While additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, finds a home in space, there are still plenty of opportunities for middle-market companies and investors here on Earth.
Grata Co-Founder and COO Nevin Raj sat down with Andrew Rush, president and COO of Redwire, a space manufacturing company cornering a niche segment of the additive manufacturing market, at ACG’s Winter Summit on Jan. 27, to discuss how the 3D printing ecosystem is developing in the middle market.
While currently focused on aerospace applications of its additive manufacturing technologies to build satellites and other hardware in orbit, Rush shared other insights for 3D printing, including medical and dental, jewelry and more.
“We’re entering that era where we recognize that additive manufacturing is an amazing tool that enables us to make limited production runs of things in a cost-effective way,” Rush said.
Historically, there’s been a “gap” between 3D-printed technology that’s available and what’s being used, according to Rush. A big hurdle is convincing buyers that parts made using additive manufacturing are as good as those made in traditional methods. “There’s been a lot of sizzle but maybe less steak,” he said, but predicted a “sea change” going forward.
Rush said it’s crucial for manufacturing executives to understand the opportunities—like rapid prototyping and product development—as well as the limitations of additive manufacturing, such as slow production rate and limited materials.
Middle-market firms, especially those in the petrochemical sector, may find opportunities in developing new powders and resins used in additive manufacturing that they can sell to manufacturers, Rush said, expanding services beyond the printer.
There were few investor dollars in the cutting-edge vertical of space. But more financial tools are becoming available—from private equity and public exchanges—and juicing up M&A for midsize companies in the arena, according to Rush.
But he said investors looking to get into the space industry should focus on finding a “commonality of vision.”
“In the space industry, there are a lot of folks who are incredibly intelligent and could make a lot more money doing something else,” he said. “But they have a vision for this grand space future. So, sharing that vision and understanding how the product or solution set that they brought into the universe fits into that, and seeing how we together can move the needle in a profitable way is always really impactful.”
Benjamin Glick is Middle Market Growth’s associate editor.