Replicator 2: a new direction for MakerBot?

The much-lauded maker of 3D printers for amateurs goes pro.

As we mentioned in our recent coverage, MakerBot has just released a brand new 3D printer, the Replicator 2. It boasts a range of new features and upgrades that I won’t repeat here. It also boasts a new $2199 price tag. I doubt anyone will complain about improved print quality and larger build volumes, and, frankly, the new printer looks gorgeous. That being said, this blogger sees the Replicator 2 as a new direction for MakerBot. They have clearly and specifically labeled it “professional-grade,” a first for MakerBot. This is not necessarily a bad direction, but it is a marked change from how they began.

To compare, the Cupcake was $950, the Thing-o-Matic was $1225, and the original Replicator is $1749. The Replicator 2 at $2199 is still vastly less expensive than full-scale professional printers from companies like Objet, but it is definitely priced for a different market than the $950 Cupcake. The Replicator 2 arguably has more in common with a printer like the UP! than a RepRap or even the Cupcake. For example, the Cupcake was sold as a fairly elaborate kit that required a considerable amount of time and effort to put together, but the Replicator 2 is sold pre-assembled.

This new direction of MakerBot could be interpreted in several ways. One, MakerBot pushed so hard to improve their printers that the increase in price was almost inevitable. This is a tempting explanation, but probably unlikely considering how much business planning must have happened at MakerBot at the time of their $10 million venture capital investment. Two, MakerBot believes that serious hobbyists/makers are willing and able to spend more money on a greatly improved 3D printer. In the midst of a recession, this interpretation also seems a bit far fetched.

The third interpretation I can think of is that there is more money to be made in the prosumer/professional market for 3D printers than with 3D printer hobbyists. As pessimistic (or simply pragmatic) as it may be, I, personally, believe this is the most likely explanation. Industrial designers and related professionals are almost certainly a larger market for (relatively) low cost 3D printers than are hobbyists. Small professional offices spend vastly more money on equipment than any but the most serious of hobbyists/makers.

To sum up, MakerBot appears to have firmly chosen to target professional clients over hobbyists and makers. The cost of their 3D printers has steadily rose, and their newest 3D printer, the Replicator 2, is clearly branded for the professional market.

Those are my thoughts, but what do you think? Do you think the company is going in a new direction? What is it and why?

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I think you’re exactly right and I don’t think it’s coincidence that this is also the first time they are offering a paid support plan. Businesses like to buy machines that they know are going to last awhile and purchase support plans to have a direct contact for any issues with them. A steel-framed 3D printer with dedicated support fits right in that model. Obviously the hobbyists are upset, but I have to also wonder how many of those people that are upset are still holding on to their heavily modded Cupcake or Prusa Mendel? Makerbot is trying to reach paying customers, not just make RepRap fans happy. Can’t blame them for it either.

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