MakerBot Merger Will Boost Desktop 3D Printing

If there was any doubt 3D printing was going to be taken seriously by the business world, then note this news: Minnesota-based Stratasys just had a big-city shopping spree and picked up MakerBot, a cool Brooklyn-based 3D printing company you may have heard of, for $403 million.

It wasn't exactly a buy that was far afield for Stratasys, itself a professional-grade 3D printer operation. But the merger, set around $403 million in stock and potentially another $201 million in performance-based payouts, has sent some shockwaves around the maker community.

Reactions range from concerns that the larger company may absorb MakerBot, or at least the special sense of community the small four-year-old company engenders, to excitement that the startup's efforts are getting the recognition it deserves.

Primarily, MakerBot manufactures 3D printers, devices that create physical objects from digital plans. After loading the devices with ABS (what Lego blocks are made of) or PLA (a biodegradable plastic made of corn), users can download or make their own designs on a computer and create replicable, real objects on the printers.

As part of the merger, MakerBot's online repository of digital plans of printable object, known as Thingiverse, will also be acquired.

Stratasys already makes high-end industrial sized 3D printers, and this purchase of MakerBot will plunk them squarely within the consumer market, what the companies refer to as "desktop 3D printing." This is not Stratasys' first foray into the consumer sector. In 2010, the company, which also has headquarters in Israel, partnered with HP to take a stab at the 3D printer market, though apparently those efforts were less than successful.

Picking up MakerBot may be a better fit for this goal - MakerBot already has a rich and vibrant community, and if Stratasys keeps to its "hands-off" policy with MakerBot's staff and brand, as it has stressed in its public comments about the merger, then it should get its foothold in the desktop 3D printing market.

(See also Just How Hard Is It To Get And Use A 3D Printer?)

If Stratasys sounds a little familiar, they were the company that was involved in the 3D printing of a gun by a University of Texas law student last Fall.

MakerBot, for its part, just got a nice influx of capital to expand its efforts in making affordable 3D printing devices. That should be a great boost for the consumer 3D printing movement as a whole.

 

Image courtesy of Thingiverse.