The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed. That is, until recently. According to the Wohlers Report, sales of 3D printers started to decline last year and have continued to accelerate downward this year.
But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.
It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.
That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local Staples or UPS store.
A few months ago, ago, office supply retail giant, Staples, announced that they had opened their first 3D printing “Experience Centre” in the Netherlands. Staples selected Mcor’s paper-based Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) 3D printing technology, exclusively for this service, citing Mcor’s relative low cost and color capability.
This announcement followed Staples’ announcement last November that they were launching “Easy 3D,” an online and in-store 3D printing service. Together, these two 3D printing endeavors will (hopefully) fulfill Staples’ goal to provide comprehensive 3D printing services for its customers.
3D Printing at Staples in the Netherlands
Last week, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service will enable UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.
The UPS Store is installing Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printers in six test locations, beginning in San Diego. The test is a collaborative effort by Stratasys and The UPS Store to make 3D printing more accessible as awareness of the technology and its capabilities grow. Following the test launch, retail customers will be able to bring CAD files to participating UPS Store locations and have their 3D design printed.
The UPS Store 3D Printing Experience
How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at Staples and UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, you’ve got to start somewhere . . .
So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at Staples and UPS stores.
MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement is being acquired by Stratasys for about $403 million. Not bad for a company whose origins are the open-source community.
I use open source and MakerBot in the same sentence rather loosely because MakerBot became pretty closed and proprietary not all that long after its inception in 2009. It certainly began with an open-source design based on the RepRap Project, but effectively became a “closed” system with the advent of the Replicator 2 in September 2012. At that time, the company said it “will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI.” This sudden departure from its previous open-source embrace and no longer willing to share with the community that made MakerBot possible in the first place was met with criticism in many circles. To be fair, though, MakerBot has created several products and services beyond its flagship 3D printer, which was definitely an improvement over its base design.
Officially, this deal is being called a merger and Stratasys intends for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.
If you have never seen a MakerBot Replicator 2 in action, check out the following video:
For its part, (and until now) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because their historical customer has been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things change, though, and with this transaction, Stratasys has certainly changed its tune. A customer is a customer, and with the additive manufacturing/3D printing market consolidating, Stratasys didn’t want to miss out on an acquisition opportunity that was probably being explored by competitors, possibly including 3D Systems or HP.
This merger is an especially good opportunity for MakerBot to take advantage of Stratasys’ technologies that could boost part resolution, quality, and build material choices. To reinforce this possibility, the following statement was part of the press announcement: “Upon completion of the merger, Stratasys and MakerBot will jointly develop and implement strategies for building on their complementary strengths, intellectual property and technical know-how, and other unique assets and capabilities.” However, whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as companies are usually very cautious about possibly cannibalizing existing products when new assets are acquired.
Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals stand to make a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few will truly benefit from this transaction that in reality was the work of many in the open-source community. Business is business, I guess. Who says there’s no money to be made in open-source technologies? Not me, not anymore.
3D printing. Do you love it, hate it, skeptical, convinced, or still deciding? We are, too. There’s no doubt that 3D printing is diverse technology with a lot of potential, but has that potential been realized, or is it still a lot of hype and wishful thinking? Yes, to all of the above.
One of the more interesting, “real” examples of 3D printing we’ve come across is a simple multi-material keyboard.
Designer Arnon Gratch of Stratasys recently created a mechanically sound, fully functioning keyboard using rigid and flexible materials on the Objet Connex500. Typically, the keys and supporting structures need to be assembled into the board, however, the multi-material Connex technology allowed Grach to print the complete keyboard in one print run.
Using Objet’s simultaneous multi-material jetting technology, the Objet Connex500 can print models made of up to 14 different materials, in a single print job. This capability is effective for highlighting varying material components in complex or assembled products for physical modeling.
The range of materials that can be used with the Connex500 numbers over 100.
While this is an impressive demonstration of the 3D printing technology, especially using multi-materials, the produced part doesn’t exactly have a finish I would call commercial, and the keys seem a little slow to return to their original position. That said, though, it does have definite possibilities.
Spring is typically when a lot new 3D printing technology is showcased, and this year is no exception with two exhibitions coming soon — Inside 3D Printing and SME’s RAPID 2013. Periodically, over the next several weeks, we’ll report on the hype, reality, and general state of 3D printing. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but just as importantly, still has a long way to go for fulfilling its promise of custom, unbridled manufacturing for the masses.
Not all marriages are made in heaven, and the news that Stratasys and HP have agreed to discontinue their manufacturing and distribution agreement for 3D printers, effective at the end of 2012 proves it. The relationship lasted only a couple of years.
Stratasys said it does not expect the termination of its agreement with HP to have a material impact on its financial results for the current year and intends to work closely with HP to ensure a smooth transition for customers. I doubt, though, if the same holds true for HP.
Under the terms of the definitive agreement signed in January 2010, Stratasys developed and manufactured for HP an exclusive line of 3D printers based on Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Later that year, HP began a phased rollout of the 3D printers in the MCAD market in select European countries, but never made it over here to North America, which was both a mystery and a shame.
When Stratasys made the original distribution announcement with HP, it was regarded as a pretty big deal. The announcment also boosted Stratasys’ stock price. It truly was a big announcement for additive fabrication, but I don’t think many in the industry regarded it as the turning point for the technology. In the end, the annoucement and partnership never did fulfill the initial hype or substantive change in the additive fabrication market.
To be fair to HP, though, it only got Stratasys’ entry level UPrint and Dimension product lines. I think this was done to expand Stratasys market presence and installed base without canibalizing its more lucrative high-end 3D printer market that it wanted to keep. Fair enough.
It always puzzled me, though, why HP didn’t develop and market its own 3D printer for a worldwide market — especially at the low-end, prosumer level. After all, HP has provided 3D print heads for ZPrinters (now owned by 3D Systems) and is a market leader in 2D printers. Why not go the next step to develop and mass market your own 3D printing machine?
Admittedly, these are tough times, and no technology company knows that better than HP.
The 3D printing merger/acquisition train rolls on with Stratasys and Objet coming together as one. This is a biggie for the 3D production sector because the combined company could be valued at as much as $1.4 Billion.
This is a good move for each of the companies because the technologies and markets for the respective companies are different. Pubicly traded Stratasys is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers and production systems for prototyping and manufacturing applications, whereas privately held Objet Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers for rapid prototyping.
The transaction will position the combined company as the leader within the high-growth 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing industry.
The combined company will retain the Stratasys name and operate under the name
Stratasys Ltd., and will have dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Rehovot, Israel, the locations of Stratasys’ and Objet’s current headquarters,respectively.
Some of the strategic and financial benefits of the transaction will include:
– Expanded product (machine and material) portfolio
– Expanded sales and marketing reach
– Enhanced functional capabilities and scale
– Enhanced leadership and management team
– Strengthened financial performance
– Attractive long-term operating models
So, what’s not to like about this merger? For one, industry consolidation, while a fact of life, is not always a good thing with fewer choices and competitors. At the rate things are going, we may eventually be down to Stratasys and 3D Systems as about the only major players standing. Also, while the CEOs of both companies seem pleased with the announcment, corporate cultures don’t always merge quite so smoothly and can tend to clash.
However, that said, this is a big deal, and it will be interesting to see how this deal influences the rest of the 3D printing/rapid prototyping/rapid manufacturing industry.