3D printing can be a tough industry and companies, no matter their size, sometimes make big mistakes. From the outside, it’s sometimes hard to understand how they manage to fail when it seems they have all it takes to succeed. We’ve selected 4 of the most notorious fails by 3D printing companies (luckily, they’re almost all still in business).
1. The rise and fall of Makerbot
Makerbot was once the poster child for the seemingly unstoppable growth and inevitable mainstream adoption of 3D printing. But things quickly turned sour for the Brooklyn-based 3D printer manufacturer.
Back in 2013, when media still presented Makerbot as the Apple of 3D printing, an increasing number of users started to complain about products issues. Shortly after its acquisition by Stratasys in June 2013 for more than $400m, the 5th generation of the classic Replicator desktop 3D printer was released. The recurring extruder issues and lack of quality control/customer support by Makerbot angered many users. Makerbot became the symbol of a company that spent too much time and resources on Marketing and fueling a reckless growth vs designing reliable products with users in mind. Many people in the 3D printing community were very vocal about their dislike of Makerbot’s practices, blasting the brand on forums and social media.
The consequences on Makerbot’s business were pretty dire and the company had to lay off 20% of its workforce in April 2015, then another 20% of its workforce was fired in October 2015. Makerbot also had to shut down its 3 retail stores, and finally in 2016 they downsized their production space in Brooklyn by 40%. Ouch.
Let’s hope all this restructuring will help the company reconnect to its roots and get back to making 3D printing cool for all. We’re confident that the company will bounce back: they recently reached a huge milestone with 100,000 3D printers sold and their 3D models platform Thingiverse is the biggest community where users can share 3D printable files.
2. 3D Systems: too big to fail?
There are so many fails in the 3D Systems recent history that they definitely deserve to be on the podium.
Ex-CEO Avi Reichental aggressive management style is often cited as the origin of the company’s ill fate. Under Avi’s leadership, 3D Systems first rose to fame to become one of the largest 3D printing companies in the world. But a mix of hubris, poor business acumen and lack of long term vision quickly brought the company to a harsh reality check. The 45 competitors acquired between 2010 and 2014 never were fully integrated and contributed to complexify 3D Systems portfolio. Investors started to realize that the bizarre financial construction 3D Systems had become was actually quite a risky one, and the stock started to plummet.
After a few painful quarters of missed earning targets, costly lawsuits and multiple rounds of layoffs, Avi Reichental finally stepped down in October 2015. Shortly after, the company announced they would discontinue the Cube line of consumer 3D printers. It took then 6 months for the company’s board of directors to appoint a new CEO, namely Andy Johnson, a former HP exec. The stock is now back well above the $10 bar at around $16, so maybe everything’s not lost for 3D Systems? We bet the giant has the resources to restore its past glory, after doing some soul searching and house cleaning
3. Pirate3D: the Kickstarter treasure
The name Pirate3D became synonym Kickstarter project going wrong after the Singapore-based company failed to fulfill 60% of the pre-orders for their Buccaneer 3D printer, despite raising an outstanding $1.4m on the crowdfunding platform.
Looking back at it, maybe, it seems almost obvious the promise of the Buccaneer was too good to be true. A beautiful and sleek desktop 3D printer, easy-to-use, coming with an ecosystem including a cloud to store and print 3D models, all that for $347? Many reasons can explain this failure but mainly the team at Pirate3D was over-ambitious and under-estimated the challenges of the actual production of the 3D printer. Last we heard from them, they were still in business after raising more money, and focusing on selling the Buccaneer printers to schools. No word on the pending Kickstarters orders.
4. Solidoodle bites the dust
A few weeks ago, Solidoodle founder and CEO announced that after five years of activity, the company was suspending its operations. Solidoodle had started on the right foot in 2011, offering affordable and easy-to-use 3D printers to thousands of users worldwide. In 2014, the choice to outsource production in China sealed the fate of the Brooklyn manufacturer, as it led to poorly assembled units and quality issues. Solidoodle was then trapped in a “downward spiral of declining sales and layoffs”, which led to the company shutting down in March 2016. Pretty sad to see this cool brand go away…
** BONUS **
Pinshape, the well-known 3D models marketplace, announced it would shut down last March 31, triggering a wave of support from the 3D printing community. The reason? 99.5% of the transaction on the platform are free, meaning no commissions for the company. But a last-minute mysterious investor came to save the day, and on April 1st, Pinshape announced it was still alive and in business. One can wonder until when, as the economics behind the 3D model marketplace model still seem unlikely to bring in profit in the short term. But it’s great that the site stays around, as it’s a great resource used by thousands of makers worldwide.