3D Systems Acquires Alibre

Months after announcing a bundling partnership , 3D Systems and Alibre have made it official: The pair have combined forces as one company to deliver a one-stop-shop for 3D printing and content creation resources.

3D Systems, which acquired the 3D CAD vendor for an undisclosed amount, positioned the acquisition as a way to further its strategy to democratize access and accelerate adoption of affordable 3D content-to-print solutions. The Alibre deal comes on the heels of several other acquisitions of small software firms, including Sycode, a maker of plug-ins for CAD tools, and The3dStudio.com, an online market exchange of 2D and 3D digital media libraries.

3D Systems president Abe Reichental says talks were going on prior to the announced bundling deal because the pair saw synergies in the markets they were trying to serve. "It was obvious to us and Alibre that we're on to something pretty magical with our ability to provide a seamless experience for designers and makers in a one-stop-shop, where they can find everything they need," Reichental told me.

While 3D Systems has an expansive line of professional and production 3D printers, the Alibre low-cost CAD tool (priced at $99 for the entry-level version) is a natural complement to its personal 3D printer line, Reichental says. It makes the technology far more accessible than an individual having to purchase components separately and figure out what works well together. "We don't view these tools as a replacement for professional tools, but as a way to give more designers and manufacturing engineers access to this technology."

I think 3D Systems is really on to something. Several CAD vendors are either teaming up with 3D printer companies, including 3D Systems, or expanding their product lines with tools aimed at the "Maker" market to capitalize on what many are saying will become a bright spot of American innovation and manufacturing.

The " Wohlers Report 2011 ," a global study of the additive manufacturing and 3D printer market released recently by Wohlers Associates, showed the market rebounding substantially in 2010 with a compound annual growth rate of revenues from products and services of 24.1 percent, up from an industry decline of 9.7 percent in 2009. The report specifically cites "the explosive growth of low-cost, personal systems aimed at the do-it-yourselfer maker movement" as a key contributor to the growth.

That's exactly the market 3D Systems is eyeballing with the Alibre acquisition. Reichental says the 3D CAD company will remain intact, and the products will be marketed under the Alibre brand as a 3D Systems company. Pricing on both software and 3D printers will come down even further over time, and some type of cloud solution is definitely in the 3D Systems future, says Reichental.

My bet: It wouldn't surprise me to see versions of Alibre (and potentially other software design tools and utilities) thrown in for free or perhaps available as cheap, cloud-based subscription services. After all, the next moves, according to Reichental, are all about simplicity.

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