Alongside its latest trading update Cambridge-based inkjet technology developer Xaar has detailed plans for a major new 3D unit.
The Xaar 3D Centre building, which is currently under refurbishment, will open in January and house a team of around six experts who will develop 3D printing equipment and services for OEM partners, materials suppliers and end-users. The 510sqm facility is situated in Nottingham Science Park, next to the University of Nottingham.
Xaar already manufactures printheads for the 3D space and this new venture is an extension of that work. The team will be headed by former Nottingham University graduate, professor Neil Hopkinson, who invented the inkjet technology-based process known as High Speed Sintering (HSS).
The process uses inkjet printheads and infrared heaters to manufacture products layer by layer from polymer powder materials at much higher speeds than other additive manufacturing processes and is likely to be of interest to companies looking into volume 3D manufacturing.
"I am delighted to confirm our investment in The Xaar 3D Centre in Nottingham and the expansion of our team,” said Hopkinson. "As we build our business in 3D it is vital that we have the in-house resources to support our partners."
Hopkinson joined Xaar in March as director of 3D Printing and the company has added to his team with the acquisition, earlier this year, of Danish company Blueprinter, comprising a team of experts in 3D printing and thermal control.
“We wanted to combine the specific expertise of the team in Copenhagen with our new site in Nottingham,” said Xaar chief executive Doug Edwards. “It’s going to really develop our capabilities in the sector and is part of our overall plan for growth.”
Edwards told PrintWeek that the company expects to invest at least £1m in its 3D activities next year.
The company announced details of the new 3D centre alongside a scheduled trading statement for the period from 1 July 2016. The company said revenues were expected to be similar in H2 to the £44.5m reported in the first half of this year, excluding any revenues from direct-to-shape specialist EPS, which it acquired in July this year.
Expectations for full-year earnings remained unchanged, according to Edwards, and the group target of hitting sales of £220m by 2020 was still on track.
Sales in the ceramics division are expected to be lower than previously forecast due continued pressure in the market and also to slow implementation of the new 2001 and 2001+ printheads. Despite strong initial demand, Edwards explained that the complexity of the technology has delayed integration.
“The 2001 printhead is not gaining traction as fast as we’d like because it’s quite a sophisticated product and it’s taking the OEMs a little longer to integrate it. It has double the resolution of any other printhead and they are trying to understand how that will look on the tile and what sort of premium they can charge. It’s highly differentiated to anything else in the market, which is going to be very important as we move forward,” he said.
Edwards said he was confident however, that Xaar would maintain its market-leading position in the ceramics market. “The future is fine but we have to accept competition increases as markets mature,” he added.
“The ceramics space is now heavily digitally converted, so it’s starting to become very competitive. Our over-arching strategy is to reduce dependence on that space and focus on growing other areas and we’ve introduced new products to do that.”
Demand for new 1201 and 5601 thin-film printheads, launched this year, continues to be strong and while contributions would be modest this year, were expected to bring in significant revenues in 2017, Edwards said.
In Xaar’s packaging and product printing division, which includes the labels, coding and marking and direct-to-shape segments, Edwards said performance was “ahead of plan” with sales exceeding of those reported in H1 2016 and H2 2015. The integration of EPS into the company had gone smoothly and was now complete, he added.
Share price, which has been on a steady downward trajectory since September, rallied in early trading yesterday after the announcement jumping from 414p to 439.5p (12-month high: 520p, low: 371p). At the time of writing share price was 439.7p.
Edwards said an announcement is due shortly on a replacement for chief financial officer Alex Bevis, who is set to leave the company in March to join computer games firm Frontier Developments as CFO.
Xaar is scheduled to announce its full year results for 2016 on 22 March 2017.