Aug 01, 2018
Since Max Lobovsky, Natan Linder and David Cranor founded Formlabs, the 3D printing space changed dramatically. As a consumer craze, it fizzled. 3D printing in the consumer world today connotes disposable trinkets, DIY experimentation or even kids’ toys. But 3D printing has quietly become very important to a massive industry: manufacturing. Pioneering companies like Formlabs and DesktopMetal, another NEA portfolio company, are making 3D printing a reality for manufacturing end-use parts, and large industries from dentistry to consumer products are paying attention.
This is hugely important because 3D printing, by definition, creates parts in the most efficient way. 3D printing is an “additive” process. Parts are created layer by layer, only using the exact materials needed. This is the opposite to how many parts are created today which requires drilling out materials away from what is needed—a “subtractive” process. 3D Printing is also a digital process. Every layer of product construction can be recorded, and exact digital replicas can be created. This generates massive new data sets about tangible products. But all of this has not been available for mass production until recently and 3D printing has still only penetrated a tiny fraction of the potential market—just 0.01% of the entire manufacturing space to which it could be applied. But that 0.01% is a very attractive initial market for Formlabs’ technology, and they are years ahead of others who turned away from what seemed to be a overhyped consumer market in polymer-based 3D printing.
The Formlabs team had a simple vision when they started and that was to commoditize the space. They rearchitected how stereolithography printing--one of the four main types of 3D printing--is done and reduced the price of a printer by 80%. Since then, the company has outperformed at every step along the way. They’ve sold more stereolithography printers than any competitors, and are preparing to similarly disrupt Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing, another common printing method that produces parts with greater resolution and stronger materials.
Max and team are highly efficient, highly technical and excellent at listening to their customers and the market. They are helping their customers with everything from applying new, strong polymer resins to scaled, mass customization of new products. They are reinventing how production is done by leaning into demand, and capturing a lot of growth along the way.
We are thrilled to partner with Formlabs for its next phase of growth, and proud to lead the company’s Series D round with a $15m investment. This is a space we know well, and we believe we can add a lot of value for a scaling business. The tremendous demand building for real digital enablement in manufacturing—which we’re seeing throughout our portfolio spanning product design (OnShape), 3D printing for metals (DesktopMetal), and automated manufacturing (Tulip, Upskill)—signals an innovation cycle with a long runway that’s likely to produce a new generation of leaders in manufacturing technology.
I’m excited to help the team at Formlabs build an enduring, iconic company and add to the team’s already formidable industry expertise. The opportunity in this space is already very attractive, and the possibilities of additive manufacturing of polymer-based parts are just beginning to unfold.