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Shapeways files for bankruptcy

It's showdown time for some of the companies that built the new 3D printing industry

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We just reported on Sculpteo being integrated into the new stand-alone Forward AM company – which separated from BASF. Now another 3D printing service provider that – perhaps more than any other embodied the dream of bringing additive manufacturing to everyone – is closing an era and not in a good way. Shapeways has filed for bankruptcy and it doesn’t come as a major surprise.

Since the company went public via an SPAC merger in 2021 its shares have been tumbling. Shapeways aimed to scale manufacturing through a powerful software platform but results did not meet initial expectations. Revenues were stable in 2022 but that did not suffice for Wall Street investors. Over the past few quarters, the company has been conspicuously silent on its financial results.

Shapeways files for bankruptcy and it's showdown time for some of the companies that built the new 3D printing industry
A photo from my visit to the Shapeways NY-based facility back in 2014.

“Earlier this week, I had to deliver the difficult news of Shapeways’ upcoming bankruptcy filing to our dedicated team,” Shapeways Plant Manager Jules Witte confirmed on LinkedIn. “This was a somber moment in my nearly 12-year journey with Shapeways, where I have cherished the people, the challenges, and the opportunities to scale emerging technology into a mature fulfillment service for a diverse and demanding industry. In these years we were able to scale Eindhoven production to a highly efficient production facility with deep domain expertise in SLS, MJF, SLA, MBJ, and MJP. We celebrated successes locally to the very end and had an extremely economical facility with high margins producing a significant turnover.”

Shapeways began as one of the very first online B2C and B2B 3D printing services, working out of Eindhoven. Its business model was challenging from the start, with significant initial CapEx investments made possible by the support of hardware companies such as EOS, 3D Systems, Stratasys initially and later Relay, Rosler, and AM Flow. The company was able to flourish for nearly a decade and expanded to the US, with a new HQ in New York, until the leap into the stock market and subsequent downfall. A similar company, Sculpteo, took a very different path and was acquired by BASF in 2019, enabling it to further build its business into a profitable one without huge investor pressure. Now Sculpteo is back to operating as a stand-alone medium-sized company within the newly formed Forward AM Technologies.

Something similar may still happen with Shapeways as Witte said he and others in the Shapeways team are “confident about the sound operation” and “gearing up to restart the business on our own account”, asking interested parties to “reach out for any business opportunities.”

Unfortunately, Shapeways is not the only AM service provider struggling. Xometry (which however has a very different business model) is also potentially being targeted by a lawsuit from The Schall Law Firm, a national shareholder rights litigation firm, that is investigating claims on behalf of investors for violations of the securities laws.

It’s a challenging time for many AM companies that perhaps were too far ahead of their time and reached too far. On the other hand, many companies that have been building their business in the AM industry one step at a time without overreaching are doing just fine, steadily growing at sustainable rates. Still, the AM industry could not even exist without those who dared to dream big.

Disclaimer: the author of this article owns Shapeways and Xometry shares

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