Sunday, September 11, 2016

GE seeks to acquire 3D printing technology; will a branding story follow?

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Article 3D printing acquistions, Article Arcam AB, Article Branding, Article GE, Article SLM Solutions Group,

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Hi-tech and industrial multinationals continue to seek their way with 3D printing. Since companies of this kind don’t get any bigger than GE, its
moves are worthy of special attention. IPKat earlier discussed GE’s relocation of its corporate headquarters to Boston as part of its avowed goal of making the company a digital leader. Against this background, IPKat took careful note of the announcement (reported here and here and here) that GE has launched bids to spend $1.4 billion to acquire two small European companies, Arcam AB of Sweden and SLM Solutions Group AG of Germany, both engaged in 3D printing technology.

In effect, GE is obtaining two different technologies. As explained on Bloomberg.com—
“Arcan promotes its proprietary method using electron beams as having a fast printing process and greater ability to use a wide range of printing materials. Laser-based systems like SLM’s are generally capable of making more detailed components.”
GE has invested $1.5 billion in 3D technology since 2010 and while jet engine parts, especially fuel nuzzles, have so far been the focus, the company seeks to expand the use of 3D printing technology for application in other areas, such as power, oil and gas, healthcare and services. To date, the company has been using 3D printing technology primarily on an internal basis for the purpose of seeking production cost savings and improved product quality. However, a radio interview broadcast on Bloomberg noted that these most recent transactions suggest that GE will begin to seek to take advantage of 3D printing as a revenue generator, with an expectation that 40% of such revenues will ultimately come from services.

But what about branding? In order for GE to ramp up its 3D printing activities in light of these acquisitions, David Joyce, the CEO of GE Aviation, and the team leader of the integration of the two acquired companies with GE, is reported to have said that GE may need to purchase up to 1,000 new 3D printing machines by the year 2025. While no price for these machines is mentioned, we are not likely talking about the under-$1,000 printer intended for home use. In GE’s case, the price per printer may well reach six or seven figures. That will mean that the successful manufacturers of such printers will particularly benefit from GE’s purchasing activities. However, reports suggest that GE also plans to be a manufacturer of 3D printers and materials in its own right. If this will happen, the upshot will be that GE will be both a purchaser and seller of 3D printing devices. Assuming that all of this comes to pass, an interesting trademark and branding story may well result.

Several years ago, this Kat pondered whether free-standing companies dedicated to the manufacture of 3D printing devices over time will still be able to successfully leverage the connection between their company products and 3D printing technology. Stated otherwise, will there continue to be a separate and distinct 3D printing industry, whereby certain companies will be viewed as a preferred source of 3D printing products and enjoy valuable brand identity in connection with 3D printing technology (without taking into account whether or not a given company may have a strong short-term market position by virtue of a dominant patented technology.) A company that comes to mind is Stratasys. Alternatively, will mutinationals, such as the likes of GE, become more and more involved in the manufacture of 3D printing products, whereby these products will become simply another line of business, albeit with its own separate and distinct technology, but offered under the company’s house mark and brand?

This Kat recognizes that the entry of GE as a manufacture of 3D printers does not necessarily create a zero-sum game; both the Stratasys’s and the GE’s of the world may well be engaged in non-competing markets for 3D printing devices. But at some point and at level, they ultimately might compete in some fashion. If and when this happens, the outcome of this commercial struggle will help determine the ultimate structure of the 3D printing industry and which type of company will most likely succeed in appropriating brand value.


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