April 2013, Leuven (Belgium). Sitting behind his desk at the Headquarters of Materialise, the company he founded and still led as CEO, Wilfried Vancraen reminisced about the exciting last few years.
It had taken 20 years to lead the company from pioneer in 3D printing technology to the ultimate industry accolade, the receipt in 2011 of the RTAM Industry Achievement Award for the extensive contributions the firm had made to additive manufacturing.
Revenues reached the $90 million mark in 2013, with 1,000+ employees. The company was broadly diversified, catering to different markets in both B2B and B2C sectors and was a clear market leader in applications such as software for additive manufacturing and biomedical engineering, as well as in biomedical 3D printing activities.
But the competitive landscape was evolving quickly. Many new service bureaus were opening up. Hype about 3D printing was growing in the media. The barriers to entry (technological and financial) were, but becoming steeper in machine and material manufacturing. Vertical integration was starting to appear with big 3D printing machine manufacturers starting to acquire service providers, software developers and material manufacturers. It was a bit early to judge the effectiveness and long-term effects of this emerging trend. Further consolidation was clearly in sight.
For Materialise, the options were numerous. It could become the consolidator, acquiring and merging into other players. But with its unique portfolio of competencies and activities, it could as easily become a seller in the process. It could also continue to grow independently. There was also the issue of whether it should seek further financing from the public in an IPO. Being an established prized player in the industry opened up many opportunities…