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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.

Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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