In a move
that shows the dramatic transformation of the rapid prototyping market, 3D Systems of Rock Hill,
SC, announced the acquisition of Bits
From Bytes, a producer of low-end 3-D printers.
Bytes produces open-source kits and printers ranging in price from
$1,300-$3,900 based on the RepRap
project that originated at the University of Bath in England.
materials include ABS and polylactic acid (PLA) in solid and translucent
colors, polypropylene and polyethylene.
In its first
full year of operations, Bits From Bytes kits and printers grabbed 17 percent
of all 3-D printer unit sales worldwide, ranking second in total shipments to
Stratasys, whose patent on the fused deposition modeling system of 3-D printing
has expired. In a conference call discussing the acquisition, 3D Systems' CEO
Abe Reichental described the Bits From Bytes technology as one of several
"clones" of the FDM system. The market share estimate was made by the Wohlers Report.
version of one of the new machines was on display at Rapid
at a price of just under $4,000, less than half the price of the
least-expensive 3-D printer previously on the market.
says there are three markets for the low-priced printers: educational, hobbyist
and small businesses.
acquisition of Bits From Bytes, 3D Systems takes the next major step towards
democratizing access to 3D printing - a stated strategic direction and ongoing
commitment," said Reichental.
engineers at large companies tend to use 3-D printers with greater
functionality from companies such as Stratasys, Z Corp., Objet Geometries, and
even 3D Systems, which last year launched an inexpensive printer called the VFlash
players have tried to leapfrog each other with lower-priced offerings. Another
big change in the market is the emergence of Hewlett-Packard as the exclusive marketer
of 3-D printers made by Stratasys in five Europe countries. H-P's franchise
could extend globally.
3D Systems technology, marketplace presence and financial flexibility, Bits
From Bytes products can reach new audiences, address new applications and open
new channels and geographies that are begging for open source access and functionality,"
said Ian Adkins, managing director, Bits From Bytes Ltd.
The price of
the acquisition was not disclosed. Reichental told analysts that annual sales
of Bits From Bytes are well under $5 million despite its significant shipment
plans to retain the entire Bits From Bytes management team led by Adkins, and
to continue operations from the current Bristol, England, facility.
was one of the companies that developed the rapid prototyping industry in the
1980s with the invention of a technology called stereolithography, in which
lasers create a three-dimensional shape from photopolymers on a moving
platform. The lasers are driven by CAD files.
In the last
decade, the industry has moved in two different directions. One is the trend to
inexpensive printers, which operate with specialized materials as well as
specific thermoplastics. The second is the move to high-end systems that
produce intricate parts from plastic or metal for low-volume production
reported a first-half profit of $4.8 million on revenues of $66.8 million
versus a loss in the 2009 period of $3.4 million on revenues of $48.7 million.