Mitsubishi Entering North American 3-D Printing Market With World's Only Hybrid 3-D Printer

If you've been following the 3-D printing space, you likely knew that it was just a matter of time before big companies around the globe would either enter this high-growth market, or expand beyond their home turfs to try to get as big a piece of the pie as possible.

While industry early movers typically have a long-term competitive advantage, the existing players -- 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD  ) , Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) , ExOne (NASDAQ: XONE  ) , Arcam (NASDAQOTH: AMAVF  ) , and Voxeljet (NYSE: VJET  )  likely don't take Mitsubishi's plans to enter the North American market lightly. After all, this $32 billion market cap company, which generated revenue of $87 billion over the trailing 12-month period, is Japan's largest general trading company.

Here's what investors and potential investors in the 3-D printing space should know.

Meet the LUMEX Avance-25, the world's only hybrid 3-D printer
Mitsubishi will be landing on our continent's shores later this month with a unique machine to peddle -- a metals 3-D printer/high-speed milling machine hybrid, according to TCT Magazine.

The 3-D printer uses laser sintering, which is the most common broad technology employed by metals 3-D printers. Milling is a traditional, or subtractive, manufacturing technique, so this makes the LUMEX Avance-25, developed by Japan's Matsuura Machinery, an additive/subtractive manufacturing machine hybrid. 

Source: Matsuura Machinery

This hybrid 3-D printing machine, which is currently only available in Asia, is expected to be priced at 90 million yen (or about $846,000) when the company begins selling them in North America. Mitsubishi hopes to sell and deliver 10 machines in 2014, which would be quite impressive for its first year in the market.

The LUMEX Avance-25 can produce molds and dies using both 3-D printing and milling. This machine has an extremely high degree of accuracy, and can create components that have very complex geometries. Mitsubishi plans to target manufacturers in the medical, aerospace, and cell phone industries.

Whose turf is Mitsubishi invading?
Based upon the limited information out at this point, it seems that Mitsubishi's main publicly traded competition will likely be Arcam and 3-D Systems, and, perhaps to a lesser degree ExOne.

Arcam focuses exclusively on metals printers for the aerospace and medical implant industries -- two industries Mitsubishi plans to target.

ExOne and Voxeljet occupy the mold-making space – they make machines that print sand molds, which customers use to cast metal components. ExOne also has metals printing capabilities, while Voxeljet doesn't. However, Voxeljet and ExOne, though to a lesser extent, specialize in printers with larger build-boxes, whereas Mitsubishi's machine has a rather small build-box of 9.8x9.8X7-inch. So, it doesn't seem likely there will be much competition -- at least at this point -- between these companies. Of course, there's always the possibility that an Avance with a larger build-box could be on the horizon.

Industry juggernaut 3D Systems -- thanks to its Phenix Systems acquisition last summer -- also has a line of metal printers geared toward the industrial market. So, Mitsubishi could also be competing with 3D Systems. Fellow industry bigwig and (co-)first-mover Stratasys doesn't offer systems which can print in metals; however, its chairman has stated that the company is interesting in expanding into metals.

In addition to competing with other 3-D printing players, it seems quite likely that Mitsubishi's machine -- if it functions as well as it's being touted -- could expand the overall market due to its unique ability to be used as both a 3-D printer and a high-speed milling machine.

The Foolish takeaway
Competition in the 3-D printing space is heating up and should continue to do so. Hewlett-Packard previously announced plans to market a 3-D printing product by midyear, and now news is out that Japan's largest trading company will be entering the North American market with its unique hybrid 3-D printer later this month.

Stay tuned. I'll be following this story and will keep you up-to-date on what this happening could mean for your investments (or potential investments) in the 3-D printing space.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 1:44 PM, temenem wrote:

    Well, if the bug players go at it alone, without acquiring the smaller guys, the smaller guys will be in trouble... If I was to spend a million bucks, I'd rather pay Mitsubishi or Hewlett Packard than XONE or DDD. :-(

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 1:44 PM, temenem wrote:

    I mean BIG players, not BUG players :-)

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 4:19 PM, TMFMcKenna wrote:

    @temenem,

    It will be interesting to see if it seems some buyers would rather deal with big companies for their pricey purchases. Time will tell.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Beth McKenna

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 9:17 AM, Gatortrader wrote:

    So which Mitsubishi stock should you buy to capitalize on the 3D space?

    Thank you

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 3:47 PM, TMFMcKenna wrote:

    @Gatortrader,

    Good question. "Mitsubishi Corporation" is the specific company referred to here (Some readers might not know that there are many Mitsubishis -- Finance, Electric, Motors, etc.), as it's a group of associated cos. I should have included the "Corp." in the first mention of the co.

    Most of the Mitsubishi cos. trade over the counter in US. I believe the ticker for Mitsubishi Corp. is MSBHF. That said, I'd NOT recommend it as a play on 3-D printing. Even if it sold 10 printers this year, the revenue would be minuscule (about 0.01%) compared to its total revenue.

    Beth McKenna

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 9:34 PM, jumP wrote:

    What I'm about to say is not based upon a technical analysis. Rather it is just my speculation. I wonder if Mitsubishi hasn't made a mistake combining a 3-D printer with a milling machine. What if a part they are making required only the printing function. Then the milling machine is idle. And, if they want to make a machined article, I imagine the machinist would simply use a stand-alone milling machine leaving the Lumex idle. So, I have my doubts about whether the Lumex will prove to be a cost effective investment for a manufacturer or a strong competitor with DDD, SDS or AMAVF machines.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 8:31 PM, TMFMcKenna wrote:

    @jumP,

    I understand your point -- and I agree this machine will not needed by some (perhaps even "many") companies. Your reason is why I believe that this machine could expand the overall market, as I mentioned in last para before the closing.

    However, I think it could prove to be a good move. I don't know the market for milling machines, but one has to think Mitsubishi did some market research before making this move.

    If Mitsubishi came out with a stand-alone 3d printer, it would be competing head-on with the existing players, who would have the advantage, given their machines have been on the market longer. In marketing this hybrid, it might be able to carve out a nice little niche -- and if this works out, Mitsubishi could then come out with a stand-alone 3d printer. If customers are happy with their hybrid, they'd likely consider buying a stand-alone (if/and when they need one) from Mitsubishi.

    Thanks for commenting.

    That's an excellent comment. But I do think some cos. considering other 3d printers could opt to buy this one rather than a competitors, meaning there will likely be some competition. That said, cos. who currently happily using 3d printers and have no need for a hight-speed milling machine =-ogg-speed milling machine certainyamafast--gamilling macyou'reursoantps/ cothere will be some competSo, I thinkHowIt lcoulikely (in addtionafdspand thewill open up That's why I I agree there is

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 8:35 PM, TMFMcKenna wrote:

    Oops! Pls disregard the meant-to-be-erased stuff after the "thanks for commenting" above.

    Beth McKenna

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