3D Systems seem to have a insatiable appetite for taking over any one with technology they want recently and that has included ZCorp recently in order to get hold of their successful ZPrinter business and the technology the full color printers are based on as well as their customer base: mainly rapid prototyping companies and companies who have used Z Printers to bring Rapid Prototyping in house.
Now 3D systems have acquired My Robot Nation, it isn’t so much the technology they after this time though but the customer base: all big fans of personalized products.
My Robot Nation was only set up in December but is already very successful, what they have done is to put tools into the hands of customers so they can design their own robots, these tools are much simpler than other 3D CAD programs as used in rapid prototyping and it has opened up 3D printing to a whole new group of computer literate, but not necessarily CAD literate, customers. By sending off their own designs to My Robot Nation customers can have their design printed in full color and shipped to them.
As fans of personalized 3D printed products My Robot Nation customers are of course all potential customers for 3D Systems entry level Cube desktop 3D printer offering and their Cubify online repository of 3D CAD designs available to buy for use with 3D printers.
The move to take over such a business though shows 3D Systems dedication to making 3D printing more accessible and moving into direct manufacturing increasingly where their traditional sector has been Rapid Prototyping.
Direct Manufacturer needs slightly different types of printers, cost per print is more important as people may want to make several bespoke items to sell or for personal use and with a low enough cost using 3D printers for direct manufacture can become an alternative to traditional manufacturing
With My Robot Nation people pay to have something totally unique and this has value but for a lot of people price is still an issue so 3D Systems must keep on bringing prices down, including for full color printing which is where the Z Printer excels.
Certainly with My Robot Nation and other similar businesses offering one off printing 3D systems can leverage their access to technology and produce printers suited to particular businesses and tasks if their massive range of printers doesn’t have the right thing.
For other start up businesses though wanting to sell a small run of a product, perhaps for test marketing, rather than totally unique items then 3D systems printers have a lot of potential: if the price of printing can be bought down to a lower level than that for traditional manufacturing. In fact a whole level of manufacturing, that is currently not profitable to make with tooling and other traditional manufacturing, could develop and change the way we consume niche products.
3D Systems has come a long way in the 26 years since it pioneered 3D printing and 3D printing itself is quickly becoming a lot more than rapid prototyping techniques but at the same time it seems that for real innovation 3D Systems are having to look to start ups they can buy rather than innovating themselves.