Recently, 3D Systems signed a definitive agreement to acquire Geomagic. Geomagic develops the software that is used for scanning physical objects into 3D data. It also produces 3D metrology and inspection software that compares and verifies the measurements of an actual physical product with its design. This acquisition fits well with the portfolio and offerings of 3D Systems, which is well known for its 3D content-to-print solutions. While the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2013, the terms of the transactions were not disclosed.
The acquisition of Geomagic is part of 3D Systems’ strategy to develop its design-scan-print platform. 3D Systems also acquired Rapidform in the last quarter of 2012. Both Geomagic and Rapidform translate point cloud data into computer aided design (CAD) for further modification and improvement. The difference between the two acquisitions at the macro level is their sales presence in different regions. Rapidform has a tight integration with Siemens’ Parasolid, while Geomagic has several partnerships with scanners and CAD, etc., vendors.
A few months ago, Geomagic made an announcement about its new product—Geomagic Spark, developed in partnership with SpaceClaim, a direct modeling CAD vendor. Geomagic Spark is slated to be generally available for free trials on Geomagic’s web site at the end of January 2013. Though Geomagic by itself does not offer traditional CAD packages, it does offer software for scanning physical objects. Geomagic’s rich product portfolio includes its acquisition of Sensable, a company that developed haptic feedback tools (tools that give users the feel of sculpting forms).
Laser scanning has gained popularity in many different industries, especially the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) space, as the modern tool for surveying, digital factory, aircraft industry, ship building, and overall industrial maintenance. The competition in the Scan-to-CAD space for product development is limited to a handful of software vendors. As the costs for professional grade 3D scanners and 3D printers go down, adoption of both Scan-to-CAD and 3D printing is expected to pick up.
Geomagic’s solution is very well suited for manufacturers seeking to reverse engineer their products, particularly for dies and molds that are used in the plastic molding and stamping industry. In such manufacturing shops, tool-design drawings more often serve as a blueprint that is perfected in the machine shop after production trials. The Scan-to-CAD can vastly reduce the time to re-engineer tools, dies, and molds by skipping the whole lot of time spent to perfect design drawings. Overall, the acquisition of Geomagic and 3D Systems’ portfolio will guarantee a much richer content for industries such as consumer packaged goods (CPG), industrial manufacturing, medical devices, and automotive and aerospace, specifically in engine design. End users can also expect 3D printers that are deeply integrated with design.
Designers and tool engineers engaged in the regular manufacturing process definitely view Scan-to-CAD as a productivity improvement tool that reduces re-work, but the chief technology officers (CTOs) or end-user’s management that has control over budgets needs to be convinced for making such investments. It is easy to show positive return on investment for Scan-to-CAD for manufacturers that primarily reverse and re-engineer physical products, but it’s extremely hard for regular manufacturing firms to realize quick benefits without industry benchmarks or case studies. We expect slow adoption of Scan-to-CAD solutions by end users, but various CAD vendors will quickly release open and interoperable Scan-to-CAD software, both in desktop and mobile application areas. This acquisition has created a competitive advantage for 3D Systems but its competitors, such as Eos Systems, Stratasys, MakerBot, Organovo, etc., still have an opportunity to innovate and enter different market verticals such as life sciences vertical of 3D printing, which is still an evolving domain.