Lately the tech world has focused its spotlight on industrial-scale 3-D printing company Stratasys’s acquisition of consumer-oriented MakerBot, which is sensible: Marketbot, already compared to ’80s-era Apple, is a tech darling for its drive to simplify and its commitment to open source via its blueprint website Thingiverse. Time will tell if Stratasys aims to renege on its hands-off vision of MakerBot’s future, but there are plenty of other companies to shed light on, many of them outside America.
Most of the 3-D printing world can be found on the website of Wohlers Associates, a consulting firm that publishes an annual almanac listing the myriad service providers and machine dealers that sell printers from desktop models to Mammoth stereolithographers. Alternatively, the net community Additive 3-D features a chart of comparative 3-D printer models. Though the marriage of Stratasys production capabilities and MakerBot’s user-friendly design is a tangible threat, there are many companies (and even a few DIY options) already invested in the consumer 3=D printer market:
Created by Chuck Hull, 3-D Systems is arguably the original 3-D printing company and developer of stereolithography (carving a layer of liquid resin with a UV laser, recoat with resin, carve another layer . . . ). Likely to be Stratasys’s largest rival, 3-D systems has over 1,000 employees worldwide and began an acquisitions campaign in 2007 (including 16 in 2011 alone) in order to streamline the “scan to print” timeline. One of these, Cubify, released its Cube to favorable reviews.
Afinia H-Series 3-D Printer: $1,599.00
It’s worth noting that the expiration of a Stratasys patent for fused deposition modeling in the mid-2000s liberated the DIY 3-D printing community, which grew around the RepRap (Replicating Rapid Prototyper), with each model edging closer to a machine that could improve itself (with the proper instructions) and serve as a local industrial center, replacing the need for pricey industrial infrastructure.
The latest model of the RepRap printer, the Huxley, can be bought in a kit for about $500, though it must be assembled.
Even as competitors grow, it’s important to note that Stratasys also got MakerBot’s 3-D Ecosystem, a synced network of software, services, and partnerships:
The MakerBot 3-D Ecosystem drives the accessibility and rapid adoption of their desktop 3-D printers. It includes Thingiverse.com, the largest collection of downloadable digital designs for making physical objects, which is empowered by a growing community of makers and creators. The MakerBot 3-D Ecosystem also includes MakerWare software, MakerCare service, MakerBot Filament, the MakerBot Retail Store, the MakerBot 3-D Photo Booth, and strategic partnerships with Autodesk, Adafruit, Nokia, OUYA, MoMA, and Amazon.
Despite the growing competition, this integrated suite may prove substantial in building and retaining a community around the MakerBot brand.
[Image: Flickr user MakerBot Industries]