Every industry loves its buzzwords. A few years ago, the biggest buzzword going around the additive manufacturing (AM) market was “democratization.” That word expressed the belief that people were ready to take control of their own manufacturing needs, and that 3D printing was the tool to help them accomplish that goal. Every company that released a home AM system talked about democratization in a way that would have made Marx proud.
Sadly, reality hasn’t quite cooperated with that vision of the future. For all its potential, 3D printing has yet to really capture the imagination of the general public, and is still seen as too complex for widespread public consumption. MakerBot, now a subsidiary of Stratasys, already felt the crunch of failed expectations with two rounds of layoffs, and now 3D Systems (3DS) has decided to axe the Cube, its entry-level system for the home 3D printer market.
“In connection with our ongoing review of our business and industry, we believe that the most meaningful opportunities today are in professional and industrial settings, from the product design shop to the operating room to the factory floor,” said Andy Johnson, interim CEO and CLO, 3DS. “We are focusing our efforts on enabling professionals and companies to improve their designs, transform their workflows, bring innovative products to market and drive new business models.”
The decision comes after a year in which AM stocks in general took a thorough beating, falling from (perhaps overinflated) giddy heights to a lower, but potentially more stable, share price. 3DS moves from swimming in investor cash, much of which was leveraged for acquisitions, to cost-cutting behavior. Along with ending production of the Cube, 3DS will also be taking Cubify, its online support and AM marketplace, offline.
Does this mean the end of home 3D printing? Not remotely. While MakerBot and 3DS might be suffering from a slump, the home market will still have plenty of support from smaller companies. Taken as a whole, those companies might actually be part of the problem for the big names in AM. Small companies are more agile and are able to offer home systems for a fraction of what 3DS or Stratasys have to charge just to break even. The market just isn’t big enough yet for sales volume to trump all other concerns.
Below you’ll find a video about the Cube.