BMW i Ventures invests in 3D printing startup Desktop Metal

This technology could provide BMW with 'freedom of design and mass customization.'

Since its launch in 2011, BMW i Ventures has been making strategic investments in startups that it sees as shaping future mobility. The most recent addition to its portfolio, announced Monday, is a metal 3D printing company called Desktop Metal.

According to Fortune, the Massachusetts-based company is preparing to bring its first product to market, with the goal of making the technology much more affordable. Interestingly, Desktop Metal cofounders Ric Fulop (the company's CEO) and Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang also cofounded lithium-ion battery company A123 Systems.

BMW's investment is part of a funding round that includes backing from Lowe's and Google (the latter's reason for investing involving some undisclosed "crazy stuff"). For BMW, Desktop Metal is more than just an investment, as the automaker has plans to adopt additive manufacturing in its carmaking process.

The ability to 3D print with metal decreases the costs of producing low-volume parts. That means BMW could play with unusual or complex designs, and quickly and cost-effectively produce and test prototype parts. Making small changes to a design is easy, with no retooling necessary, and printing is less wasteful than machining. BMW says it plans to 3D print end-use parts in addition to prototypes, which opens up the possibility to offer greater degrees of customization to consumers.

As for BMW i Ventures, the automaker's venture capital arm has already invested in a number of other startups, with some already proving useful in its mobility aims. Its investment in RideCell helped power the launch of BMW's ReachNow mobility service. BMW has also bought stakes in EV charging companies ChargePoint and Chargemaster, autonomous driving tech company Nauto, peer-to-peer car rental company Turo, transit app Moovit, parking finder JustPark, carpooling app Scoop, motorcycling app Rever, driving analytics app Zendrive, logistics platform Stratim, and family tracking app Life360.

Desktop Metal isn't even BMW's first 3D printing partner. The financial arm also recently invested in Carbon3D, which uses a photochemical process to print plastic parts. Somehow, the possibilities of this newer, metal-focused venture seem more exciting.

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