Long time 3D printer manufacturer abruptly closed their doors yesterday, after many years of operation.
The pioneering company, started by tech entrepreneur Brook Drumm, was one of the oldest desktop 3D printer companies, along with companies such as Ultimaker and MakerBot. But now they join the list of expired companies, including Solidoodle and countless others.
Printrbot was a favorite of the DIY community because they produced modifiable, reliable equipment at very low cost. Or at least it was low cost until the recent avalanche of extremely low cost machines manufactured overseas.
A brief statement on Printrbot’s site says:
Printrbot is closed.
Low sales led to hard decisions.
We will be forever grateful to all the people we met and served over the years.
Thank you all.
Printrbot survived as long as it did because of Drumm’s extreme attention to the details of manufacturing machines. This is a person who would know down to the nut and bolt the precise cost of producing and delivering a machine. That expertise allowed Printrbot to overcome many challengers over the years.
But at the same time, it demonstrates the difficulty of manufacturing low cost desktop 3D printers, something that has been consistently misunderstood by numerous startups launching their products on Kickstarter. In other words, if Brook Drumm could not make it work with all his experience, how could any startup expect to do any better?
This was probably inevitable given the recent rise in popularity. While Printrbot’s equipment was of excellent quality, and accompanied by a busy community of users, it’s hard to compete against overseas machines priced at the same levels yet offering vastly larger build volumes.
Some of these overseas manufacturers became popular by leveraging YouTube producers, whose evaluation videos often are seen literally hundreds of thousands of times. These producers do receive a commission for any sales made through their affiliate links, strongly motivating them to promote the equipment.
So it may be that Printrbot was defeated not by any technical issue, but rather through financial and marketing strategies by other companies.
While Printrbot may now be gone, they’ll be remembered as one of the leading companies in the early stages of personal 3D printing. Perhaps they’ll re-launch at some point in the future, and I am certain the Drumm will inevitably show up at some interesting venture sooner or later.
It’s not clear how the Printrbot community will be affected. With the demise of Printrbot, they may not be able to obtain spare parts, at least any official ones. It’s possible there may be third party suppliers emerging to address the rather large Printrbot community’s needs.
For the rest of us, the loss of Printrbot won’t affect things very much simply because there are tons of terrific options for low cost desktop 3D printers that may replace Printrbot.
And that, I believe, was the problem.