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MakerBot’s ‘death’ won’t kill 3D printing

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MakerBot was synonymous with 3D printing a few years ago. But, even though it announced its lay off of factory workers, RACHEL GORDON, Technology Analyst, IDTechEx, believes that this is not the end of 3D printing.

Following the progress of MakerBot, it is easy to be despondent about the whole desktop 3D printing industry. For a short time back in 2010, MakerBot was 3D printing. Anyone who wanted a desktop 3D printer could buy a MakerBot kit or build a RepRap. MakerBot was the market leader and almost synonymous with desktop 3D printing for many years.

In April, MakerBot announced it would lay off its factory workers, outsourcing the manufacturing of all MakerBot printers to Jabil. This will reduce manufacturing costs, removing the fixed costs associated with maintaining a factory in New York City. Manufacturing in China will certainly be cheaper than in Brooklyn but MakerBot have run a “Made in America” campaign for a long time. This is another step away from the Rep Rap beginnings, and the 3D printing community are unhappy. This echoes when MakerBot announced the Replicator 2 would be closed source, after years of supporting the Open Source Hardware movement. These announcements make big waves within a small community of 3D printing enthusiasts, but it remains to be seen how much impact it has on new customers buying machines.

The slow decline of MakerBot

Before 2013, MakerBot sold an impressive 40,550 printers. When Stratasys acquired MakerBot, an IDTechEx analyst wrote, Stratasys “may have paid a very high price for a quick foothold in an ultimately relatively small market with an increasing number of competitors. If MakerBot has sold out to the big corporate world in merging with Stratasys… it got a jolly good price indeed.”

According to the Stratasys 2014 Annual Report, in that single year, MakerBot sold nearly 40,000 printers. In 2015, they sold just 18,673. In April of 2015, MakerBot laid off 100 of its approximately 500 employees and in October laid off another 80. The MakerBot storefronts in New York City, Boston, and Greenwich were all closed.

This was partly due to the poor reputation of the Smart Extruder on the 5th generation machines. Estimates for the mean time before failure for the MakerBot Smart Extruder were between 300 and 500 hours. Jonathon Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot, has said “86% of all failures of 5th gen MakerBots were with the extruder.”

MakerBot reached total sales of 100,000 printers on 4th April 2016. This equates to selling only 1,421 MakerBots in four months of 2016. Sales of desktop 3D printers are seasonal and tend to pick up in Q3, but the MakerBot brand is now worth far less than the $400 Million Stratasys spent on it.

Has desktop 3D printing failed to spread beyond early adopters?

When industry leader is struggling it is tempting to talk about the market saturating or the technology not overcoming the “chasm of despair” as it hasn’t spread past the early adopter enthusiasts.

However, in the new report 3D Printing 2016-2026, IDTechEx Research estimate that over 375,000 desktop thermoplastic extrusion printers were sold during 2015.

MakerBot have hundreds of competitors also making very similar desktop thermoplastic extrusion printers. The price can be very low and the quality is very variable.

The rise of China

300,000 of these 3D printers were sold by the Taiwanese company, XYZPrinting. These sales absolutely dwarf the 100,000 cumulative sales by MakerBot to the point where it seems almost unbelievable. The Chinese government pledged to put a 3D printer in every one of their 400,000 elementary schools.

The DaVinci printers are rebranded and distributed by tech giant Lenovo, who has substantial brand power. It is an increasing trend that well-known household names, such as HP, Ricoh, Autodesk and Mattel, are entering the industry with considerably more brand power and marketing budget that has been seen in the industry so far.

The DaVinci printers are available from $450, compared to $2000 for a MakerBot. At this low price, the technology has become available to many home users across Asia, who previously could not afford it. The average selling price of desktop 3D printing will continue to fall.

It is definitely the best quality 3D printer for this price. Out of the box, the printer is preassembled and precalibrated. Ease of use is a top priority of the education market. The printers are not only attractive to Asian customers but are getting attention and recognition across Europe and America.

The return of vendor lock-in

Users are required to buy all their filament through XYZPrinting. There is little, if any, profit to be made selling a $450 3D printer. However, now over 300,000 users are all buying filament at the currently reasonable price of about $29 for 600g, and will be locked in to buying more of that filament regardless of price hikes. This will stabilise the thermoplastic filament prices.

This is the beginning of a shift from Western companies manufacturing small numbers of 3D printers to consumer electronics manufacturing on a serious scale in Asia. This a standard pattern, new technologies are manufactured on a bigger scale at a cheaper price in Asia, and they become available to more of the global population. Unit sales grow, but price crashes.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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