BASF: a chemical giant’s efforts to deal with the fast-growing 3D Printing market

Three years ago, when BASF announced the creation of BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH (BASF 3DPS), its wholly-owned subsidiary dedicated to the 3D Printing industry, we could hardly imagine the company would shake up the 3D Printing industry so intensely.

As a chemical giant, the company’s efforts during the past three years could be seen as signals of a company trying to set its marks in the 3D Printing world. In hindsight, while looking at the bigger picture, we reminded ourselves this statement from Rüdiger Theobald, Senior Manager Sales & Marketing 3D Powder Solutions, to 3D ADEPT Media: “one year in AM is 10 years in traditional chemistry”. A statement that might finally explain the company’s continuous astute moves to stay in everyone’s radar.

In this interview, François Minec, Managing Director of BASF 3D Printing Solutions, discusses the company’s acquisitions, investments, partnerships & innovations.

With 20 years of experience in business development of specialty chemicals and plastics, many have known François Minec as the founder of Advanc3D Materials, a company that developed 3D printing materials, such as FDM/FFF filaments and SLS powders, and which was acquired by BASF in July 2018.

He was also a shareholder of Setup Performance, a partner company of Advanc3D Materials that was also acquired by BASF. As a Managing Director of BASF 3D Printing Solutions, the 3D Printing specialist is in charge of the company’s strategic direction as well as the business performances of its different product lines.

Since the launch of BASF 3D Printing Solutions, the German company has quickly broadened its levels of expertise about additive manufacturing, and this is mainly due to its acquisitions and investments.

Acquisitions and investments

Indeed, before the acquisition of Advanc3D materials and Setup Performance, it should be noted that BASF firstly expanded into 3D Printing materials with acquisition of Innofil3D. Other investments in Essentium, Prismlab, Materialise, as well as high-profile partnerships in AM with made even clearer the company’s seriousness about 3D Printing.

However, among these acquisitions, one that remains a big surprise for the industry was Sculpteo’s acquisition. For several years, the French 3D Printing Service has worked hard to keep a seat on the international scene alongside fellow companies such as Materialise and Shapeways.

This decisive turning point in Sculpteo’s existence, gives more strength and a polymer expertise to Clement Moreau’s company; on the other hand, it gives BASF a new profile: the one of parts producer.

For us, the acquisition of Sculpteo in November 2019 was a logical step to bring AM forward. We as Forward AM offer high-performance materials and solutions, Sculpteo offers printing services. By bringing these two complementing aspects together, we create synergies that our customers benefit from. With Sculpteo we are able to accelerate the introduction of innovative materials and solutions. And, of course, we can demonstrate a proof of concept by printing our solutions – offering our end customers solutions that really work”, François Minec explains.

Furthermore, this acquisition’s announcement happened at the same time the company launched its new corporate brand, Forward AM.

Forward AM, BASF’s new corporate brand 

Last year, in November 2019, when the German company announced its new communication orientation with Forward AM new brand, it was obvious that the combination of the words “Forward” & “AM” was meant for “future-oriented, leading-edge materials and technology”.

But to be honest, it was also a bit confusing with regards to BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH.  Is it a new brand which is part of BASF 3DPS? Or is it the new name of BASF 3DPS?

The MD removes the uncertainty regarding this topic: “‘BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH’ is the name of our legal entity while Forward AM is the name under which we market our AM solutions and materials globally. The term ‘Forward’ in our brand name and logo symbolizes our objective of bringing AM to the next level by industrializing it; and thereby support our customers with our end-to-end solutions from first idea to printed product. Looking at the positioning of our company within the BASF framework, we are clearly defined as subsidiary, purely focusing on 3D printing solutions and materials. This is also the reason we are organized in start-up like structures – to act fast in the dynamic AM industry.”

Moving forward with partnerships and innovations

As far as ongoing developments are concerned, the materials specialist announced last year that, it was working on a “third-party certified materials program” as part of its partnership with HP. First fruits of this project saw the launch of the certified material Ultrasint® TPU, which is leveraged for several applications across industries (footwear, protective gears, auto seats and interiors as well as jigs and fixtures).

A month and a half ago, the companies released a High Reusability Polypropylene (PP) material for HP’s Jet Fusion 5200 Series. Suitable for applications where an optimal balance between performance and cost is desired, it helps reduce waste by enabling up to 100% reusability of surplus powder.

Furthermore, first opportunity that resulted from Sculpteo’s acquisition by BASF was the launch of Sculpteo’s digital platform, where customers could upload 3D files and order 3D printed parts – that will be produced with a wide range of BASF’s materials amongst others. 

Speaking of these materials, the MD enthuses about a specific metal filament: “It is a cost-competitive filament, based on the BASF Catamold® material, which works on any FFF printer. It’s the perfect material for tooling, jigs and fixtures, but also for spare parts for industrial machines and agriculture. We commercialized this material last year, and since now it is also available for direct part printing via the Sculpteo platform I mentioned before. We really see an acceleration for this product.”

Moreover, in Asia, the company is expanding its 3D Printing business with the support of Prismlab, a 3D Printer manufacturer that is now an official distributor of Forward AM’s high performance Ultracur3D® photopolymer products. This new range of materials will be distributed under a specific portfolio “Ultracur3D® for Prismlab”.

This partnership is one element in our strategy for the Asian region. Since we started with Forward AM in Europe, we now have the clear objective of establishing an infrastructure in North America as well as Asia. By Q1, 2021, we plan to have 3D Printing Centers of Excellence in both regions to serve customers with our solutions globally”, the MD adds.

The 3D Printing market today: materials and opportunities

It takes so much time to develop a 3D printing material that producers must seize market opportunities when they saw one. That’s what BASF did. Three years ago, when the company debuted on this market, there was a high demand for more functional plastics and powders. Today, there is a fairer distribution of materials opportunities for the four major technologies (PBF, VAT Polymerization, Filaments and Metal), “with each technology accounting for approx. 25 percent”, according to some market reports.

These technologies “all show similar growth rates of around 25%– so there is no ‘clear winner’, even if VAT polymerization is still a bit ahead. For us at Forward AM, this development underlines our strategy to be present in all technologies and offer solutions across the different technologies”, the MD concludes.

It took several years to many companies to position themselves as leading players in the AM industry. BASF only needed three years to reach an outstanding position, and we have not heard the last of the company.

This interview has first been published in the May/June issue of 3D ADEPT Mag.