Since it announced its departure from the 3D printing industry in September, Sigma Additive Solutions has revealed who is buying its in-process quality assurance (IPQA) technology. The buyer is Divergent Technologies, Inc., well-known for the additive manufacturing (AM) of hypercars and, more recently, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for General Atomics. This decision came alongside Sigma’s announcement of its acquisition of NextTrip Holdings, Inc., a travel technology company.
The Significance of Sigma’s Technology for Divergent
Divergent Technologies, known for its Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS), is a pioneer in industrial digital manufacturing. The company has already made waves in the automotive, aerospace, and defense sectors, providing an end-to-end software-hardware production system.
Divergent’s move comes at a time when the company has already received a $100 million investment from Hexagon AB to boost its 3D printing and automated assembly technology. Divergent seems poised to further its leadership in additive manufacturing, not only in the automotive sector but potentially in other industries requiring high-quality, complex structures.
Sigma’s technology, named PrintRite3D, employs sensors and software to monitor the intricate operations of metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) machines. Until now, Sigma had been directly collaborating with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and aerospace entities, offering a service in an area where internal access for monitoring could void warranties or require complicated interventions.
Lukas Czinger, COO and Co-Founder of Divergent and Czinger Vehicles, said: “This strategic acquisition is of great significance as Divergent deploys DAPS structures across the automotive, aerospace, and defense industries. Sigma’s foundational IP centered on in-process monitoring will be integrated into and expanded on within the Divergent portfolio. The core software will be seamlessly applied to our additive manufacturing module and will further enhance Divergent’s industry leading additive manufacturing quality management system. Ultimately, this acquisition further supports our confidence in supplying structures for safety-critical and mission-critical applications.”
The Broad Implications of the Technology Transfer
Divergent’s DAPS system is already known for its artificial intelligence-driven generative design and automated assembly by industrial robots. The integration of Sigma’s in-process monitoring technology is expected to bring substantial improvements in quality assurance, enabling Divergent to offer safer and more reliable products. It also complements Hexagon’s software, which can be used anywhere along the workflow, from design and material characterization to part and process simulation, as well as QA.
The acquisition of Sigma’s technology and patents, could be key for Divergent and Hexagon to round out a complete manufacturing ecosystem. Because QA for metal AM is a very small segment, Divergent essentially acquired one of the only operators in the space. QA is also obviously essential for mass production, to ensure parts meet specifications at scale. This signals the firm’s intent to truly establish itself as a mass manufacturer, whether that’s in automotive or aerospace.
Also worth noting is Divergent’s relationship with Nikon SLM Solutions, with CEO Kevin Czinger involved in the development of SLM’s 12-laser metal 3D printer, the NXG XII. Arguably, SLM’s system is the most production-ready of any of the LPBF machines on the market, though those from Chinese makers could likely compete. Because Nikon has its own suite of sensor and metrology products, it may be possible that Divergent will be able to share the technology with Nikon in some way, including via licensing agreement.
Because Sigma was unable to really get itself off the ground, it may be possible that Divergent has actually developed its own QA process already that matches some of the patents in Sigma’s portfolio. By owning the intellectual property, it may now be able to sell or license its own technology to others in the AM sector.
This also raises questions about the future of QA for AM. With Divergent acting as a supplier for somewhere around 10 tier-one automotive manufacturers, according to its CEO, plus General Atomics, we may witness a competitor swoop in to purchase some other QA firm. Given that there are very few out there, the options are limited to Phase3D, Additive Assurance, and, possibly, 1000Kelvin. These businesses are so new, however, that they may not be for sale.