Desktop Metal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based 3D printing start-up, received $14 million in first-round funding last month, according to BetaBoston.com. Leading 3D printing company Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) was a participant in the Series A round, which was led by venture capital firms NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and Lux Capital.
Here's what you should know.
Serial tech entrepreneur throws hat in 3D printing ring
Desktop Metal is just a few months old, and doesn't even have a website, let alone a prototype of the desktop direct-metal 3D printer it envisions producing, according to Xconomy. What scored it $14 million in backing was surely the track record of co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop, as well as the impressive initial team he has assembled.
Before turning his attention to 3D printing, Fulop founded five companies in various tech realms. His most well-known venture is A123, a lithium-ion battery maker that raised about $380 million in its 2009 IPO. Fulop left that company to join North Bridge Venture Partners, A123's largest investor, two years before A123 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012.
Desktop's initial 11-person team includes Yet-Ming Chiang, an A123 co-founder and Massachusetts Institute of Technology materials science and engineering professor; former A123 engineer Jonah Myerberg; Rick Chin, an early engineer with SolidWorks, a Boston-area 3D computer-aided design software maker that was acquired by French company Dassault Systemes in 1997; Chris Schuh, who heads MIT's materials science and engineering department; and Matt Verminski, a former vice president of hardware engineering at Kiva Systems, a Boston-area robotics company that was acquired by Amazon for $775 million in 2012.
While Fulop is new to running a 3D printing company, he's no newbie to the industry. While at North Bridge, he led the firm's 3D printing investing practice, which made investments in MarkForged, a maker of 3D printers that produces parts made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar; and Onshape, a developer of cloud-based CAD software.
An upcoming battle among metal 3D printing start-ups?
Among their other drawbacks, current metal 3D printers are large, slow, and extremely pricey, with most costing upward of a few hundred thousand dollars. Desktop Metal plans to make a more affordable and speedier printer that's small enough to sit on a desktop, just like the desktop models that 3D Systems, Stratasys, and others make that output in polymers and other materials. As Fulop told Xconomy, "Metal 3D printing has been out of the reach of most companies because it's very expensive and slow. We're developing a system that's very fast and more accessible."
Fulop wouldn't disclose specifics about Desktop Metal's proposed technology, other than that it won't be laser-based, according to Xconomy. However, other sources, including Forbes, have reported that the start-up is developing a printer based on jetting technology. While we can't be sure, this would make sense. Other industry experts also believe that an inkjet metal 3D printer could be produced at a considerably lower price than the metal 3D printers now on the market, most of which use laser-sintering technology.
Israel-based start-up Xjet, which I recently wrote about, plans to bring to market in 2016 the world's first direct-metal 3D printer based on jetting technology. The company has said that its inkjet metal 3D printer will be more affordable than the metal 3D printers currently available. Xjet's CEO is a big name in the 3D printing world, as he founded and led Objet, which pioneered the use of jetting technology to print parts made from polymers. Objet merged with Stratasys in 2012.
Stratasys' investment in Desktop Metal is a start
Stratasys doesn't make metal 3D printers. In fact, it didn't even offer metal 3D printing services until it acquired Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies in mid-2014. As I've long opined, Stratasys needs a competitive metal 3D printer offering, as the metals space is the fastest-growing segment of the 3D printing industry.
Among other benefits, possessing a stronger metal 3D printing portfolio would make Stratasys less vulnerable to compelling new entrants in the polymer 3D printing space. Deep-pocketed Hewlett-Packard and well-funded start-up Carbon3D both plan to bring to market in 2016 polymer 3D printers for the enterprise market that are reportedly much faster than those currently available.