MakerBot and the Chinese Competition

(Forbes) Tech and Silicon Valley business contributor Rakesh Sharma believes that Makerbot’s eagerness to release new products is because competition from Chinese manufacturers is threatening to upend the 3D printing market. On a cost per unit basis, Chinese 3D printers are cheaper as compared to printers manufactured in the States and offer a comparable, if not better, feature set. However, support and marketing, vital ingredients in the 3D printing ecosystem given the relatively technical nature of 3D printers, are absent. In addition, there was the added threat of being sued in the American market, since most early patents related to 3D printing were owned by American companies.

In recent times, 3D printer manufacturers from China have partnered with American companies to enter the market. The value proposition of these partnerships is compelling because they combine China’s cheap manufacturing capabilities with American marketing and support. For example, Tiertime, China’s largest manufacturer of 3D printers, licensed technology for UP! desktop 3D printers to Minnesota-based Microboard technology. Afinia- the resulting printer – debuted to positive reviews and upbeat sales numbers. Similarly, the company’s A170 printer competes directly with Stratasys’ Dimension series. Makerbot’s response has been a combination of litigation and revisions.

MakerBot has also introduced several design iterations to match or exceed the capabilities for Chinese 3D printers. For example, the new batch of 3D printers from Makerbot feature increased build volume (or the amount of area for the extruder to build objects) and mimic the single touch 2D print design use case for its consumer desktop printers. Thus, the new Replicators are connected to social networks, offer single button print capability, and do not require leveling.