We want to share this recent post which came from BostonInno, a local tech blog, because it sheds a little light on the history behind 3D printing’s roots in the Boston and Cambridge, MA area. I suppose its really no surprise that this technology really blossomed in this area due to the cluster of top universities like MIT & Harvard, and the strong VC community. Anyway, for those of you who like a little history, please enjoy.
If it seems like there’s a lot of 3D printing activity happening in the Boston area right now, that’s because there is, giving the feeling that Massachusetts is becoming the hub for the industry.
Just last week, Boston-based startup NVBots announced the closing of a Series A financing round for an undisclosed amount, and earlier this month Somerville-based Formlabs announced a $35 million Series B, big strategic partnership with Autodesk and the appointment of venture capitalist Brad Feld to its board.
There are several other 3D printing startups in the area, including Somerville-based electronics printing startup Voxel8 and Cambridge-based carbon-fiber composites printing startup Markforged. There’s also Lexington-based Desktop Metal, which has raised $52 million from investors in less than a year, and Woburn-based Rize, which came out of stealth mode in July.
If there’s one thing that’s immediately apparent, it’s that none of these startups are working in the once hyped consumer 3D printing space that has fizzled out over the past couple of years. Industry giants 3D Systems giving up on its consumer models altogether and Stratasys cutting back its MakerBot operation amid sliding sales.
Instead, all of the Boston-area startups I mentioned are developing 3D printers for commercial and industrial purposes, which is a lot less sexy than something that could go in the homes of millions of people and part of why Frank Marangell, CEO and president of Rize, thinks it can be easy for people to have the false sense that the 3D printing market as a whole isn’t doing so well.
To make his point, Marangell points to research done by Wohlers Associates, a well-known consulting firm in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing space, that projects the 3D printing market to grow from $5 billion in 2015 to over $26 billion in 2021.
“You don’t see it because you only see the public companies” Marangell says, “and you don’t feel it because you see the over-hype of the consumer hobby market that never had any reality to it.”
Looking at Marangell’s team alone, it’s easy to understand how Boston has been able to emerge as a leader in the growth of new 3D printing startups. Marangell himself got his start in the industry by opening and leading the North American operations in Billerica for Objet, an Israeli company that would eventually merge with Stratasys. The startup’s co-founders also had local roots in 3D printing and design: Eugene Giller previously worked at Z Corp., a Burlington-based company that was founded at MIT and got acquired by 3D Systems, and Leonid Raiz co-founded Revit, a Waltham-based company that developed building information modeling software for architects and was acquired by Autodesk in 2012.
Desktop Metal co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop says it’s also important to consider the large presence of companies in Massachusetts that work in computer-aided design. That includes Autodesk, which now has a new office in Boston’s Seaport; Cambridge-based GrabCAD, which was acquired by Stratasys in 2014; and Waltham-based Solidworks, which was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 1997.
Another part of the connective tissue for the local 3D printing and design has been MIT, which has been a hotbed of emerging CAD and 3D printing technologies for many years. That includes the technologies for Formlabs, NVBots and Z Corp. just to name a few. And it’s where the concept of 3D printing was developed in the first place by Emanuel “Ely” Sachs, who is now a co-founder with Fulop for Desktop Metal.
“It’s sort of a very specific industry and it’s not LinkedIn or a consumer thing so less people talk about it, but if you were an engineer and use these type of products, this is the place to be,” Fulop says. “We’re strong at biotech, CAD and 3D printing, and it’s totally indisputable. I think we are the undisputed epicenter of CAD and 3D printing.”
Ben Einstein, general partner at Bolt, says his Boston-based venture capital firm that focuses on hardware startups has been very picky when it comes to 3D printing startups. However, he says, he decided to make his first investment in the industry with Desktop Metal. While difficult, making metal printing faster, safer and cheaper could come with big rewards, Einstein said.
“If Desktop Metal can succeed, I think that totally changes the way metal is made for people doing 3D printing,” he says.
As for the plastics, Marangell of Rize says he thinks his startup has the solution that can make prototyping for manufacturers easier in a couple ways. For one, the startup’s patented augmented polymer deposition has all of the characteristics — strength, surface finish, geometric accuracy and color — that current printers can only reproduce one or two of.
And then there’s the solution to what Marangell calls the “dirty little secret” of 3D printing: post-processing, which can take hours of milling or using chemical baths to remove excess parts that are created as part of the printing process. Rize’s printer is designed to greatly reduce that time with excess parts that can be quickly pulled off by hand.
After Rize releases its first printer, which is currently being used by Reebok and Keurig Green Mountain in a beta test, Marangell says the startup’s next step is being able to print replacement parts for a variety of plastic components. “If you could print a part with same quality as the original one, it would revolutionize the replacement parts business,” he says.
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