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His Bosses Rejected His Idea. Then Hans Langer Became A Billionaire From His Plan For Giant 3D Printers

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Tucked away in the forests of Bavaria, in a building that once housed the printing presses for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, is one of the largest 3-D printer factories in the world. On a late-winter morning, it is quiet inside the cavernous space as workers install lasers and wiring in machines that are taller than a person and wider than a desk. When finished, these printers can make everything from parts for rockets to hip implants. The 100,000-square-foot factory is not quite half full, but when it reaches capacity, it will be able to ship 1,000 printers a year.

The man responsible for all this is 67-year-old Hans Langer, one of the original entrepreneurs in the 3-D printing world, who started the company that produces these machines, EOS GmbH, 30 years ago. “I was able to see that we could open up a totally new world of manufacturing,” says Langer from his company’s airy and modern headquarters near Munich. 

EOS founder Hans Langer.JAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

The 3-D printing revolution heralded a few years ago never arrived. There are not printers in every home or on every desk. One of the largest of the public 3-D printer makers, $1.3 billion (market cap) 3D Systems, has lost more than 85% of its value since January 2014, when its stock hit a high of $97. It recently traded around $11.  

But while there is limited demand among consumers for 3-D printers, the industrial version of the technology is booming. Massive companies like Boeing and Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer, are increasingly using 3-D printers to redesign products and parts to make them lighter and more efficient. Sales of industrial 3-D printers could reach $11.7 billion this year, more than double their $5.2 billion in sales in 2015, according to industry research firm Wohlers Associates, which forecasts that they’ll more than double again, to $27.3 billion, by 2023.

The parts these printers churn out often look like something created by nature, with lattice-like structures and hollow spaces, yet can be stronger and more functional than traditional manufactured pieces that appear more solid. That allows manufacturers to reduce the weight of airplanes, increasing their fuel efficiency and lowering their carbon footprint, and make joint implants that are lighter and that allow bones to grow into the empty spaces in the metal.

Langer has positioned EOS perfectly to capture this demand. He was an early believer that 3-D printing could be used for more than just prototyping, one of its earliest uses in industry, and today EOS’s machines, which have a base price as high as $1.6 million, fill factory floors at Boeing, BMW and Siemens. It adds up. EOS Group (which includes 3-D printing company EOS GmbH and related businesses) has sales of $400 million, operating profit margins above 10% at a time when many 3-D printing companies are in the red, and, most years, double-digit revenue growth. In addition to the 3-D printing business, Langer has created an ecosystem of companies in related industries, such as coatings and scanning systems for lasers, that positions his group for future growth.

Adrian Keppler, CEO of EOS GmbHJAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

Industrial manufacturing isn’t as glamorous as creating consumer products, but Langer is the first person to have earned a billion-dollar fortune in 3-D printing. He is worth an estimated $2.6 billion. He and his family own all of EOS Group. “He’s built this really remarkable enterprise,” says John Dulchinos, vice president of 3-D printing and digital manufacturing at Jabil, the giant contract manufacturer, which has purchased numerous EOS machines.

“He’s very entrepreneurial, and he’s got one of the few companies in this market that actually makes money. That’s really impressive given how much money this industry has burned chasing the dream of 3-D printing.”

But EOS is both having a breakout moment and facing increased competition from both well-established giants, such as GE and HP, and venture-backed disruptors like unicorn Desktop Metal. Langer, a white-haired man with a penchant for ascots, isn’t rattled, arguing that his group of companies could increase its total revenues tenfold in the next ten years.

While he’d rather not talk about money or be outed as a billionaire, he’s clearly proud of what he’s built. “Most people have not understood the potential,” he says. “It’s not about the printers. It’s about the digital impact that starts with the digital-design software.”

Langer grew up in Bavaria, where his father owned a small business and taught glider pilots on the side. His dad taught him to fly, too, and at 14 Langer completed his first solo trip. He loved the silence of flight (“A special experience,” he says. “It’s totally silent and you fly over the glaciers.”) and was intrigued by the planes’ aerodynamics.

He received a Ph.D. from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, then continued his research at Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, one of Germany’s top research institutions, specializing in lasers, which were emerging as a new tool. Langer thought he would become an academic, but a professor convinced him he could make a bigger difference in industry. In 1981, he joined laser entrepreneur Carl Baasel at the company he’d started, Carl Baasel Lasertechnik, as employee number 11.

While Langer saw himself as a physicist, he discovered he had a knack for sales by focusing on solving his customers’ problems. “Always start with why,” he says. “If you have a customer, why? Why do you talk to me?” On his first sales call to a professor at the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center, he sold not only the $5,000 laser bench the professor asked about but an entire laser system. Within three months, he’d met his annual target.

As Langer’s success at Baasel grew, executives at General Scanning, an American firm that dominated the market for scanning systems for lasers, took notice. In 1985, Langer joined General Scanning to run its European operations.

At the time, 3-D printing was in its infancy. 3D Systems’ Chuck Hull had invented stereolithography, a method of 3-D printing that used light-activated resins to build rapid prototypes layer by layer, and filed his first patent on the technology in 1984. Langer realized that parts built with this method could be designed in ways that would have been impossible with traditional manufacturing techniques. He pored over 3-D printing patents, going as far back as the 1950s, and met with other General Scanning customers exploring the technology.

Then he proposed that General Scanning start its own 3-D printing division, which he called EOS, for Electro Optical Systems. The board of directors said no. It would be too risky, they argued, because of the potential for patent litigation. After all, Hull had filed a patent on his technology and would likely try to enforce it.

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Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Quote Of The Day

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We have grown past the stage of fairy-tale. As women, we have one common front and that is to succeed. We have to take the bull by the horn and make the change happen by ourselves.

– Folorunso Alakija, Billionaire Businesswoman

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MacKenzie Bezos And Melinda Gates Team Up On $30 Million Gender Equity Contest

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One of the most powerful women in the world is teaming up with one of the richest women in the world—Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, respectively—to host a competition with one goal in mind: gender equality.

Gates and Bezos announced the competition, called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, through Pivotal Ventures, Gates’ investment and incubation company. The challenge will be managed by Lever For Change, a MacArthur Foundation affiliate, and will grant $30 million to the organizations (or the coalitions of organizations) with the best ideas for helping to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” MacKenzie Bezos said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.” 

“The entrenched inequalities that divide America—race, gender, class—will not go away without systems-wide change,” added Melinda Gates in a statement of her own. “This challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.” 

While Melinda Gates has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s health and gender equality, Bezos has been quieter with her philanthropy and influence. Since finalizing her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Bezos has indicated her philanthropic intentions by signing the Giving Pledge (thereby committing at least half of her now-$51 billion fortune to charity) and joining the board of Blue Meridian, an organization dedicated to helping children and families in poverty. Her contribution to the Equality Can’t Wait initiative marks her biggest public gift to date.

A spokesperson for Lever for Change said that the competition had been in the works for the past six months, and that the timing of its announcement—just weeks after massive protests against systemic racial inequities started spreading across the nation—is not meant to be a reaction to the current reality, but a continuation of serious conversations.

Broadly, the challenge will look for ideas that help dismantle barriers that hold women back (including but not limited to sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, and inadequate federal policies around caregiving); fast-track female participation in sectors like technology, government and entrepreneurship; and change outdated systems and beliefs around gender. Specifically, according to the challenge’s website, successful proposals should create real, measurable change for women in at least one of the following areas: wages and wealth, unpaid care, share of leadership roles, content creation (in other words, increasing the percentage of cultural and intellectual content created by women), and public perception.

“When I taught my first course on women in the U.S. economy back in 1985, a female full-time, year-round worker made 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2018, she earned 82 cents. That’s a raise of less than a penny a year,” noted Cecilia Conrad, the CEO of Lever for Change. She’s hopeful that the Equality Can’t Wait competition will accelerate parity in wages and societal treatment.

To participate in the challenge, organizations must register online by September 1, 2020; fuller applications are due by September 22. Finalists will be announced in early 2021, and winners will be chosen next summer. The $30 million in prize money will be divided among the two most compelling ideas (each will receive a minimum of $10 million) and the remaining finalists.

Maggie McGrath, Forbes Staff, ForbesWomen

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