Are Uniformity Labs going bankrupt? Their Metal 3D Printing Equipment on Auction Block


As per an article on 3DAdept, a significant amount of metal 3D printing equipment, including machines for printing, processing, and manufacturing metal powders, is now on auction through Tauber-Arons Inc. and Aaron Industrial Solutions. A Timed Online Auction is scheduled on February 07, 2024, starting at 11:00 AM with equipment worth $10 million. It has been revealed that the assets come from Northern California-based Uniformity Labs, a startup producing metal powders for the additive manufacturing industry.

Uniformity Labs, established in 2014 as Princeton University spin-out, aims to enhance the quality and throughput in metal 3D printing by providing uniformly processed powders. They showed remarkable progress, shipping 100 tons in 2022, raising over $50 million, launching more than 10 products, and building relationships with key players in the AM industry such as AddUp and Desktop Metal. Their product line ranges from stainless steel and aluminum to titanium, nickel alloys, and cobalt chrome for laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) and binder jetting.

However, in June 2023, there were rumors about Uniformity’s unstable condition from Given the harsh macroeconomic environment, such a situation was not unusual for various AM companies, both public and private. Unfortunately, we did not hear back from the startup’s leadership.

Considering the recent acquisition of most of the machines being auctioned, it appears that Uniformity tried to maintain operations as long as possible. The selling equipment, including a 2022 ALD Viga 35 Vacuum Gas Atomizer valued at $3.5 million, CNC machines, Netzsch Classifiers, Plasma Spherodization Reactor, and other high-end laboratory and production equipment. Metal 3D printers on sale include 2021 SLM Solutions SLM 280HL dual 700W LPBF system, 2016 SLM Solutions SLM 125M, 2016 EOS EOS M290, 2021 Desktop Metal P1 binder jet 3D printer, and 2021 Desktop Metal Shop system.

The financial downturn presently impacting the AM sector symbolizes an especially challenging period for startups and publicly traded firms. Nonetheless, this difficult situation could symbolize a potential opportunity for others. Over the past few years, private equity firms have adopted a strategy of buying distressed assets to build AM consolidations, typically service bureaus. It is conceivable that a group like CORE Industrial Partners or American Industrial Partners could buy Uniformity’s equipment to enhance their service bureaus.

Alternatively, wealthier powder manufacturers might choose to purchase the assets. Potential buyers could include Praxair Surface Technologies or Carpenter Technology Corporation, which also owns LPW Technology, or Höganäs AB or GKN Hoeganaes. Other possibilities involve NanoSteel Company, GE Additive’s AP&C Advanced Powders and Coatings, and AMETEK Specialty Metal Products.

No matter who buys the machinery, the auction sends a crucial message to the rest of the U.S. advanced manufacturing sector and beyond. Beyond being a sheer indication of the financial environment, it signals that advanced manufacturing intellectual property (IP) could be at risk. Uniformity, a relatively small company with only three U.S. patents and several others outside of the U.S., illustrates this. However, if a larger company were to experience similar difficulties, it might be crucial for national security reasons for the government or key contractors to rescue the business, preventing its IP from being acquired by a rival.

In the current global geopolitical climate, it would be unacceptable from both a security and an optics standpoint — to the extent that these are in fact separate considerations — to allow many more scenarios like this one to occur. In 2023, the U.S. Congress proposed multiple pieces of legislation aiming to strengthen existing laws designed to prevent federally funded R&D from leaving the U.S. domestic manufacturing ecosystem. Notably, not long after one of those acts was proposed for the second time, the Biden administration issued an executive order intended to accomplish exactly that.

At least some of the research leading to Uniformity Labs’ first patent was funded by the National Science Foundation. It is not entirely clear what particular mechanisms have been put into place to prevent, for instance, Uniformity Labs’ assets from falling into hands with interests counter to those of U.S. national security. However, the increased spending levels on domestic manufacturing that the Biden administration has made a top priority might be one such mechanism.

This development highlights that the U.S. is in need of clear, specific, and effective policy initiatives in place that can prevent more cases like this from happening, as well as initiatives that can remedy the situation when they do happen. I recently wrote an article on this topic, suggesting that the Biden administration use the Defense Production Act to encourage more U.S.-based 3D printing OEMs to buy American-made lasers.

It could be beneficial for the U.S. government to utilize the Defense Production Act to create a “Keep US Advanced Manufacturing in Business” fund. The AM Forward small business investment fund proposed by ASTRO America at the Pentagon in August 2023 could serve a similar purpose.

Americans need to reconsider their skepticism of industrial policy if they want to compete with the economies currently outpacing the U.S. in the realm of manufacturing. This skepticism is unfounded considering that it is government-led industrial policy that built the contemporary American economy.

With this in mind, we might see key U.S. entities step in to acquire critical assets when necessary. And, if they don’t, the government itself may need to intervene.

Original source


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