Saturday, June 22, 2013

MakerBot Acquired by.... Stratasys?!

Why did I not think that Stratasys would buy MakerBot? Well, with MakerBot’s technology base so heavily influenced by Scott Crump’s original designs for FDM, it’s hardly likely that technology is the driver here. There are a number of existing patents that protect Stratasys’ FDM technology, most visibly surrounding the enclosed and heated chamber, but anyone can see how a Replicator 2 relates to a Mojo for example.

So if not the machine technology, maybe it’s the system behind Thingiverse that caught the newly formed behemoth’s eye? Again, as good as Thingiverse is (and it’s a hoot to browse and a doddle to use) it would surely be within the grasp of a multi-billion dollar corporation to produce an equal if not better platform for sharing digital data? There’s no doubt that if Thingiverse is not the reason, it’s a sweetener to the deal, because with Thingiverse comes….


MakerBot is cool — my trip to New York in April to meet Bre Pettis in the MakerBot Store on Manhattan is evidence enough of that. The machines are cool, Bre is cool, the Store is cool, the marketing/PR/publicity machine behind MakerBot knows it and makes the most of it. Mostly effortlessly to. The MakerBot community comprises everyone from NASA to the local barber, but Thningiverse is populated by designers, engineers, architects and generic tech geeks in their thousands…


Remember how the MakerBot community reacted when Bre et al made the decision to go from totally open source to somewhere between open and closed source? Well, they weren’t happy about it and they were vocal about not being happy about it. They bemoaned Bre as a sell out, as a turn coat, as a scheming capitalist hell-bent on making millions at the expense of the people.* The rest of us thought it a pretty savvy move, and one that ultimately stabilised the company, invited investment and — as Bre put it n New York — kept food on the tables of MakerBot’s 200 employees…


Stratasys, who hinted at something in the consumer space during TCT’s Lead News interview in the last issue, have acquired themselves some technology they invented, some technology they could develop in next to no time, and a community of somewhat volatile users loyal to the ideals that MakerBot stands for — openness, sharing, fun, education? Hmmm…


None of the above matters of course if MakerBot continues to operate independently of Stratasys, led by Bre and reveling in the cool of Brooklyn. Some shares will be exchanged, some geeks will get rich and life will continue as before. The real challenges will be faced if and when Stratasys feels compelled to assimilate the startup into the massed corporate ranks. Though given how both Objet and Stratasys handled their merger, they might just pull that off too.

*And maybe they were right after all!

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