NVBots Sold to Ohio Manufacturer as 3D Printing Interest Grows

[Updated 12/8/17, 3:00 pm, with co-founder’s comments.] Boston-area 3D printing startups have raised significant amounts of venture capital in the past couple of years. Now, they are starting to see some exits.

New Valence Robotics, a three-year-old MIT spinout that goes by NVBots, announced Thursday it was acquired by Harrison, OH-based Cincinnati Inc., a manufacturer of industrial 3D printers and other metal fabrication equipment. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

In a press release, Cincinnati said it will retain all of NVBots’ employees, and the startup’s operations will remain in Boston “for the foreseeable future.” NVBots has eight staff members, co-founder AJ Perez says in an interview with Xconomy. [This paragraph and others below updated with comments from Perez—Eds.]

NVBots has raised at least $5.3 million from investors, according to SEC filings. The company’s backers include Swiss firm Woodman Asset Management.

When asked about the financial return for investors and employees, Perez says the Cincinnati deal “was a positive outcome for everybody.”

NVBots was founded by Perez and other MIT students who were frustrated that the 3D printers they were using lacked capabilities for remotely collaborating on the design of parts and for controlling the printer. They created a 3D printer that runs on Web-based software, enabling teams of users to configure how they want a plastic part to be made and direct the printing process from anywhere.

The machine has a robotic arm that automatically removes the part and sets it aside, so the next job can start immediately. That’s an uncommon feature, although more 3D printing companies are trying to automate as much of the process as they can. Formlabs and Voodoo Manufacturing are other examples of companies that have developed 3D printing systems that use robotics to handle at least some of the manual labor. (Click here for more info and a video of Somerville, MA-based Formlabs’ automated system in action.)

The hype surrounding 3D printing has died down somewhat in the past couple of years, and talk of putting one of these machines in every home has subsided. But the interest in 3D printing from manufacturers, engineering firms, and other businesses seems to be growing. The NVBots deal is the latest signal.

“I think what this is showing is there is an appetite for industrial 3D printers,” Perez says.

Other examples of rising demand for 3D printing include big acquisitions by General Electric last year and startup investments made by the likes of BMW, Siemens, and Microsoft.

Founded in 1898, Cincinnati makes laser-cutting machines, press brakes, shears, powdered metal presses, and 3D printers. Cincinnati’s printers are meant for making large objects; acquiring NVBots gives the company access to smaller printers that can fit on a desk and are geared more toward making prototypes. Cincinnati said it was also interested in NVBots’ software and automation technologies, and its ability to print objects with a wider variety of materials. The two companies struck a partnership last year, through which Cincinnati has served as a value-added reseller of NVBots printers.

“As a startup in a highly competitive environment—chasing after investment dollars with many of the same companies—Cincinnati offers us a really good landing ground, as a company that has been in the machine tool industry for a long time, and [is in] the 3D printing industry themselves,” Perez says.

NVBots started with plastic-making machines, but later moved into other materials, like metals. In March, NVBots announced it had spun out its metal-making 3D printer technology into a new company called Digital Alloys, which raised a $5 million Series A funding round led by Khosla Ventures.

Watch for more 3D printing mergers and acquisitions in the coming months. In the Boston area, the list of notable venture-backed printing companies includes Desktop Metal, Formlabs, Markforged, Rize, and Voxel8.

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

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