Groupe Gorge Push on 3-D Starts With One-Worker Company

Raphael Gorge, chief executive officer of French engineering company Groupe Gorge, says he knew almost nothing about 3-D printing a few months back. Now he’s ready to go up against market leaders 3D Systems Corp. and Stratasys Ltd.

Gorge bought 88 percent of Phidias Technologies, a maker of printers that create three-dimensional objects, for 4.8 million euros ($6.5 million) in May. Phidias, now renamed Prodways, had 1 million euros in sales in 2012 and an earnings margin of 15 percent. It also had one employee: its founder Andre-Luc Allanic, a former principal scientist of 3D Systems.

“In three to five years, our goal is to make several tens of millions of euros in revenue from machine and resin sales,” Gorge, 42, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Paris. “We want a significant share of the market of printers using resins.” Gorge, who claims his company’s machines are “faster and more accurate,” estimates the market for such printers at about $400 million.

3-D printers build an object by churning out thin layers of materials such as plastic powder, metal or liquid resin one on top of the other, following instructions from a computer-drawn blueprint. As the technology becomes popular with companies such as General Electric Co. and Formula 1 racing team Lotus Renault GP, sales of 3-D printers and related services rose 29 percent to $2.2 billion last year and may approach $6 billion annually by 2017, consultancy Wohlers Associates estimates.

Market Growth

As a result, shares of Rock Hill, South Carolina-based 3D Systems have more than doubled this year, while Stratasys, the second-biggest publicly traded maker of 3D printers, jumped more than 45 percent.

Groupe Gorge, which currently makes doors for nuclear plants, anti-mine submarine drones and flight simulators, has risen 64 percent in Paris trading this year, giving it a market value of 114 million euros. Today, the stock was up 0.3 percent as of 1:01 p.m.

The company’s Prodways business uses a light-emitting diode and a device with 2 million micro mirrors to solidify resins, which makes it more effective than rivals that use a laser, the Gorge CEO said.

“Our machines are three to four times more productive than those of our biggest rivals,” the executive said. “It’s a very young industry in which technical progress‘‘ allows to grab market share very quickly, he said. ‘‘It’s a bit like the photocopiers industry in the 1970s.’’

Dental Clients

Prodways is targeting clients such as dental-product maker Align Technology Inc. because models used by dental-prosthesis companies are the biggest 3-D printing application in volume worldwide, he said.

Gorge said his machines can print 100 dental models in five hours. ‘‘Our rivals have already educated the market, so our easiest targets will be customers that are already equipped,’’ he said.

‘‘One hundred dental models in five hours sounds pretty impressive, assuming they are complete and full-scale models,’’ Terry Wohlers, the founder and president of Wohlers Associates, said in an e-mail.

3D Systems and Stratasys couldn’t immediately be reached to comment on their offerings.

New Employees

Prodways founder Allanic, who also created a company called 3D Optoform that was bought by 3D Systems in 2001, sold 17 machines under the Phidias brand in the past three years, mostly to German customers. The machines can also make ceramic medical implants such as skull and spine parts, and dental implants, according to Gorge.

In 2014, Prodways aims to sell more than 10 printers, which resemble six-foot-high booths and each cost 300,000 euros to 400,000 euros, Gorge said. ‘‘We’re positioned on the high-end of the market. We could decide to sell less expensive machines with a slightly smaller production capacity.”

Gorge has hired 10 people this year, most of them from the 3-D printing industry, to develop its own resins, assemble machines and develop sales of its printers, the CEO said.

“A single client might be able to buy 10 of our machines,” he said. “Resins could represent about half the value of the machine in terms of recurring annual revenue.”

Gorge’s foray in 3-D printing is part of the group’s attempt to expand in faster-growing markets. In 2009, it bought a maker of anti-radiation doors and fire-protection systems, and exited from businesses that made parts for cruise liners and tools for carmakers in 2010.

“We’re positioned in businesses where there is growth and interesting prospects, which wasn’t the case three or four years ago,” the CEO said. “We’ve moved toward more exports, more technologies and more innovation. I’m rather confident.”

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