SLM Solutions Joins the Ranks of Publicly Traded 3-D Printing Companies

In March, I wrote that SLM Solutions was reportedly exploring an IPO. The German company, which specializes in metals 3-D printing, debuted on the Frankfurt stock exchange on May 9. While some might be disappointed that the company didn't list on a U.S. exchange, the foreign exchange listing doesn't mean 3-D printing investors should ignore SLM. An injection of IPO cash means the company could become a much more formidable competitor to the other publicly traded 3-D printing companies that have metals printing capabilities: 3D Systems  (NYSE: DDD  ) , Arcam  (NASDAQOTH: AMAVF  ) , and ExOne  (NASDAQ: XONE  ) .

Source: SLM Solutions.


The IPO and the stock's performance
After being the darlings of the market last year, 3-D printing stocks have taken a beating in 2014. Given this cold environment for the group, it's not surprising that SLM's stock was priced at 18 euros, which was the lower end of the 18-23 euro IPO range. The stock price bounced around little on its opening day, closing at 18.1 euros. Within two trading days, however, a smidge of 3-D printing fever hit, with the stock zooming up to 21.4 euros, for a 14.3% gain. Since then, the stock has settled back, closing at 19.3 euros on Monday. Still, it's up 6.3% in a bit more than two weeks. 

According to Reuters, SLM placed 10 million shares, which means the IPO generated 180 million euros, or about $246 million. About 75 million euros of the proceeds will reportedly be used to invest in a growth strategy that includes building an on-demand 3-D printing service network. 

SLM's operations and the competitive landscape
SLM Solutions uses selective laser melting, or SLM, technology. The company is strictly focused on the industrial metals space. In addition to making 3-D printers that print in metals, SLM also produces vacuum and investment casting systems. Its technology was developed in 1995 by the Fraunhofer Institute, though its roots go much further back. In short, SLM seems to have deep expertise in metals.

SLM's customers are in the automotive, aerospace, construction, consumer electronics, and medical device industries. They include blue-chip names such as General Electric, Siemens, BMW, NASA, and Alstom (a French company involved in power generation and rail transport). Last year, SLM opened a location in Novi, Mich. Given that Novi is a suburb of Detroit, I'd imagine it chose this location to expand its reach with automotive customers.

SLM generated more than 20 million euros, or about $27.8 million, in revenue in 2013, according to Reuters. This would make the company nearly as large as Sweden's Arcam, which generated the equivalent of about $31 million last year. Additionally, this would make SLM exactly the same size as ExOne when it went public. ExOne, which IPO'd in February 2013, generated revenue of $28.7 million in 2012.

In 2013, SLM sold 28 systems, according to unquote.com, a site that specializes in European private equities. This same source noted that SLM's revenue grew 35% per year from 2011 through 2013, and that the company had an adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) margin of 11.5% in 2013. 

SLM's primary publicly traded competitors are 3D Systems, ExOne, and Arcam, which all produce systems that can print in metals. Arcam is a pure play on industrial metals 3-D printing, selling its metal-printing electron beam melting, or EBM, systems to just two markets: aerospace and medical implants. ExOne offers systems that can print in metals, as well as sand and glass. Industry co-leader 3D Systems only acquired metals capabilities when it bought Phenix Systems last summer. The metals operation accounts for just a small percentage of its total business; however, sales of its metals printers are growing rapidly. Stratasys, the industry's other bigwig, doesn't make systems that can print in metals. However, it recently announced it was acquiring Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies, and both of these 3-D printing service bureaus have metals printing capabilities. That means Stratasys will almost surely compete with SLM on the services end. 

Foolish final thoughts
Those invested in the companies that make systems that print in metals (3D Systems, Arcam, and ExOne) should consider SLM a stronger potential competitor now that it has fresh IPO cash, which it will surely use to expand its business. 

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