In a totally stunning announcement today 3D Systems has acquired the Bits From Bytes operation based in Bristol, UK.
This is perhaps the biggest corporate manoeuvre we've yet seen in the 3D printer space, and heralds a bold move by 3D Systems into the ultra low-end 3D printer market, now competing directly against such manufacturers as MakerBot and PP2P.
So far it appears that the Bristol team will remain intact - and remain in Bristol, indicating 3DS has great confidence in their ability to proceed. The BfB line will be sold through a dedicated sales channel, completely separate from the other 3DS products' sales channels.
3DS talks of continuing with "Democratized Access", in which they state various principles of interest to the hobbyist market, including open access, affordability, free firmware upgrades, etc. Interestingly, they also say: "planned program of new and exciting tool heads and additional print heads". The 3DS strategy here is said to be: "Accelerate 3D printer penetration through new products and channel expansion." This could get very interesting!
There are no specific product changes in the big announcement; the RapMan kit still sells for USD$1,300 and its big brother, the BfB3000 multi-head capable version goes for USD$3,900. Expect this to change, either in price or performance in the next while.
After MakerBot's big moves recently, we're wondering if they suspected something was underway with BfB? We're now wondering if they can keep up with a dramatically re-energized BfB?
Observation: this is in fact the second acquisition of a low-end 3D printer maker by 3DS. They previously purchased Desktop Factory over a year ago, but we've not yet seen low-end products appear in their lineup based on that product, although the Desktop Factory staff were absorbed into 3DS.
- How much investment will 3D Systems pump into BfB? Does 3DS believe the low-end market is worthy of major growth?
- How will the competition react if BfB is suddenly flush with cash for new developments and sales expansion?
- How will the open source community react to the acquisition of BfB by a major commercial (and indeed publicly traded) 3D printer company?
Regardless, we think this is a very interesting match - it joins the two markets for 3D printing, commercial and hobbyist, into one. This move might prove ultimately fatal for the smaller makers, given the size and funding behind 3D Systems, unless the competition can come up with similar resources somehow.
Perhaps Bre will be getting a few late night phone calls from prospective buyers this week?
[UPDATE] 3D Systems has posted the official details.