Epson and DBJ invest in 3DEO

Epson, together with the Development Bank of Japan or DBJ, has invested in an American startup company, 3DEO, which specialises in hybrid additive manufacturing services for producing metal parts and primarily caters to the aerospace, medical, semiconductor and industrial markets.

According to the Japanese Nikkei Newspaper, Epson and the DBJ invested around ¥1 billion or £5.3 million, giving them roughly 5 percent of 3DEO’s shares though none of the companies involved have confirmed this.

This investment will help 3DEO, which is based in Torrance in California, to expand in both North America and Japan. The company was founded in 2016 by Matt Petros (CEO), Payman Torabi (CTO) and Matt Sand (President) and mainly focusses on helping manufacturers with their Design for Additive Manufacturing or DfAM. Torabi explained: “By integrating 3DEO’s AM capabilities with the meticulous engineering tradition of Japan, we aim to unlock new levels of productivity and expand the manufacturing possibilities in one of the world’s leading economies.”

The press release suggests that there’s been limited take up of additive manufacturing in Japan and that 3DEO will be able to overcome this, though it doesn’t explain how. It does say that DBJ will serve as a nexus for all parties involved, including the national and local governments and related private companies, and contribute to the social implementation of DfAM in Japan, aiming to contribute to the innovation and restructuring of the manufacturing industry.

Torabi added: ”This investment is a testament to the trust and potential seen in 3DEO’s innovative approach. We are excited to collaborate with DBJ and Epson, leveraging their expertise and market reach to enhance and refine the landscape of Additive Manufacturing.” 

3DEO has taken a holistic approach to additive manufacturing, putting together  proprietary software, metal 3D printers, robotics, and materials to offer a complete solution. The company began producing parts in 2017, ramping up from shipping 30,000 parts in 2019 to producing a million parts in 2021. In 2022 3DEO unveiled its Saffron hybrid 3D printer, together with its digital end-to-end platform, the Manufacturing Cloud.

The Saffron printer uses a combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing. The process starts by spreading a layer of metal powder across the entire build area of 81 square inches. It uses standard metal injection moulding powders where the particles average 10 microns each. The individual layers can be varied between 50 and 500 microns. However, the fluid binder is then sprayed over the entire bed to create a solid metal layer. Then a series of eight CNC micro end mills are used to etch the outline only for the parts into that metal layer. (There’s no inkjet element, which also means that there’s no conflict of interest to upset other 3D printer manufacturers that might be using Epson printheads.)

After this the process is repeated one layer at a time, which 3DEO calls intelligent layering. Once all layers are completed the entire build tray is taken out for further processing, which includes removing and cleaning the parts and then sintering them in a furnace. This results in finished parts with good density though they will still need to have the surface finished.

This approach has some of the advantages of 3D printing, mainly much better freedom in the design of the parts and no tooling or set-up times. It also means that the composition of each layer can be varied, assuming that you are manufacturing multiple copies of the same design. In addition, 3DEO says that its hybrid approach is faster than a pure additive manufacturing method. 

The company does not sell the Saffron machines, using them purely for its own manufacturing. It’s in the process of setting up 125 Saffron printers at its base with the aim of producing over 20 million parts per year in its initial factory alone.

Sand said at the time that the aim was to help manufacturers develop products faster and cheaper, adding: “Digital manufacturing, with 3D printing as the beating heart of the factory, will create this paradigm shift. This previously unimaginable manufacturing capability will level the playing field for all engineers, and this exciting vision for the future of manufacturing will become a reality through 3DEO’s Manufacturing Cloud that we are building right here in Torrance, California.”

3DEO works mainly with stainless steel, including both 17-4PH, which offers high strength and hardness, and 316L stainless steel, which offers better resistance to corrosion, as well as copper. 

The news of this latest investment is an interesting story for a number of reasons. Firstly, up to now the DBJ has focussed on investments within Japan or those that involve venture capital firms and this is the first time that the DBJ has been involved in a direct investment to an overseas start-up business. The investment was made through the DBJ’s Specified Investment Operations arm which is meant to promote the competitiveness of Japanese companies.

The joint press release mentioned that the investment had passed the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The DBJ is backed by the Japanese government and its remit is to use a small amount of government funding to encourage private sector investment for capital growth, presumably within Japan.

However, there’s been no explanation so far as to how the DBJ, Epson or 3DEO plans to help Japanese companies. The report from the Nikkei newspaper suggests that Epson might be involved in selling 3DEO’s products in Japan, presumably meaning the Saffron printers. However, the real value lies not so much in the machines, but in the complete end to end workflow and particularly the capability of designing products for additive manufacturing, which requires a different mind set to design for conventional manufacturing. 

It’s also worth noting that Epson owns a subsidiary company called Atmix that makes metal powders and offers metal injection moulding. It’s a reasonable assumption that the Atmix metal powders would be suitable for use with the 3DEO system, especially since Atmix lists 316L and 17-4PH stainless steels amongst its products. 

One final point – Epson itself has its own corporate venture capital arm, Epson X Investment Corporation or EXI, which was set up in 2020. EXI has invested in a broad range of different technologies, including micro satellites, robotics and spatial recognition software. 

You can find further details on all of these companies from 3deo.co, dbj.jp, epson.jp and atmix.co.jp.


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