Just a few years ago, MakerBot was a hot new startup that seemed like it was about ride a wave of consumer interest in 3D printing to the top of the technology world. Things have not exactly gone to plan in that respect. MakerBot has announced that it plans to halt production of its own in-house 3D printers going forward. This isn’t the end, but it’s definitely a recalculation for the company.
There will still be “MakerBot” 3D printers, but the company has contracted with a Florida-based electronics manufacturing company called Jabil to manufacture the hardware. According to the company, this move is intended to cope with the “rapid change” in the 3D printing industry. That probably means fewer consumers are buying expensive 3D printers than MakerBot expected. Thus, it doesn’t make financial sense to run its own manufacturing operation.
Makerbot exploded onto the nascent 3D printer scene in 2009 with the Cupcake CNC, a completely custom early kit version of the company’s technology. The second kit, the Thing-o-matic came along in 2010 with a larger build volume. It wasn’t until 2012 that the company offered a fully assembled 3D printer, the Replicator (and later Replicator 2). This was seen as a big step forward for 3D printing, something that could give the average person an option for creating objects from scratch.
MakerBot was acquired in 2013 by the business-oriented rapid prototyping firm Stratasys. The company lost its CEO Brett Pettis as the new management decided to scale back the company’s already small retail presence; it was already starting to look like a more enterprise-focused company. MakerBot hasn’t released any of its own hardware since 2014, so in some ways this move shouldn’t come as a shock.
That final machine, the relatively bargain-priced $1,299 MakerBot Mini, seemed like one last attempt at getting consumers interested in premium 3D printing. Still, there were cheaper 3D printers that had cropped up in that segment of the market for several hundred dollars less. For what the average nerd wants to do, a less expensive printer is probably capable enough. Analysts now project it will be substantially lower-end 3D printers that dominate the market, not the $2,000+ rigs that MakerBot specialized in.
The company will be laying off manufacturing workers as it shifts production to Jabil. It refused to say how many would be let go, but it will probably be almost all manufacturing employees. MakerBot will only be keeping the support and repair parts of that division in-house. It will be a painful transition, but the arrangement might allow MakerBot to compete with cheaper 3D printers in the future.