Many on Wall Street and Main Street hung up their workaday gear around the Labor Day holiday. 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD), however, apparently never takes a vacation from its acquisition activity, as the leading 3D printing player scooped up yet another company just last week.
Here's a rundown of triple D's latest buy and how it enhances its competitive position.
LayerWise: Laser-focused on metal 3D printing
3D Systems announced on Sept. 3 that it was buying Belgium-based LayerWise, a provider of direct metal 3D printing services for both prototyping and production runs. LayerWise was incorporated in 2008 as a spinoff from the University of Leuven, where its two founders were reportedly closely involved in the development of a selective laser melting, or SLM, technology.
SLM is a 3D printing technology that uses a high-power laser beam to create metal parts by fusing metallic powders together. It's similar to the more commonly known selective laser sintering, or SLS, with the difference being that SLM involves fully melting the metal rather than just sintering it.
LayerWise's customers are primarily in the aerospace, medical device, dental device, and high-precision equipment industries. Its printers can print in a growing number of high-strength, anti-corrosion and lightweight metals and alloys, including stainless steel, hardenable steel, aluminum, titanium, and Inconel. The latter two are the "big two" metals of the aerospace industry.
While the company might sound like a typical 3D printing service bureau, there's a unique twist: LayerWise uses its own proprietary line of direct metal 3D printers to produce customers' parts. Its printers use SLM tech. The company claims its 3D printers can produce relative part density of up to 99.98%, and 3D Systems' press release states that LayerWise's process can produce components whose mechanical properties match those of components made of conventional metals, at substantial weight reduction.
The terms of the transaction weren't disclosed, though 3D Systems did say that the transaction is expected to be "immediately accretive" to its cash generation.
"The addition of LayerWise, with its award-winning direct metal printing technology, automated manufacturing processes at convincing scale and leading medical devices services, extends our first mover advantage in these high-growth areas substantially, to the immediate benefit of our aerospace, automotive and medical device customers," said Avi Reichental, president and CEO of 3D Systems in the press release.
Metal 3D printing: Heating up in 2014
While I've not been a fan of 3D Systems' Pac-Man-like acquisition activity as it's been a bit too frenetic, in my opinion, the LayerWise buy seems wise (excuse the pun). Demand for 3D printers that can print in metals and for direct metal 3D printing services is in the relatively early stages, and it appears that we're on the cusp of an incredible growth trajectory. 3D Systems has already started to benefit from this dynamic through its purchase of Phenix Systems in mid-2013. Since it acquired Phenix, which makes direct metal 3D printers that use selective laser sintering technology, the company's been sold out of them every quarter.
The LayerWise acquisition enhances 3D Systems' metals portfolio in a few ways. The obvious way is that 3D Systems gains new customers, most of whom it likely doesn't currently have the capability to service. The bigger picture is that LayerWise's expertise in metal 3D printing should help 3D Systems strengthen its overall corporate expertise in this space. Notably, LayerWise systematically invests a huge chunk -- 30% -- of its revenue in research and development.
Beyond just metals, there's another reason to view this acquisition favorably: LayerWise beefs up 3D Systems' strong healthcare portfolio, which accounted for 20% of the company's product revenue in 2013. While the healthcare sector is in the relatively early stages of adopting 3D printing, it's already well on its way to revolutionizing the medical world. That's largely because 3D imaging and printing allow for more precise surgical planning and for the production of products custom made to fit individuals.
Foolish final thoughts
I realize some investors in 3D Systems are, like me, somewhat wary of the company's constant acquisition activity, especially in light of its subpar organic revenue growth of 10% in the most recent quarter. However, LayerWise does seem like a buy that should help 3D Systems propel its long-term performance. As I wrote earlier this year, "The metals 3-D printing space is likely to be an attractive one for investors. Demand for 3D printers that have metals capabilities will likely grow at a faster rate than the overall 3D printing sector, as 3D printing makes increasing inroads into manufacturing applications."
3D printing investors and enthusiasts may want to check out my recent article "NASA Just Blasted Through One Huge (Metal) 3D Printing Technological Challenge"
Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.