Markforged Turns Profit, Grabs $30M From Siemens, Microsoft, Porsche

Now that the hype over 3D printing has died down, some of the industry’s surviving startups have figured out how to build healthy businesses.

Four-year-old Markforged says it’s one of them. The Watertown, MA-based company—known for 3D printers that produce plastic parts strengthened by carbon fiber and other materials—says its revenues have increased significantly this year, and the business is in the black.

But founder and CEO Greg Mark wants to grow the company even faster, and will try to do so with the help of a fresh $30 million investment. The Series C funding round was led by Next47, the venture firm backed by German manufacturing giant Siemens. Microsoft Ventures and Porsche Automobil Holding SE—which holds most of Volkswagen Group’s ordinary shares—also contributed to the investment, which brings Markforged’s total venture capital haul to $57 million. All three of Markforged’s new backers are also buyers of its printers, according to a press release.

The investment comes at a turning point for Markforged and the 3D printing industry. Talk of putting a 3D printer in every home—an idea pushed by headline-grabbing companies like MakerBot—has subsided. But the interest in 3D printers from manufacturers, engineering firms, and other businesses seems to be growing, as the machines come down in price and get better at making not just prototypes, but also ready-to-use parts. Investors are pumping significant money into printing startups, including other Boston-area companies like Desktop Metal and Formlabs.

Greg Mark

Mark recalls launching his company’s first printer a few years ago, “at the peak of the hype cycle” for 3D printing. To him, selling 3D printers directly to consumers “was all bubble” talk.

“This whole notion that people are going to print parts at home was always crazy to me,” he says.

But he’s a believer in giving every engineer access to 3D printers, and he says the industry has barely scratched the surface of demand from businesses.

“Giving engineers higher bandwidth and higher access to strong 3D-printed parts—that’s where you watch hardware design cycles go from years to months,” he says.

Markforged customers mainly use its desktop and industrial printers to fashion prototypes of parts and to make components used in factory machines, Mark says. Volkswagen, for example, prints “tools and fixtures” for automotive assembly, he says. It’s not only faster and cheaper to 3D print these factory machine parts, Mark says, but the fiber-reinforced plastic parts are often lighter and don’t break as easily as the typical metal pieces.

Now, Markforged is expanding beyond plastics and fiber materials with its new line of metal-making printers, announced in January. The company is one of several industry players, including Burlington, MA-based Desktop Metal, pushing new 3D printers that they say can produce metal parts more easily and inexpensively than earlier metal printers and traditional fabrication methods such as casting.

The cross-town rivalry brewing between Markforged and two-year-old Desktop Metal—which has raised $212 million from investors—will be worth watching. The connections between them run deeper than the fact that they’re now selling competing products—Desktop Metal co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop led early investments in Markforged while he was a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners. Fulop sat on Markforged’s board from July 2013 through September 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile.

If successful, these companies could help transform the way products get designed and manufactured. In the future, Mark envisions factories filled with 3D printers and run mostly by robots.

“You want to make this brand-new Porsche, you have a warehouse full of thousands of printers making production parts—the same parts engineers were printing on their desk six months before,” he says. “The parts arrive in crates and are assembled mostly by robots. All the fingers, the grippers on the robot … are also 3D printed. All the little fixtures—the things you need to put parts together—are also printed.”

But that scenario will take years to play out, if it happens. For now, Mark’s 104-person company will keep plugging away. Markforged plans to hire another 30 or so employees this year, he says.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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