from venture capital firms including Y Combinator’s dedicated Continuity Fund.

4. Impossible Objects
Chicago based 3D printing firm Impossible Objects raised $6.4m in a Series A funding round this month, bringing their investment total to $9m. Their debut Model One printer produces lightweight parts using a unique composite based method enabled by fibre reinforced materials like high performance polymers. The company is setting their sights on major corporations, and aims to release the printer to the commercial market next year. According to CEO Larry Kaplan, “We’re just scratching the surface at how fast we can build parts and materials at scale.”
The recent investment is hoped to accelerate the roll out of 3D print technology to big businesses like their first customer, global manufacturer Jabil.

5. Henkel
Henkel isn’t your average 3D printing company. Founded in 1876, it has become the largest business in the worldwide adhesive market with operations in 120 countries. Henkel owns staple domestic brands including Persil, Sellotape and Super Glue. Now, the chemical and consumer goods giant wants to position itself as a leader in additive manufacturing. As part of an undisclosed, multimillion euro investment plan, Henkel will set up a new 3D printing operation in Dublin. The facility will create 40 new jobs for scientists and engineers, and clearly shows the conversion of big manufacturers into 3D printing hubs.

Ever since its first stereolithographic creations, 3D printing has shown huge promise as a speedy, personal and versatile manufacturing method. The technology is currently enjoying a surge in investment and interest as businesses become more willing to adopt automated techniques. While the techniques in this list may not be new, it’s the scale and ambition of the companies behind them which is important. Nonetheless, companies are still spending more on traditional machinery – a thousand times more, if ING’s survey is anything to go by. Until now, 3D printing has seemed to live up to the hype and fulfil the expectations of corporations and consumers. Whether or not it will eventually take over the manufacturing industry, though, is yet to be seen.