Nikon takes up Boeing-assisted dealer of 3D-printed satellite parts


South Korea and Japan-based camera-making companies acquire a controlling stake in U.S. startup Morf3D. The startup (Morf3D) is an aerospace supplier which produces 3D-printed metallic flight hardware for Boeing satellites and helicopters. The deal provides Nikon, the Tokyo-based firm has a grip to flourish the satellite industry.

Yuichi Shibazaki is the vice president at Nikon and shares insights in a statement on 6th April. He said, “Morf3D demonstrates leadership in metal additive expertise, a strong innovative channel, and extremely specialized aerospace which includes all manufacturing qualifications. The combinations of both companies are well in line with Nikon’s vision. The vision is to accelerate the industrialization of additive manufacturing (AM) with the help of innovation. And we look ahead to work together in order to deliver exciting next-generation AM solutions to global customers.”

AM is commonly known as 3D printing or rapid prototyping. This is a process that Morf3D uses to solve the complex design and manufacturing challenges in a new age of space invention. The deal estimates 10 billion yen ($91 million). Nikon has a seat on the Morf3D board of directors. It sends engineers to El Segundo, a California-based startup in order to solidify operational ties. Nikon expects that it will use Morf3D’s sales channels to connect with satellite manufacturers.

Morf3D’s Boeing Backup

  • The year of establishment is 2015
  • Morf3D supplies 3D-printing with custom titanium and aluminum parts
  • The customization is done for Boeing satellites and helicopters
  • It provides advisory services in AM strategy and technology adoption road-mapping
  • Boeing maintains relations with Morf3D by making 2 huge investments in them
  • Time of investments – April 2018 and August 2019
  • The investments are via Boeing HorizonX Ventures which increases customer demand for Morf3D’s services

Boeing said in a news release in 2018 that when Morf3D’s software combines with its engineering expertise helps in mass reduction significantly. On the flip side, it increases the performance and functionality of other parts. The list of Morf3D’s customers includes players such as Honeywell, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Collins Aerospace.

The Hunt for Focus

The acquisition is the latest outcome of Nikon’s effort to find new growth and development engines amid the decline in financial health. Few experts from the industry believe that the incident blames a series of managerial mistakes due to the pandemic. These mistakes pose a negative impact on the photo industry. Nikon’s revenue in 2020 drops by 16% to $5.48 billion with an operating profit that steeps as low as $62 million with a 92% drop. Nikon’s core image business is also into huge losses. Statistics show $2.09 billion revenue last year which goes down by 23.7% including an operating loss of $158 million. Due to such heavy losses, the company lays off 700 employees last year and plans to shed another 2,000 workers by March 2022.

Against the backdrop, Nikon launches the Next Generation Project Division in July 2019. This division is a task force dedicated to accelerating the launch of new growth and development businesses. These businesses are formed in order to create a synergy with precision and optoelectronics technology and hence Morf3D is Nikon’s pick.

Nikon vs Canon – another technology battle?

Nikon is not the first Japanese organization that sets its entry in the satellite industry. In June 2017, Canon also sent an imaging satellite, CE-SAT-1 in the orbit as an alternate payload on an Indian PSLV launch vehicle. In addition, last year Canon develops another imaging satellite – CE-SAT-1B. The plan is to launch the satellite on a rocket from Rocket Lab Electron. However, the rocket that launched on 4th July from New Zealand, fails to reach orbit because of second-stage burn problems. This impacts the life of 7 commercial payloads that were onboard.

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