3D Printers

MakerBot not for sale as 3D printing company provides update on job cuts and strategy

I spoke to MakerBot’s Josh Snider for an update on this week’s news that the 3D printing company has reduced headcount by 30%.

Snider has been with MakerBot since July 2016, but in his new role for only a few days. In fact, the position is so new he does not yet have a job title.

“False rumors” around 3D printing company

Since yesterday’s announcement many rumors and wild speculations have sprung up around MakerBot. I asked Snider to sort through of these during our conversation this afternoon. He tells me that commentators predicting the demise of MakerBot have done so for quite some time, and categorically denies that the company is for sale, nor are shutters about to go up.

How many death knells do we get?” he says.

Furthermore, Snider says that rumors that the MakerBot owned file-sharing platform Thingiverse is run by only 2 people are certainly false.

At 3D Printing Industry we have conducted our own research and contacted, or been contacted, by a substantial number of current, and now sadly former employees. Snider confirms that the 30% figure represents employees across all business areas. 3D Printing Industry understand that those still employed by MakerBot may see their current roles changing as the company move away from a siloed division of tasks.

Stratasys and MakerBot 3D printed parts Photo by Michael Petch
Stratasys and MakerBot 3D printed parts Photo by Michael Petch

New “breakthrough” 3D printing products on the horizon

A recurring criticism of MakerBot by staff past and present is the imbalance between project managers and developers, this is something that new CEO Nadav Goshen is seeking to address in the company’s bid to ensure it has, “the right printer, at the right time with the right technology.

Snider says that 2017 holds the promise of some “breakthrough” products. With 5 years of reporting on the 3D Printing Industry, we’ll wait until this materialises before saying more.

MakerBot differentiates themselves from rivals, for example Ultimaker, on “reliability and ease of use.” This has arguably been to the detriment of seasoned 3D printer users. Indeed, while MakerBot Print software may have a “clarified UX and ease of use” those who crave the ability to refine 3D printing parameters can grow frustrated. This is apparently by design as the company pursue the lucrative, but less tech-savvy, education market.

Insight into strategy

Indeed, if a substantial beach-head can be established in the education market MakerBot may be able to achieve technological lock-in. In this scenario educators may make repeated purchases of MakerBot devices because of familiarity with the system, rather than particular advantages of the technology.

However, while tech lock-in due to software infrastructure is a well understood phenomena, this may be less true for 3D printing. Indeed, MakerBot are already facing a battle in the education market based on my conversations with user groups at various conferences, including most recently a major education trade show at the Excel center in London, UK.

This shift in strategy from 2014/15’s focus on “eco-system” to the current 3D printing “solutions” is similar to that of 3D Systems. And indeed, during Frankfurt’s Formnext event in November, parent company Stratasys presented a similar blueprint to that of 3D Systems during IMTS in September. However, unlike 3D Systems the 3D printing desktop market is one that Stratasys are still active in.

MakerBot is part of a long term plan for Stratasys. Photo by Michael Petch
MakerBot is part of a long term plan say Stratasys. Photo by Michael Petch

It’s the people

This week’s news of redundancies and the 6 week severance package, without diminishing the real-world impact on those now without a job at MakerBot, will bolster the company’s balance sheet. As quarterly financial reports become due after the end of March, MakerBot’s accounts will be in a better shape. Our investigations found that many of those made redundant were longer serving employees, some who have been hugely influential in preserving the heritage of the company: but also on higher wages than those with less experience.

3D Printing Industry wish all of those affected by this week’s news good luck and success in finding new employment. Many of these people have highly marketable skills and companies looking to hire workers experienced in the variety of skills 3D printing requires will now have a bounty of talent to choose from.

And while publicly MakerBot denies that this week’s changes are part of a packaging and presentation for a sale, the company may be wise to heed the words of Steve Jobs, “It’s not the tools you have faith in–tools are just tools–they work, or they don’t work. It’s the people you have faith in or not.” That is if they are planning for the long-term.

Past or present MakerBot employees can contact 3D Printing Industry on or off the record.