Home / News / Explained: Why Nexa3D acquired AddiFab and the XYZprinting SLS business

Explained: Why Nexa3D acquired AddiFab and the XYZprinting SLS business

Jun 11, 2023Jun 11, 2023

by Sam Davies

18 May 2023


In the run up to the RAPID + TCT event in Chicago, the marketing messages conveyed by Nexa3D promised something big.

Just 18 months after the announcement of its desktop XiP Lubricant Sublayer Photo-curing 3D printing system, the Californian company was stepping things up with the launch of the larger XiP Pro. Armed with a more powerful print engine and a 19.5-litre build volume, Nexa3D is confident this machine will facilitate production-grade output for its existing customers, and the potentially new ones that swarmed around the product at RAPID + TCT.

But as TCT stepped onto the Nexa3D booth, the XiP Pro wasn’t on the agenda, or at least not directly. Rather, it was the company’s inorganic growth through the acquisitions of XYZprinting’s SLS business and AddiFab that had piqued our interest. And fortunately, both had been granted their own space on the Nexa3D booth to explain how they ended up there.

Nexa3D had initially brought powder bed fusion technology into its business through the acquisition of NXT Factory in 2021, with its Quantum Laser Sintering (QLS) 820 platform being officially introduced at IMTS in September 2022. The QLS 820 system boasts four 100W CO2 lasers, with a print speed of up to 8,000 ccm per hour across a 350 x 350 x 400 mm build volume.

At XYZprinting, its SLS machinery had some differences and some similarities. As John Colby Calhoun, the Director of Business Development at Nexa3D and previously Director of Additive at XYZ, explained: “One is your small platform, single laser, one is large platform, four laser. But they both have the same philosophy of open platform and an understanding that CO2 laser is the premier solution for additive in powder bed.”

With a starting price point of around 70,000 USD for the XYZ systems, Nexa3D identified a gap in its own portfolio that could be filled. “[The QLS 820] is very much high throughput and a huge investment from a CapEx standpoint,” Nexa3D Chief Marketing Officer Nina Swienton said. “Not a lot of companies can get in at this level, but the [XYZ SLS offering] is much more palatable.”

As such, when Nexa3D caught wind of XYZprinting shutting down much of its 3D printing activity, it swooped in to purchase the company's SLS business, bringing with it the MfgPro 236 and MfgPro 230 products (now branded as QLS 236 and QLS 230, respectively).

While much of the additive manufacturing community gathered at the AMUG Conference in March, word got out that XYZprinting shareholders New Kinpo Group and Calcomp were dissolving its Desktop, OEM and Materials business units, with Nexa3D rescuing the SLS division.

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Exhibit at the UK's definitive and most influential 3D printing and additive manufacturing event, TCT 3Sixty.

XYZ’s Managing Director in Europe Fernando Hernandez revealed in this LinkedIn article that he will spend his next few months closing down the XYZ Desktop operation and supporting the transition of the SLS business to Nexa3D. TCT had this confirmed by an XYZprinting spokesperson who said: “What Fernando mentioned is pretty much correct. There is a strategy shift from the parent companies and major shareholders. This has been in preparation for just a short while.”

Hernandez described the ending of the Desktop division as ‘an honourable outcome of a thorough business decision’, citing the ‘post-Covid market trend regarding desktop 3D printers,’ while also noting the sale of the SLS business was ‘another strategic business decision’ referencing ‘current global supply and production limitations.’

As Nexa3D takes over the SLS business from XYZ, it will be moving production of the QLS 236 and QLS 230 to North America.

“We picked up all the existing service contracts and then as part of that exchange, [XYZ] transferred all the manufacturing data to us,” Calhoun said. “All of that manufacturing data and fixturing comes over to Ventura, and we’ll start building these in our facility [from next month].”

The QLS 230 provides a 24-hour cycle speed using a 30-Watt CO2 laser, while the QLS 236 uses a 60-Watt CO2 laser and prints parts in a 21-hour cycle. They both support the printing of a broad range of high-temperature thermoplastic materials, while also ‘excelling’ with recycled powders from HP and EOS.

Using these machines, companies like Jawstec are said to be earning hundreds of dollars a day printing used material they’ve already paid for that cannot be run on a HP machine, for example, because the machine’s optical sensors will flag that the powder is now off colour. The company has also worked with Jawstec to recycle used EOS powder which is said to have a ‘really poor elephant skin sidewall’ when it’s dead. Through a trial and error process, they came to understand that the EOS powder could be reused with a 30% mix of fresh powder, and new parts with sufficient mechanical properties could be additively manufactured. To enable customers to recycle used powder for new builds, XYZ has incorporated a ‘multi energy print’ capability that allows the operator to adjust the energy density in several parts in the same build.

Because of the short cycle times, and the printed powder bed only requiring a couple of hours to cool down, service bureau users have also been able to get parts to their domestic customers with next-day delivery, according to Calhoun.

In addition to the high-temperature thermoplastics, the XYZ printers can also process Headmade Materials metals. Headmade Materials’ Cold Metal Fusion process sees metal feedstock coated in a polymer, with the parts going through a chemical debind process to eliminate half of the polymer backbone, and then a sinter furnace to burn off the rest of the backbone. This allows users to additively manufacture ‘chunkier parts with internal channels and 30 millimetre wall thickness,’ per Calhoun.

The XYZprinting SLS business has also brought with it a raft of high profile users, including Oakley, who have one machine for recycling and one for product development with soft materials; Converse, who wanted to install a smaller machine in Boston to run the same material that parent company Nike runs in Beaverton; Merck, who run two machines; BMW; and Volkswagen.

Nexa3D has brought a small but knowledgeable group of people from XYZprinting to bolster its own SLS team. Calhoun has been joined by Devon Elia, Customer Success Leader, and an applications engineer based in Europe to remain close to its resellers on that continent.

“It’s a huge win for the company because we [add to the] SLS expertise within Nexa3D,” Swienton said. “With John and Devon, it strengthens what we can do from a talent and capability standpoint.”

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It came about after a successful collaboration that commenced in March of 2022. When AddiFab initially came to market, it had developed its own 3D printing system, ‘The Toolmaker’, which would print mould inserts with detailed features as small as 10µm, that would then have an industrial grade material pressed into the mould’s cavity before the mould is dissolved to reveal the part. This was AddiFab’s offering to facilitate the prototyping of parts in the same material the user intends to manufacture with.

The Freeform Injection Molding (FIM) solution attracted investment from the likes of Mitsubishi Chemical’s venture arm, with the company then launching FIM services across three continents in June 2020.

In Nexa3D, however, AddiFab saw an opportunity to enhance FIM by aligning with what it deemed to be the fastest SLA 3D printers on the market. And, in time, both parties agreed the best way to move forward was with one acquiring the other.

For AddiFab, it was about doing everything it could to fulfil the potential of FIM, while for Nexa3D it was another way to bolster its portfolio and facilitate real-world manufacturing use cases.

AddiFab CEO Lasse Staal explained: “The speed increase was fabulous. For us, it was about getting a better system in front of the technology. It was also about marketing. It was about making sure that we were not standing in the way of the technology because some people were reluctant to buy from a small Danish vendor: ‘Well, are you here in five years?’ By teaming up with Nexa, we get access much faster, industrial style systems, plus a wider marketing channel.”

Swienton added: “We wanted to continue to elevate what we can do from a capability standpoint to get closer to true manufacturing, application and production, and how do we have a legitimate case for the cost of tooling and the complexity that you can’t achieve any other way when it comes to moulding. It seemed like a match made in heaven to combine what we do from the printing standpoint at the speed and throughput with the complexity that we can accomplish with a specialised resin and the Freeform Injection Molding process.”

Some big names.

One of which is PepsiCo, who when leveraging Nexa’s NXE SLA technology to print inserts in xPEEK for the blow moulding of its bottle products, also tapped into FIM to develop the cap. The caps of these bottles need to be injection moulded rather than blow moulded, and so to ensure they could maintain a fast prototyping cycle, PepsiCo turned to FIM.

With FIM, the design for the cap insert was completed on a Monday morning, the mould was printed over lunch, material injected into it in the afternoon, and the PepsiCO team had a clear visual of how the part looked on their Monday evening conference call. The mould was then dissolved the next day, with the part shipped on Wednesday for a Friday morning arrival.

Another is Wilson Sporting Goods. With FIM, Wilson has reported a turnaround reduction from 12 weeks to seven weeks for one application, because of a change made in how it gets its tooling made at the prototyping stage. The company has also been able to iterate faster when doing design variations, exploring personalised elements in parallel designs, and better protect the IP around its proprietary materials by bringing FIM in-house.

But Wilson has not only integrated FIM for their own benefit. Through a partnership with Nexa, also announced at RAPID + TCT, they have essentially become an FIM customer experience centre offering its design aptitude as a service, while also benchmarking and testing for prospective customers before they invest in the technology.

Well, with Nexa3D expanding its 3D printing capability beyond resin platforms to powder-based systems over the last couple of years, AddiFab is set to explore how those technologies can benefit its FIM solution.

Staal noted how the QLS systems could be used to print rigid parts with FIM then applying an overmould to deliver a multi material capability.

“If QLS delivers a part in a good enough quality, then by all means start with the QLS,”. Staal said. “But if you need the part to be watertight, for instance, because it needs to be part of a connect assembly, then you might need to overmould it. That’s where can step in. We always try to find the most cost-efficient way to solve the customer’s problem. We’re always about versatility.”

Potentially not.

Staal said: “I think the Nexa approach is to be open and I don’t think they’ll be keeping this technology under wraps, because it doesn’t really make sense. [We] don’t need to be defensive about it. It’s about getting this technology into the hands of as many people as possible. And if you weren’t lucky enough to start out with a Nexa system, you should also be able to try this out on your own.”

by Sam Davies

18 May 2023


RAPID + TCTNexa3DTCTXYZprinting’s SLS businessAddiFabWhy has Nexa3D sought to acquire the SLS business from XYZprinting? Wait, what happened at XYZ? AMUG ConferenceWant to discuss? Join the conversation on the TCT Additive Manufacturing Network. Get your FREE print subscription to TCT Magazine.Exhibit at the UK's definitive and most influential 3D printing and additive manufacturing event, TCT 3Sixty.this LinkedIn articleWhat capabilities does the XYZprinting SLS technology offer? JawstecWhat else does XYZ SLS add to Nexa3D from a technology perspective? Headmade MaterialsOakleyConverseNikeMerckBMWVolkswagenAnd what about the staff? Read moreSo, how did the AddiFab acquisition come about? Why did this move make sense for both sides? Who has been using FIM technology? PepsiCoWilson Sporting GoodsNow AddiFab is part of Nexa, what are the product roadmap plans moving forward? Will it always be Nexa3D technology printing the FIM mould inserts?