Leapfrog and Kyocera: What Does This Mean?
Leapfrog 3D Printers announced a deal with Kyocera.
The arrangement involves Kyocera being the sole distributor of Leapfrog 3D printing gear in Australia and New Zealand markets.
“Leapfrog and Kyocera have joined forces to offer the flagship Bolt Pro exclusively in the Australian and New Zealand markets. This partnership has been in development for a long time and the opportunity to combine the strategic networking knowledge of Kyocera with the 3D printing knowledge of Leapfrog means that the Bolt Pro will be readily available in those markets.”
I am very curious about this deal, not so much from the distributor arrangement, as such things happen routinely all the time: every 3D printer manufacturer has distributors in different regions. Instead I am interested in the Kyocera angle.
Kyocera is a rather large manufacturer of electronics and ceramics based in Japan. The company has been around for almost 60 years, and has provided solutions for consumers and business. Their current business is primarily based on the manufacture and sales of mobile phones, satellite phones, solar cells, advanced ceramics - and printers.
No, not 3D printers, but 2D printers, with a particular focus on those always confusing-to-use multifunction devices.
My first thought was, is this another 2D printer manufacturer hoping to move into the 3D printing world? Some others have done so, most notably HP, but also you will find 3D printing ventures from Ricoh.
I’m fascinated with this space because each of the largest 2D paper printing companies faces a troubling future, as activities gradually become increasingly digital, thus reducing the need for paper. These companies must diversify over a long period to maintain operations in the future.
They’ve taken different strategies. Some have continued with the notion of “documents”, like Xerox, who focus on providing software management for digital documents, in addition to actual physical paper printing.
Others, like HP, see the massive manufacturing space as a potential target and are deeply investing in developing tools to address that market. Recently they announced a metal 3D printing process that will most certainly help them get there.
Kyocera is one of the companies on that list, as one of their major revenue sources is from 2D paper printers. Could the Leapfrog 3D Printers deal foreshadow a move towards formally entering the 3D printing market?
Such moves have done so in the past. HP, for example, resold Stratasys uPrint equipment for several years in the early 2010s. They were mostly unsuccessful in doing so, at least according to industry observers. However, I think there was something else afoot: they were involved simply to learn about the 3D print space, and the best way to do so was to attempt to sell a product.
HP ended that arrangement abruptly in 2012 and the company went silent on 3D printing for several years. Then, they suddenly announced a new line of 3D printers of their own design, using a new 3D printing process. It all seems to fit together.
Is Kyocera doing the same thing? I looked around to find other evidence of some overall strategy, but came to a different conclusion. It seems that Kyocera has made arrangements of this type to resell 3D printers within specific regions, very similar to the Leapfrog 3D Printers arrangement. This could be another one, in a different region with a different supplier.
It may be that Kyocera is already a somewhat diversified company with several different product lines, thus the diminishing of 2D paper printing technology in the future may not be as strong an issue as it might have been with HP or others.
Meanwhile, for Leapfrog 3D Printers this is a fantastic scenario: they have a major distributor with countless representatives in the field who can now directly sell their equipment. This is all happening in a location about as distant as you can get from Leapfrog 3D Printers’ headquarters in the Netherlands and still be on the same planet.
In fact, the antipode location for the Netherlands is literally just off the coast of New Zealand.