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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

Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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Sports streaming takes off

Live streaming of sports is coming of age as a mainstream method of viewing big games, as the latest FIFA World Cup figures from the UK show. Africa isn’t yet at the same level when it comes to the adoption of sports streaming, but usage is clearly moving in the right direction.

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England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden was watched by just under 20 million viewers in the UK via BBC One. While this traditional broadcast audience was huge, it was streaming that broke records: the game was the BBC’s most popular online-viewed live programme ever, with 3.8 million views. In Africa, the absolute numbers are lower but the trend towards streaming major sports events on the continent is also well under way.

According to DStv, live streaming of sports dominates the usage figures for its live and recorded TV streaming app, DStv Now. The number of people using the app in June was five times higher than a year ago, with concurrent views peaking during major football and rugby games.

Since the start of the World Cup, average weekday usage of DStv Now is up 60%. The absolute peak in concurrent usage for one event was reached on 26 June, during the Nigeria vs Argentina game. The app’s biggest ever test was on 16 June with both Springbok Rugby and World Cup Football under way at the same time, resulting in concurrent in-app views seven times higher than the peaks seen in June last year.

The World Cup has also been a major reason for new users to download and try out the app. First-time app user volumes have tripled on Android and doubled on iOS since the start of the tournament.

“While we expected live sports streaming to take off, it’s also been pleasing to see that the app is really popular for watching shows on Catch Up,” says MultiChoice South Africa Chief Operating Officer Mark Rayner. “Interestingly, some of the most popular Catch Up shows are local, with Isibaya, Binnelanders, The Queen and The River all getting a significant number of views.”

With respect to app usage, the web and Android apps are the most popular way to watch DStv Now, with Android outpacing iOS by a factor of 2:1.

“We’re continuing to develop DStv Now, with 4k streaming in testing and smart TV and Apple TV apps on their way shortly,” says Rayner. “The other key priority for us is working with the telcos to deliver mobile data propositions that make watching online painless and worry-free for our customers.”

The DStv Now app is free to all 10 million DStv customers in Africa. The app streams DStv live channels as well as supplying an extended Catch Up library. Two separate streams can be watched on different devices simultaneously, and content can also be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. The content available on the app varies according to the DStv package subscribed to.

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