Industrial designers and manufacturers have been using 3-D printers for years to make mockups, models, and prototypes. In the past few years, a gang of startups have tried to cash in on the idea that these physical-object makers were getting cheap enough to get regular consumers interested.
That may not be going according to plan. MakerBot, a leading name in the consumer 3-D printing sector, has laid off staff and closed its three retail stores (including one on Newbury Street in Boston) as part of a strategy change by its parent company.
MakerBot didn’t disclose how many people were laid off in its announcement, but Motherboard reported the cut could affect about 100 people, or around 20 percent of the MakerBot workforce. In a statement, Stratasys CEO David Reis said the cuts were part of an effort to continue MakerBot’s growth, including shifting retail sales to partners and attempting to expand its professional and education sales.
MakerBot, founded in New York, was acquired by large 3-D printing company Stratasys in 2013. The deal was a stock swap, valued at about $400 million at the time based on Stratasys’ share price.
In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Stratasys touted MakerBot’s role in the larger company, saying its revenue grew 80 percent in the past year. Stratasys also said it acquired MakerBot’s German distributor and converted that business to MakerBot Europe.
At the same time, Stratasys reported that its quarterly loss had significantly expanded, owing in part to increased operating expenses from acquisitions including MakerBot. Stratasys also acquired Cambridge-based design software startup GrabCAD last fall for $100 million.
One of MakerBot’s competitors, Somerville-based Formlabs, has taken a different approach. Rather than trying to sell to consumers, Formlabs targets professionals in design, art, science, and other fields where a more affordable 3-D printer may be appealing. The startup, which settled a patent lawsuit with established 3-D printing companies late last year, says it is collecting seven-figure annual revenues on sales of its $3,300 printers.
Formlabs CEO and co-founder Max Lobovsky said he was dismayed to hear about MakerBot’s downsizing.
“MakerBot has obviously played a huge role in exposing the world to 3-D printing,” Lobovsky said. “As for the stores, we’ve believed from the beginning that the market for desktop printers is currently more around professional users and that’s why we haven’t focused on retail.”