A revolution in the manufacturing industry. This is how the acquisition of Amsterdam-based 3D Hubs by the US company Protolabs has been described. In just a few years, the 3D Hubs start-up has become a leading online manufacturing platform that offers engineers access on demand to a global network of around 240 manufacturing partners. The acquisition by the listed company Protolabs is the largest ever in digital production. DOEN Participaties has been involved with 3D Hubs since the beginning. Investment manager Marc Rasmussen tells more about the importance of 3D Hubs and the acquisition:
The world we live in is based on a model of mass production. Many goods and products are made in large quantities in China or other low-wage countries and transported from there to the various markets. This way of working causes CO2 emissions due to the transport of goods around the world. Also, often more than is necessary is produced. This causes “dead stock” and wastage.
With 3D printing, products can be made locally and on demand. As a result, there is much less transport pollution and overproduction. The 3D printing sector definitely has the potential to change the current model of mass production and make part of our economic system more sustainable. That is why DOEN Participaties is investing in various parties that use 3D printing, such as Aectual (3D printing solutions for building components), AM-flow (3D printing recognition solutions) and MX3D (3D printing solutions for metal components).
3D Hubs is an online platform that provides companies with access on demand to a global network of production partners. In addition to 3D printing, the platform offers other services such as CNC machining, injection moulding and sheet metal fabrication. A company that needs parts can upload a CAD (computer-aided design) file to 3D Hubs. 3D Hubs then ensures that this part is printed at the nearest manufacturer. This means lower transport costs and no overproduction.
In 2013, 3D Hubs came to the attention of DOEN Participaties via Rockstart’s accelerator programme. At that time, 3D Hubs was an online platform that connected owners of 3D printers to people who wanted to print something. This swiftly gave rise their reputation as “the Airbnb of 3D printing”. The market turned out to be not yet ready for this, and so it was not easy to make money. Therefore, in 2017, the company started focusing on industry.
3D Hubs has become a leading player in a short time. DOEN Participaties has contributed to the development of the company from the beginning. DOEN acted as a catalyst: getting in early, continuing to fund for as long as possible, and helping to attract other investors as a co-funder.
Protolabs has its own factories in a number of countries. They are extremely fast with production, and can deliver within a day. However, their offering is more limited than that of 3D Hubs. By adding 3D Hubs, they are expanding their services. This, together with their combined customer base, means that a global player has emerged in this field.
DOEN wants to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. Our role is to fund the innovative niches – pioneers like 3D Hubs. But in the end, of course, you want to pass on the baton to the established order. A takeover by an international listed company is, of course, a dream scenario in accelerating transitions.
It is the largest acquisition ever in online manufacturing. The companies complement each other, and 3D Hubs will continue to operate under its own name for the time being. Together, they have the most extensive global network of manufacturing partners, offering many other services for local, small-scale production besides 3D printing. So this represents a huge game changer in mass production.
For a number of years, DOEN Participaties has been working as a revolving fund, which means that we reinvest all income from dividends, interest and exits in new pioneers. That’s what we’re going to do here, of course. Because although this takeover is tremendously good news for making one part of our economic system more sustainable – namely mass production – there is still plenty to do.