- After missing deadlines and frustrating customers due to sluggish suppliers, Boeing invested in startup Digital Alloys, which 3D prints metal parts — its fourth similar investment, according to a press release.
- Digital Alloys could provide a cheaper, more consistent source for mixed-metal parts.
- Boeing has been developing 3D-printed parts since the '90s, and tens of thousands are in use today.
Boeing has pledged to deliver 800 airliners this year, more than ever before, but a main hiccup causing delays is supplier shortfalls.
New technology from startup companies like Digital Alloys could give Boeing more control over its supply chain. Boeing spokesperson Vienna Catalani told Supply Chain Dive the company is not yet certain how and if it will integrate Digital Alloys' specific technology, but whether used internally at Boeing or in the hands of suppliers, 3D printers can produce metal parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.
Digital Alloys raised $12.9 million in this Series B round and will begin shipping parts this fall and selling printers next year. CEO Duncan McCallum told Supply Chain Dive his company's parts will be 25-50% cheaper than conventionally manufactured parts.
Large players like Boeing are more and more making venture investments in order to get exposure to and accelerate the development of technologies they believe can improve their operations, with the possibility of partnering with or acquiring the startups down the road.
Boeing is betting on multiple horses in this field, investing in three other 3D-printing startups this year. The jet manufacturer is not new to this technology, and 3D printed parts are already in the air.
"Boeing is incorporating flying 3D-printed parts on commercial airplane programs today. We have more than 60,000 3D-printed parts flying across our commercial, space and defense products, and have been conducting research and development work in additive manufacturing since 1997," Catalani said in an email.
Though Boeing is the only airliner invested in Digital Alloys, McCallum said that the startup has not granted any exclusivity and does not plan to do so in the future.
"Boeing is one of the leading manufacturers of parts that must meet the most demanding requirements. Learning from Boeing about how to do this well will make Digital Alloys a stronger company," McCallum said.