I prefer to keep my Sunday wrap less than serious, but we have some legitimate news to cover today and industry speculation is in order.
The MakerBot Suitor?
Thursday morning, we reported that a MakerBot venture capital meeting somehow turned into talk of potential suitors. Friday, we noticed that MakerBot was sending a couple representatives to demo the Replicator 2 in Microsoft's Palo Alto store this weekend, which happens to be a 15-20 minute drive from Apple's Cupertino headquarters. What better place for Microsoft to test the waters than on Apple's turf?
Please God, no. I spent Friday night and most of Saturday imagining a MakerBot where every other version is utterly terrible – the MakerBot ME, MakerBot Vista, MakerBot 8. Don't force me to send my uncle to Redmond.
Don't let the smile fool you.
Fortunately, late Saturday night we got news the suitor is Stratasys.
It appears the involved parties have been taking secrecy lessons from the White House. From MakerBot's perspective, leaking it Wednesday night is basically a "for sale" sign. If they are seriously considering selling to one company, why not find out if others are also interested? From Stratasys' perspective, floating the balloon Saturday night gives Wall Street a full day to consider reaction.
Why would Stratasys want to buy MakerBot? I personally believe there are three logical reasons.
1. Stratasys doesn't have a genuine personal class 3D printer offering, even though it's safe to assume they know how to design them (most personal 3D printers are based on a technology created by Stratasys founders, Scott and Lisa Crump). Competitor 3D Systems has the Cube and CubeX, one of which just appeared in Staples. If Stratasys buys MakerBot, they will suddenly own the biggest brand name in personal 3D printing and they would instantly have a product available for consumer retail channels.
2. Stratasys likes Patents. Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, appears on some interesting filings, including one on grayscale rendering in 3D printing.
3. Thingiverse. On the surface, one might think the web site is a no-revenue money pit. The truth is, Thingiverse may be more valuable than the hardware side of the company. If Stratasys buys MakerBot they will become the owner of an exceptionally large list of email addresses belonging to individuals participating in personal 3D printing. Active community web sites like Thingiverse are rare since the rise of Facebook and other social media. In Thingiverse, Stratasys would have a launch pad to compete with cubify.com or Shapeways and the other consumer-facing service bureaus. They would also have a solid potential customer list for any 3D modeling/CAD software venture they might conjure in the future.
Would a sale to Stratasys fulfill Bre Pettis' stated explanation of bringing 3D printing to the masses faster? Perhaps at the service bureau level, but I seriously doubt it would radically alter the pace of personal 3D printer adoption.
Stratasys, 3D Systems and the other major professional class manufacturers are not like HP and Epson. They do not run on a high volume/low margin model. In order for personal 3D printing to be brought to the masses quicker, it needs to get easier and less expensive. It requires auto-leveling build surfaces, simpler software interfaces for printing, a more basic setup and far less maintenance, while delivering high quality. In other words, personal 3D printers need to be more like a Stratasys Mojo. Why on earth would Stratasys build a MakerBot that was as good as a Mojo, when they can sell a Mojo for $10,000?
Just a Guess, but Probably a Good Guess
If you have not read our article on HYREL 3D printers and hot-swappable extruders, you might want to take a look. If I were to make a prediction, I would say interchangeable print heads, like those seen on the HYREL and the upcoming 3D Monstr, are the future of personal 3D printing. Materials development will boom in the coming years. Different kinds of material require different kinds of extrusion and thus different print heads. It's only a matter of time before we see print heads for nickel and silver solder.
Faith in Humanity Restored
Turns out, people aren't so bad after all.