GE, Adidas, and Others to Pour $200 Million Into Hot 3D Printing Start-Up Carbon

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Red-hot 3D printing start-up Carbon on Wednesday announced that it has closed on $143 million of a $200 million Series D funding round, which it will use to accelerate its global expansion.

Once completed, this round will bring the Silicon Valley-based company's total raise to a whopping $422 million and reportedly boosts its valuation to a mighty $1.7 billion.

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To provide some context, the two largest publicly traded pure-play 3D printing companies, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) and 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD), have market caps of $1.14 billion and $1.13 billion, respectively, as of Dec. 21.

Here's what you should know.

Carbon's growing list of backers and partners

New investors in the Series D round include investment management companies Fidelity Management & Research Company and Baillie Gifford (Scotland); venture capital firm ARCHina Capital (Hong Kong); the VC arm of strategic partner adidas (NASDAQOTH: ADDYY), Hydra Venture; and Emerson Elemental, the environmental practice of Emerson Collective. Notably, in April, adidas announced that it's partnering with Carbon to manufacture athletic shoes with 3D-printed midsoles for the mass market. The first shoe in the Futurecraft 4D line will be a running shoe, which customers will eventually be able to order with custom midsoles.

Current investors that participated in the round include strategic investors GE Ventures, General Electric's VC arm; and JSR Corporation; and VC firms Sequoia Capital, Silver Lake Kraftwerk, and Reinet Investments. (At least one well-regarded outlet reported that GE is a new investor, which isn't so. GE Ventures invested in the extended Series C round in September 2016, as I wrote about.) Other investors are expected to be disclosed in early 2018.

Carbon CEO and co-founder Joseph DeSimone, PhD, commented in the press release:

Going into the round, Carbon already had an impressive list of backers and partners. Google Ventures, Alphabet's VC arm, led Carbon's $100 million Series C funding round in the summer of 2015. In addition to GE Ventures, then-new investors in the extended Series C round in September 2016 included strategic investors JSR (a Japan-based chemical manufacturer), BMW i Ventures, and Nikon, a Japan-based company with expertise in such things as 3D measurement.

Carbon is aiming to upend traditional manufacturing

Carbon, founded in 2013, burst onto the world's tech stage at TED in March 2015 when DeSimone wowed the audience with a demonstration of the company's super-speedy polymer 3D printing technology, now called Digital Light Synthesis (DLS).

DLS was reportedly 25 to 100 times faster than the leading 3D printing technologies when tested to produce the same 51-millimeter-diameter complex part. This speed advantage results from the tech "growing" polymer parts continuously, via harnessing ultraviolet light and oxygen, whereas other 3D printing techs pause briefly after printing each layer. Moreover, DLS reportedly enables immense materials possibilities, and can produce objects with smoother surface finishes than conventionally 3D-printed parts and with structural consistencies on par with injection-molded ones.

In April 2016, Carbon launched the M1, its first polymer 3D printer for the enterprise market. In March 2017, the company commercially launched its Design SpeedCell and Production SpeedCell, comprised of one M-series 3D printer connected to a smart parts washer, and multiple connected industrial-grade M2 printers paired with a smart parts washer, respectively.

3D Systems and Stratasys in Carbon's crosshairs

It's certainly not good news for 3D Systems and Stratasys that huge companies across industries ranging from aerospace and auto to consumer goods and healthcare -- such as GE, Ford, BMW, adidas, and Johnson & Johnson -- are forming strategic partnerships with their relatively new competitor. The same can be said of the fact that top VC firms and others -- including companies that are using Carbon's tech -- are valuing Carbon as being worth a massive $1.7 billion.

3D Systems and Stratasys each have recently launched or plan to soon launch next-generation 3D printing technologies. However, right now, Carbon and tech giant HP Inc. are ahead of the pack when it comes to commercializing fast 3D printers aimed at a broad array of manufacturing applications. Whether 3D Systems and Stratasys can catch up in this critical realm remains to be seen.

As for Carbon, you may want to put it on your initial public offering watch list.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Beth McKenna has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Ford. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, BMW, and Stratasys. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.