Published 19 June 2013
Posted by Al Dean
It’s been expected for a while since the Wall Street Journal talked about how MakerBot was up for acquisition rather than further investment, but the news that Stratasys is looking to merge it’s operations with the entry level 3D printer manufacturer still came as a surprise.
According to the press release, the ‘bot will continue as a separate business unit with it’s own products, it’s own strategies and retain head honcho, Bre Pettis, running the show.
So the obvious question is “Does this make sense?”
The answer has to be a yes. For those that have been mooching around the entry level 3D printing world for a while, a couple of things are immediately obvious. The most immediately obvious fact is that MakerBot have been stifled by patents that Stratasys hold.
While the core FDM patent expired a while ago, there’s a whole other bunch that have been holding the industry back. Think heated build chambers (that’s why most 3D printers aren’t enclosed – it helps with build stability and consistency). Also think soluble supports (breaking out a PLA or ABS part is a pain in the arse). Think a whole bunch of technology that Stratasys has developed and patented.
If MakerBot had sold out to anyone else, that would still be the case for a good long while. Now they are part of the same organization, they ‘should’ be able to push the capabilities of the products further without any of that litigation nonsense to worry about. Close up that build chamber, make better use of the dual extrusion heads, use some of the wealth of knowledge inside the company.
While some of the more overzealous 3D printing wonks might see this has a restriction of their capabilities, facts are that Stratasys invented them, refined them and patented them.
But what of the Mojo?
Stratasys made a huge hoo-ha about its entry level “effort” a while back. Priced at 7 grand or so, it was supposed to the entry-level point for the ‘professional’. What it turned out to be was a good sales tool for their uPrint machines and the likes of MakerBot. Build volume is too small, materials are WAY too expensive, and in my experience, the results aren’t all that different from a much cheaper machine.
With MakerBot on board, Stratasys (remember, it also owns Objet too) should concentrate on its higher-end, large volume machines. It should leave the entry level to MakerBot, The company has a name, has a product in the market and give it the resources and access to technology to build that out further.
It looks like Stratasys are paying $403 Million for MakerBot. The company shipped 11,000 replicator units in the last 9 months – that’s 15,000 in a year. At $2,200 per unit, material sales on top, that’s a nice deal for the investment term behind the company (which include Jeff Bezos). But then you read that MakerBot made $11.5 million in the first quarter of this year (compared to $15 million in all of 2012). That’s quite an acceleration of revenues and the price tag starts to make more sense, particularly when taken in with the company’s other assets.
There is also, of course, Thingiverse, the MakerBot digital asset sharing community. That’s a nice source of sales leads but it’s also highly protective of the company that emerged from the maker community a few years ago. I can’t see this going down too well with a good lot of them.
What Stratasys needs to do
First and foremost, MakerBot needs to maintain it’s pricing strategies, particularly with regards to materials. The older guard of the 3D printing world are used to extortionate material margins.
Consider the difference in cost between the Mojo and the MakerBot. A reel of PLA cost about 40 quid, tops. The same material for the Mojo costs nearly 10x that. There maybe a difference in the machine, difference in the build process and material, but the results are pretty much the same (in my experience).
Stratasys need to realize this and leave Bre and the gang in Brooklyn to do their thing.
Oh. And will this mean a slew of similar acquisitions of the other 3D printing companies in the entry level space? No. Patents still apply. And if Stratasys are smart, they’ll kill most of them stone dead. There’s currently over 30 different FDM-based 3D printer companies.
Let me repeat that. There’s 30. Or so.
They all do the same (pretty much), they all used the same material. That’s simply not sustainable and a cull has always been inevitable. This move just accelerated it.
And as the lad, Stephen, rightly pointed out, there’s also MakerBot’s forthcoming scanner/digitizer product. If that turns out to be any good, it’ll give Stratasys/MakerBot, a foot hold in the 3D scanning world too.
Watch out 3D Systems. Stratasys are coming for you. And they’re not pissing about.