Porsche and the venture capital arms of Microsoft (MSFT) and Siemens have invested $30 million in 3-D printing startup Markforged, highlighting how big companies are betting that the emerging technology will transform manufacturing.
Although initial excitement over 3D printing has cooled recently with slower than expected sales to consumers, manufacturers appear to be interested in using the technology to more quickly build custom prototypes.
With the new investment, Markforged has raised $57 million in total funding. The company did not disclose its valuation in the latest funding.
It is Microsoft Ventures first investment in a 3D printing startup, with a Microsoft (MSFT) spokesperson saying in a statement that “3D printing was a natural interest for our team.” The company’s VC arm invests in startups specializing in cutting-edge technology like machine learning and cloud computing, which are all touted as technologies that companies can use to make their business operations more efficient.
Markforged’s 3-D printers can used to create objects from a variety of materials including carbon fiber, which is often used in the aerospace industry because of its relative light weight and strength.
Typically, 3-D printers have trouble printing objects using carbon fiber because it can “bunch up into a ball,” which clogs the printer’s nozzle and can cause it to break, Markforged CEO Gregory Mark said. He declined to reveal Markforged’s self-described secret to printing carbon fiber, saying “I don’t want my competitors to know.”
Mark also declined to comment on how most of his company’s big-name customers like Ford (F) and Airbus have used their 3-D printers. He would only say that General Electric (GE) has produced 3-D printed clasps that it uses to hold together airplane jet engine nozzles during manufacturing. Because the clasps are made of carbon fiber, they’re less likely to leave scratch marks or blemishes on the jet engines, Mark said.
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Mark said that Markforged is profitable, although he declined to go into specifics. He explained that the funding was necessary to help the company grow more quickly and to release new products. Markforged plans to introduce a new 3-D printer in 2018 that can produce objects from metal, similar to rival 3-D printing startup Desktop Metals.