Ann, this is a sign of a maturing industry. I am sure there are technology improvements ahead, but that will take larger scale. The devices are also getting larger and more capable. I saw one at a shop I thought was a toy. The case was wood, like an old pinball or pachinko machine. It works fine, but looks tentative, shall we say.
People also underestimate the cost and importance of marketing and distribution.
I for one think that it is fantastic that companies in this arena are merging. As you mentioned, this is a relatively new technology. Often, new technologies will spawn many small companies - all paying high overhead and incurring major expenses to bring their product to market. In our own company, we have been researching 3D printers but can't justify the high prices. Through university programs, I have gained extensive knowledge of the Objet line of printers and can attest that they create some of the finest quality "prints" - the resolution is incredible and the medium options are extensive. Many companies however, often can't justify the high expense of these systems - often in the 6 figure range (plus medium and maintenance). By merging companies and maturing the technology, prices are sure to come down and make this equipment much more commonplace in engineering, research, and design.
You stated in your article that the two companies will remain much as they were before. Still, I look forward to seeing any new products that they produce during the next few years. With what seems to be exponential growth in the quality and quantity of printers on the market, it is a very exciting time for this field.
@A.Peeples: I agree with you completely. I think that the ability to consolidate sales and marketing arms and potentially leverage some internal R&D expenditures can help the combined companies--this one, Stratasys and Objet--and the other big merged player--3D Systems and ZCorp--really push the technology to the next level and get the price down on more consumer-friendly offerings. I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg of what's possible.
Stratasys is doing the buying and their Co-Founder and CEO Scott Crump will become chairman of the combined company, but the CEO is an Objet guy--David Reis. The board has four representatives from each company, so ... even though Stratasys bought, it sounds like both are surviving--for now, any way.
I loved our Objet printer that we had at our company. I agree with A.Peeples, it was tough to beat Objet for the finely detailed and beautiful models that we would get out of it. Also, the material properties were a relatively good representation of typical flexural properties we would see in the final production part. One very important thing to note is the ease of cleaning and maintenance (which I think many people overlook when purchasing 3D printers). As long as the printheads were quickly cleaned after every job, it was very reliable. Also, washing the part down with water after is was removed from the machine was done with relative ease.
Yes, it was expensive and we tried to be prudent when making models...but it was a great machine and served our department very well. Glad to see Objet partnering with another complimentary player.
Also wanted to mention Z-Corp's strengths too. We used this process and found it did a very good job of quickly making manufacturing and inspection fixtures for our new product assemblies (in addition to creating the actual components themselves). This process was better for simulating large, rigid parts such as die castings or machined plates.
Due to the dust creating nature of this process, we had to put this equipment in a separate room, away from other delicate machinery. However, the Z-Corp process was a good, cost-effective option when making larger rigid parts. I think their partnership with 3D will also work well and produce some good synergies.
@Greg: Thanks for the real world perspective on use of these products and their various strengths. Your point about the cleaning and maintenance of these machines is important. I've talked to other users who mentioned the same thing. While computers and office printers need maintenance, I believe it's a big more extreme with these 3D printers, especially when you're using them as a tool to create functional parts to highly specified tolerances. As you point out, it definitely needs to be a factor in the evaluation process to see if A) your organization has what it takes to support a 3D printer so it can be used effectively, and B) which 3D printer is the best fit for the constraints of your engineering department.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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