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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Merger, Colours & Mojo — Objet & Stratasys Dominate 3D Printing Headlines



Seeing as I was face to face with a number of Objet personnel last week, I took the opportunity to probe a little further into the Stratasys / Objet merger. I also asked a number of Objet personnel if they knew what the big announcement coming from Stratasys was today — they were all tight-lipped but knew exactly what it was. The tagline “Something’s Coming” on 8th May has been on the company website for more than a week, together with a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds.

Well, the time is now upon us, and Stratasys, as one of the companies with the greatest longevity as a vendor of 3D printing platforms for prototyping and for manufacturing applications is extending its reach — downwards . The company is adding a pro-sumer platform to its 3D printer portfolio — Mojo was announced a few minutes ago. Positioned as a professional machine — under $10,000 — this machine goes someway to close the gap I was talking about in my previous post about Makerbot

I have it on good authority that the R&D for Mojo has been extensive and the testing thorough over the last 3-4 years and the production line is all but ready to go . If this is right, then clearly Stratasys has been waiting for the right time to bring this to market and believes the time is now. 

I find it interesting that the company is, seemingly consciously, avoiding the consumer market — I do wonder if this will last and if they will be tempted.  

Anyway, here's the pertinent points about Mojo, lifted from the press release for your information, and including a quote from Todd Grimm, a man I personally trust and respect:

"New Modeling Technology Ensures Reliability
To produce a model, Mojo employs an innovative variation on traditional FDM material extrusion. The ABS material spool and the print head are integrated to a single package, called the QuickPack print engine. To ensure optimal reliability, a fresh print head is part of each material change. Material loading is similar to snapping in an inkjet cartridge on a paper printer.

Industry's Easiest Operation in a Compact 3D Printer
A desktop 3D printer, Mojo measures only 25 inches wide and 21 inches deep. It measures 18 inches in height (64 x 53 x 46 cm). As with a paper printer, no training is needed to get it set up and running, and settings are selected at the host computer, not the printer itself. Modeling operations are easy with Mojo's preprocessing software, Print Wizard, which helps users efficiently manage workflow. Support material removal is also a simple process with the included WaveWash55. It is a self-contained, hands-free cleaning system, and it requires no plumbing.

Fine Feature Detail
Delivering fine feature detail, Mojo has a layer resolution previously available only in the Dimension Elite and the Fortus Production 3D Printer line.

Professional Third-Party Evaluation
After evaluating an early beta-test unit, Todd Grimm, president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, noted: "Stratasys, who arguably started the revolution in 3D printing, is poised to shake up the market again with a complete professional system that breaks the $10,000 mark. With its new [3D printer], Stratasys is in a league of its own. It's counter-intuitive to get a low-price product with high quality like this.""


It has also occurred to me that as Stratasys broadens its spectrum of machines and Objet heads towards manufacturing capabilities, the breadth and depth of the IP within the two companies is unique.

When I interviewed Elan Jaglom, Objet’s Chairman, his passion and loyalty was clearly evident. I homed in on his take of the merger, pointing to the fact that all of the public discourse from both sides since the announcement referred to a symbiotic union of the two companies — at no point was there ever any talk of an acquisition. Elan told me that was exactly right, this is a coming together of two strong companies with complementary technologies and demonstrable growth patterns that are only set to continue. Both he & Scott Crump of Stratasys have shaped the merger, it seems, with a shared vision. In fact, one of his most striking quotes was thus: “this is a merger of growth”.
I don’t disagree; some integration will need to take place on a practical level, and that could be a little bumpy, but with similar cultures and a positive approach I think this merger is a great thing for 3D printing per se and for the markets that will use the 3D printers they produce — right across the spectrum.

Indeed, it is already starting to show — the Mojo announcement has been timed to closely follow Objet’s technology demonstration on Friday — using clever, coordinated marketing to get the market’s attention.


6 comments:

  1. Well as a potential buyer of this machine I'm not convinced it is such a breakthrough product. Sure it appears to offer ease of use and automatic support removal etc, but wearing my ROI head this translates as:

    1. Expensive consumables
    2. High running costs

    At £6600 in the UK it is not cheap. It does not come into the "no brainer" category for most small businesses who might want to buy one (engineers, designers, architects etc). The build volume is too small for many - looking back at out last 10 RP orders, 8 would not have fitted, and 1 other required very high resolution (Objet).

    This is the problem. The underlying tech behind FDM machines is relatively simple - material supply, heated nozzle, etc. Surely the kits and low cost consumer machines prove that? The washing systems are glorified dishwashers (in fact some ARE dishwashers!).

    The 3D printer industry is not, I think, dynamic and forward looking. It is dominated by 2 large players who seem to be more concerned about maintaining high margins (that probably make Apple look like a budget operation) rather than genuinely pushing the technology into the pro-sumer market.

    If Stratsys had launched today with a £4k machine with a 200mm x200mm x 150mm build volume I'd be impressed.

    What they have done today is merely drawn a line in the sand and stated "this is a low as we go".

    What the industry needs is a new player who can take on the two giants. Until someone makes the decision to invest in R+D and volume production to create a mass market product the 3D printing industry will continue to be a curiosity that congratulates itself whenever they get column inches in the New York Times.

    The problem is, I don't see any new players or any new technology coming. Hopefully it is out there.

    The irony of all this is, that whilst the big two sell these machines and promote 3D printing, bureau based RP has become something of a commodity with online ordering direct from CAD. So until I get that mythical sub £4k 200mm cube machine I'll continue to hit order, and let experts do what they do best on machines that I know will give a great part. I suspect there are plenty others like me who think the same.

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  2. In his comment above, Kevin touches on a whole range of issues that are pertinent to today's 3D printing market. I struggle to disagree with much of what he says. Kevin is an excellent representative of SME's that would benefit from accessible technology in their day-to-day work, but cannot justify the barriers that STILL exist (capital cost, running costs, build volume, material limitations), despite yesterday's announcement from Stratasys.

    I have to confess to a feeling of anti-climax yesterday. As is my tendency I let myself get carried away, believing as I do that the breakthrough for 3D printing is coming. I wanted it to be yesterday. It wasn't. Don't get me wrong - what Stratasys announced was another move in the right direction, but it wasn't a sea-change.

    Kevin was right to say that the industry is dominated by two large players that are protecting their margins. That's a business decision that may serve them well in the current market, but is unlikely to bring longevity. I have to disagree with his opinion on the lack of dynamism in this industry — their is plenty of evidence to refute that, both in terms of activity and application. There are also a few outstanding individuals that are doing amazing things within their own spheres and within the industry at large, but again, like Kevin, I can't see the "breakthrough" coming until the technology gap between the very top and the very bottom of the scale closes much further with volume production capabilities. Whether that comes from an existing company that changes its philosophy or a new player with a serious plan and serious investment only time will tell. We can't see it coming, nor are we likely to, as these things happen in stealth mode usually and it occurred to me last night that hindsight is what tends to bring the clarity of how and when it happened.

    I did say a while back (end of last year, I think) that the biggest growth area for 3D printing in the short to medium term — for consumers and for SMEs — will be the print labs, the service providers. The new Mojo machine is another good tool for the lab kit if the reliability and accuracy reported is correct & I don't doubt that it is. I would also say that Stratasys and Objet are both investing heavily in R&D for future tech, for Objet I heard the figures last week & they're staggering, this is a good thing, but the technology development needs to be fully aligned with a realistic assessment of and engagement with the wider markets, not just the inner circle!

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  3. You are right Rachel, there are dynamic people in the 3D industry who are pushing the process to the masses - and from the two big players I think 3D Systems is more focussed on this. In terms of R and D us outsiders don't know what is cooking in the labs, but the worry is that it is irrelevant to most people. The colour stuff shown by Objet last week being a good example. If it is built on Connex technology, that (currently) needs about £200k worth of machine and facilities to use.

    If all Stratsys and 3D Systems are doing is investing in R+D to build the next generation of £200k machines that is not going to make any difference to the way you or I use 3D. We will continue to use service providers rather that bringing it in house.

    There lies the issue. 3D printing is a great technology for those who can benefit from it now. The equation is simple. If you buy in £XXXX of RP, and £XXXX of those parts fit into the build envelope of a machine, it is a simple calculation to find out if you are better off bringing it in house. What you do with it after it is in house is irrelevent to the purchase decision.

    If your running costs are high, your machine will only be used for that "replacement" business. If the running costs are low then you start to use it in ways that truly do benefit your processes. Of course it depends on the business you are in - the film industry is a great example of a sector that has exploited 3D printing in new ways. But most of the growth for 3D is not in film. It is in the millions of SMEs currently using 3D CAD who could benefit from it but who currently buy it in as a service or knock up in house prototypes.

    I will take a closer look at the Mojo. I will get some parts built on it as I have some customers who make small functional products who this might be ideal for. I am sure the product will sell, but it will not be a huge seller (in the same way that U Print or HP isn't a huge seller).

    The bottom line remains. What the industry is waiting for is a reliable desktop machine that builds 200x200x150, with fine layer control and good surface finish, in low cost materials, fast, automated support removal (or no supports needed)and sells as a complete package for under £4k.

    The technology to acheive this exists and has done for years. We have been promised this mythical creature for over 15 years. So come on 3D industry. Step up to the mark and give it to us.

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  4. Yawn.. another FDM.

    Whereas I wasn't expecting any breakthroughs like a new print engine with this overhyped release (Countdown clock, really?) - I was certainly expecting more than a "slightly more capable Makerbot." I give it another 6 months before the next Ultimaker like Rep-Rap derivitive bests this thing.

    And with a new batch of DIY DLP Printers set to hit the stage (Junior Veloso, B9Creator and MiiCraft) in the sub $5k range in the next few months, as far as I'm concerned the Mojo is effectively dead in the water from a technology standpoint. FDM's days in the >$5k range were always numbered - the technology belongs to the low end now.

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  5. The site was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!b Keep 'em coming... you all do such a great job at such Concepts... can't tell you how much I, for one appreciate all you do!

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