Another desktop 3D printer startup continues to evaporate away, leaving some customers without funds.
NEA 3D was one of many desktop 3D printer ventures launched in recent years. They offered a rather pricey unit (close to USD$3,000) that used plastic filament and included a number of now-defacto standard features, such as WiFi, dual fans, and LED lighting. It did not offer automated calibration, which many new machines seem to offer these days. However, to be fair, NEA 3D launched in 2015.
Their campaign was quite successful, generating USD$356,946 in pledges on Indigogo, some 333% more than their targets. The units were to ship in late 2015 and January 2016, almost one year ago.
But that didn’t happen.
Approximately one year ago, about the time when they were to ship the original units, they made this announcement:
We regret to inform you that we will not be able to deliver the NEA 3D printer as promised at this time.
After weeks of scouting and searching for manufacturers who could produce our awesome printer, we found out that building a product of this caliber at the allotted price is simply not possible. We would not cut corners on quality as our goal has always been to deliver the best product ever, but there were simply too many challenges that we had to overcome. Once we realized that we may have to re-engineer the machine to make it viable, thus requiring you to wait even longer, the decision had to be made.
So essentially, they were not capable of actually manufacturing the machine. This is a lesson to all who use crowdfunding services to acquire 3D printers: just because a group might know how to design a machine definitely does not mean they know how to manufacture a machine.
Manufacturing is utterly different from engineering design. There are a multitude of constraints, timings and issues present in a manufacturing process, even if one is doing the assembly themselves. In this case it appears NEA 3D wished to have someone else do the actual manufacturing, which adds another level or two of complexity to the problem. If you don’t know how to manufacture something yourself, you most likely don’t know how to purchase such services from someone else.
Subsequently, the company informed backers they were to receive refunds. They offered two options: an 80% immediate refund or a 100% refund if willing to wait.
But to me, that is a very suspicious approach. They explain in an update six months later:
Since the first round of refunds we sent back to funders early this year we have been in the process of waiting on various government refunds that will allow us to pay back all of our backers in full. The past few months we have been working diligently to make sure these credits are awarded to us in full and be used immediately for you.
But we’re hearing from readers that said refunds have not yet arrived and there have been no further updates. In fact, if you read the rather lengthy list of comments on their Indiegogo page, you’ll see the group has transitioned from “angry” to “detective mode” to track the company’s activities.
There is some suspicion among backers that the folks behind the Toronto-based company have now moved on to other projects, leaving them without refunds. The NEA 3D CEO, William Chang, currently appears to be the CEO of PlayFight, a video company and does not seem to mention NEA 3D at all.
It’s a sad tale indeed, but one the backers and everyone can learn from: new project launches should be adequately financed and include expertise not only in machine design, but also manufacturing and general business management.