BMW and Lowe’s among investors pouring $45 million into Desktop Metal, the 3D printer startup

Desktop Metal has raised $45 million in a Series C round of venture funding to develop desktop 3D printers that make metal objects. The company aims to bring metal-making capabilities to smaller businesses and designers who couldn’t afford, or find the space, for previously available technologies. GV (formerly known as Google Ventures) led the investment, joined by BMW iVentures and the venture arm of Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer. The funding brings Desktop Metal’s total capital raised to $97 million.

Metal 3D printers allow businesses to construct and test components for new medical devices, robots and vehicles — from F1 racing cars to spaceships. But industrial-grade metal 3D printers are some of the most expensive manufacturing machines out there, sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars by companies like 3D Systems, EOS and Arcam.

Desktop Metal CEO and co-founder Ric Fulop, who previously founded the battery tech company A123 Systems, said in a press statement that the capital would help Desktop Metal advance from research and development into production of its first printers. Prior to starting his own 3D printing company, Fulop advised and invested in several startups in the space. As a general partner at North Bridge, he backed MarkForged, OnShape, ProtoLabs and SolidWorks, for example.

Fulop hasn’t yet revealed how Desktop Metal’s printers will work, exactly. The CEO did tell TechCrunch they won’t employ lasers to shape metal. The startup will make revenue by selling printers, and its own high-performance alloys, to engineers. The printers will be able to make metal prototypes and parts that are ready to be used in production right away. New carburetor parts printed by an engineer could be immediately used on the road.

Fulop sees Desktop Metal scaling to a variety of industries, rapidly. “Practically every object around you has some metal part in it, from computers up to automotive, medical and heavy-duty equipment,” the CEO said. “Even if 3D printed metal parts are just a small piece of what’s manufactured today, there is something like $12 trillion in manufactured parts processed each year globally.” The company’s strategic backers hint at this range, including not just Lowe’s and BMW in this round but earlier partners like energy company Saudi Aramco and GE.

The Burlington, Mass.-based startup faces competition from others working on new approaches to metal printing, like XJet in Israel. But it will also compete with companies such as Virtual Founder, which makes metal-infused plastic filaments that work with other standard desktop 3D printers.

BMW iVentures‘ Managing Partner Uwe Higgen said Desktop Metal is working closely with BMW in Munich, exploring the potential uses of its technology in the automotive industry. The investor expects the startup to use its funding to put its first printers on the market. He said a low-cost method of 3D metal printing could impact automotive design and development immediately. Long-term, Higgen said, “This kind of technology can eventually solve the problem of warehousing parts in automotive and other industries.”