Experience the Difference (prior to 2007: Transform Your Products)
|Traded as||NYSE: DDD|
|Founded||Valencia, California, U.S. (1986 )|
(President & CEO)
Chuck Hull (CTO)
Ping Fu (CSO)
|Revenue||US$230 Million (2011)|
|US$34.9 Million (2011)|
|US$35.4 Million (2011)|
|Total assets||US$462.9 Million (2011)|
|Total equity||US$254.7 Million (2011)|
Number of employees
3D Systems, headquartered in Rock Hill, South Carolina, is a company that engineers and manufactures 3D printers. The company is credited with the invention of 3D printing. 3D Systems creates product concept models, precision and functional prototypes, master patterns for tooling, as well as production parts for direct digital manufacturing. 3D Systems uses proprietary processes to fabricate physical objects using input from computer-aided design and manufacturing software, or 3D scanning and sculpting devices.
3D Systems has adopted a somewhat consumer-unfriendly stance, as part of its corporate strategy is to acquire CAD software companies, such as Alibre, and maximize revenue, in part by eliminating any free versions of software. Alibre Design Xpress was one such highly-regarded free CAD program, which 3D Systems eliminated upon acquiring Alibre, an obvious slight to the consumer.
3D Systems' technologies and services are used in the design, development and production stages of many industries, including aerospace, automotive, architecture, health care, dental, entertainment, recreation and consumer goods. 3D Systems offers professional- and production-grade 3D printers, in addition to a line of personal 3D printers and 3D-printed consumer products, supported by the affiliated online forum Cubify. 3D Systems is notable within the 3D printing industry for developing stereolithography and the STL file format.
3D Systems was founded in Valencia, California, by Chuck Hull, the inventor and patent-holder of the first stereolithography (SLA) rapid prototyping system. Prior to Hull's introduction of SLA rapid prototyping, concept models required extensive time and money to produce. The innovation of SLA to reduce these resource expenditures while increasing the quality and accuracy of the resulting model. Early SLA systems were complex and costly, however, and required extensive redesign before achieving commercial viability. Primary issues concerned hydrodynamic and chemical complications. In 1996 the introduction of solid-state lasers permitted Hull and his team to reformulate their materials. Engineers in transportation, health care and consumer products helped fuel early phases of 3D Systems' rapid prototyping research and development. These industries remain key followers of 3D Systems' technology.
In 2003, Hull was succeeded by Avi Reichental, the current president and CEO of 3D Systems. Both Reichental and Hull are listed among the top twenty most influential people in rapid technologies by TCT Magazine. Hull remains an active member of 3D Systems' board and serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President. 3D Systems relocated its headquarters to Rock Hill, South Carolina, citing a favorable business climate, a sustained lower cost of doing business, and significant investment and tax benefits as reasons for the move.
In late 2001 3D Systems began an acquisitions program that expanded the company's technology through ownership of software, materials, printers and printable content, as well as access to the skills of engineers and designers. The rate of 3D Systems' acquisitions (16 in 2011) raised some eyebrows with regard to the task facing the company's management team. Other onlookers point to the encompassing scope of the acquisitions as indicating calculated steps by 3D Systems to consolidate the 3D printing industry under one roof and logo, to become a comprehensive one-stop-shop capable of servicing each link in the scan/create-to-print chain.
3D Systems now employs over 1000 people in 25 offices worldwide. Through its acquisitions, 3D Systems has achieved a strong and growing presence in Asia-Pacific (China, Korea, Japan) and Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the United Kingdom), in addition to expanding its brand of print materials, printers, industrial and professional CAD software, on-demand custom parts services, data capture and scanning technologies, and customizable, ready-to-print consumer collections. 3D Systems' corporate statements indicate the company's desire to facilitate user creation and "remove expert/user friction between content creation and print."
In May 2011, 3D Systems transferred from NASDAQ (TDSC) to the New York Stock Exchange (DDD). Company stock has risen with general consistency since its entry to the exchange, as have company revenues and profits. In 2012, a Gray Wolf Report predicted 3D Systems' rate of growth to be unsustainable, pointing to inflated impressions from acquisitions as a corporate misstatement of organic growth. 3D Systems responded to this article on November 19, 2012, claiming it to "contain materially false statements and erroneous conclusions that we believe defamed the company and its reputation and resulted in losses to our shareholders." One offending article was removed as a result. Sequential increases in earnings from actual sales and steady climbs in stock price per share provide reasonable cause for skepticism towards this report.
In September 2014, 3D Systems acquired the Belgian company LayerWise. The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed by the companies. The company is based in Leuven, a town in Belgium close to Brussels. It is a principal provider of services in the area of direct metal 3D printing and manufacturing. The company was a spin-off of the University of Leuven. The takeover adds Belgium to the list of countries where 3D Systems has active locations.
In April 2015, 3D Systems announced it acquired the Easyway Group of companies in China, creating 3D Systems China. Easyway is a Chinese 3D printing sales and service provider with key operations in Shanghai, Wuxi, Beijing, Guangdong and Chongqing.
3D Systems manufactures stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS) color-jet printing (CJP), fused deposition modeling(FDM), multi-jet printing (MJP) and direct metal sintering (DMS). Each technology takes digital input from three-dimensional data to create three-dimensional parts through an additive, layer-by-layer process. The systems vary in their materials, print capacities and applications.
- Stereolithography, or SLA, was invented by 3D Systems’ founder Chuck Hull. Stereolithography describes the method and apparatus for making solid objects in a vat of liquid photopolylmer using ultraviolet curable material and a laser to trace the digital design. SLA systems print with supports and are advantageous due to the speed and possible size of prints (size depends on the build volume of the particular machine). SLA systems can also rapidly manufacture parts of different geometries at the same time and are designed to produce prototypes, patterns or end-use parts of versatile sizes and applications. SLA parts are strong enough to be machined and can be used as master patterns for injection molding, thermoforming, blow molding and various metal casting processes. (Full article: Stereolithography)
- Selective laser sintering, or SLS, is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a high power laser to fuse small particles together. Material options are wide, including plastic, metal, ceramic, nylon, polystrene or glass powders. In many cases, SLS is an efficient process because large numbers of parts can be printed in one session. SLS does not require any support structures, as parts are surrounded by unsintered powder at all times.
- Color jet printing uses inkjet technology to deposit a liquid binder across a bed of powder. Powder is released and spread with a roller to form each new layer. This technology was originally developed by Z Corporation.
- Fused deposition modeling is handled by 3d systems' hobbyist level printer line. These printers use a heated extruder to deposit a thermoplastic along complex toolpaths, one layer at a time. A good visual model of this is using a hot glue gun to build a 3d model. The hot glue gun (a hand powered extruder) would have to build things one layer at a time, depositing a string roughly the width of the extruder orifice. Once a layer has cooled and hardened, the next layer can be built until the model is complete. FDM limitations include time (it must travel along complex toolpaths), color (only one color can be printed at a time), and durability (inter-layer adhesion is analogous to a cold solder). This is generally the least expensive type of printer available.
- Multi-Jet printing refers to the process of depositing liquid photopolymers onto a build surface using inkjet technology. High resolution is attainable with a support material that can be easily removed in post processing. Unlike FDM, these parts are generally too brittle for snap-fits. However, lower durometer (softer) parts are possible with newer model MJP printers. This allows the user to create rubbery or hard plastic parts for more diverse applications.
- Direct Metal Sintering refers to the 3d Systems metal printing process. This process spreads fine powders of diverse metal alloys out onto a printbed, and fuses geometries together using an overhead laser beam. This technology is used primarily in medical and aerospace applications, where low volumes of unique and complex models are needed.
Products and patents
As part of 3D Systems' effort to consolidate 3D printing under one logo, its products span a range of 3D printers and print products to target all potential consumers of its technologies. The three branches of printers offered by 3D Systems are personal, professional, and production. Though production-grade printers formed the early backbone of the company, 3D Systems' extension to professional and personal printers follows the company's reported desire to "level the playing field" in manufacturing and open up access to the resources that have traditionally been reserved for deep-pocketed companies. In addition to printers, 3D Systems offers content creation software to consumers unversed in CAD, with the expressed hope of making content creation "as simple and intuitive as a video game." Following a razors and blades business model, 3D Systems offers more than one hundred materials to be used with its printers, including waxes, rubber-like materials, metals, composites, plastics and nylons.
3D Systems is a closed-source company, relying on in-house innovation for product development and improvement, and a protective shield of patents to advantage its technologies over competitors'. Critics of the closed-source model have blamed seemingly slow development and innovation in 3D printing not on a lack of technology, but on a lack of open information sharing within the industry. Supporters of the closed source model argue that the right to patents inspires and motivates higher-quality innovations, leading to a better and more impressive final product.
In November 2012, 3D Systems filed a lawsuit against prosumer 3D printer company Formlabs and the Kickstarter crowdfunding website over Formlabs attempt to fund a printer which it claimed infringed its patent on “Simultaneous multiple layer curing in stereolithography.”
3D Systems has applied for patents for the following innovations and technologies: the rapid prototyping and manufacturing system and method; radiation curable compositions useful in image projection systems; compensation of actinic radiation intensity profiles for 3D modelers; apparatus and method for cooling part cake in laser sintering; radiation curable compositions useful in solid freeform fabrication systems; apparatus for 3D printing using imaged layers; compositions and methods for selective deposition modeling; edge smoothness with low resolution projected images for use in solid imaging; elevator and method for titling solid image build platform for reducing air entrapment and for build release; selective deposition modeling methods for improved support-object interface; region-based supports for parts produced by solid freeform fabrication; additive manufacturing methods for improved curl control and sidewall quality; support and build material and applications.
Applications and industries
3D Systems’ products and services are used across industries to assist, either in part or in full, the design, manufacture and/or marketing processes. 3D Systems' technologies and materials are used for prototyping and the production of functional end-use parts, in addition to fast, precise design communication. Current 3D Systems-reliant industries include automotive, aerospace and defense, architecture, dental and healthcare, consumer goods and manufacturing.
Examples of industry-specific applications include:
- Aerospace, for the manufacture and tooling of complex, durable and lighter-weight flight parts
- Architecture, for structure verification, design review, client concept communication, reverse structure engineering, and expedited scaled modeling
- Automotive, for design verification, difficult visualizations, and new engine development
- Defense, for lightweight flight and surveillance parts and the reduction of inventory with on-demand printing
- Dentistry, for restorations, molds and treatments. Invisalign orthodontics uses 3D Systems' technologies
- Education, for equation and geometry visualizations and art schools and design initiatives
- Entertainment, for the manufacture and prototyping of action figures, toys, games and game components; printing of sustainable guitars and basses, multifunction synthesizers, etc.
- Healthcare, for customized hearing aids and prosthetics, improved medicine delivery methods, respiratory devices, therapeutics, and flexible endoscopy and laparoscopy devices for improved procedures and recovery times
- Manufacturing, for faster product development cycles, mold production, prototypes, and design trouble-shooting
For industries such as aerospace and automotive, 3D Systems' technologies have reduced the time needed to incorporate design drafts and enabled the production of more efficient parts of lighter weight. Because 3D printing builds layer-by-layer according to design, it does not need to accommodate the traditional manufacturing tools of subtractive methods, often resulting in lighter parts and more efficient geometries.
Facilities and employees
In 2007, the company consolidated its offices, operations, and research and development functions into a new global headquarters in Rock Hill, South Carolina, US. About half of the headquarters’ 80,000 square feet (7,400 m2) consist of research and development laboratories with an 18,000-square-foot (1,700 m2) Rapid Manufacturing Center (RMC) with 3D Systems’ rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing and 3D printing systems at work.
With customers in 80 countries, 3D Systems has over 1000 employees in 25 worldwide locations, including San Francisco, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, China, Korea and Japan. The company has more than 359 U.S. and foreign patents.
Community involvement and partnerships
3D Systems is involved in a multi-year agreement with the Smithsonian Institution as part of a Smithsonian-wide effort to strengthen collections' stewardship and increase collection accessibility through 3D representations. This partnership is part of the company's attempt to broadcast the capabilities and applications of 3D printing while increasing "the visibility and accessibility of our national treasures."
In 2012, 3D Systems began partnering with the 90-year-old Scholastic Art&Writing Awards in the Future New category. For this branch of the Scholastic Awards, students will be challenged to express bold and innovative ideas using new technologies. 3D Systems will offer students free 3D design software to facilitate their creations and will award three winners with a $1000 scholarship. This money is in addition to the prizes and recognition granted winners by the Scholastic Awards.
3D Systems is a corporate underwriter of the National Children's Oral Health Foundation: America's ToothFairy® (NCOHF). NCOHF provides community programs to deliver educational, preventative and treatment oral health services to children in at-risk populations. 3D Systems contributes its 3D content-to-print solutions and Cubify capabilities to the NCOHF effort.
3D Systems has contributed two production-grade 3D printers to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, Ohio, the first center of a federal initiative to enhance the competitiveness of US industry. The Youngstown institute is just one regional hub of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), which aspires to build "world-class centers for applied research, technology incubation and commercialization" to re-localize manufacturing and strengthen US competitiveness
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