The End Of LulzBot (?)

The End Of LulzBot (?)

A tiny skull 3D printed with the Aerostruder v2 Micro Tool Head [Image: Aleph Objects]

A tiny skull 3D printed with the Aerostruder v2 Micro Tool Head [Image: Aleph Objects]

Is this the end of Aleph Objects as we’ve known it? Yes and no.

Just days after the official announcement of the company’s newest 3D printer, the LulzBot Bio, it seems things have gone rather south for the Colorado-based team.

The Bio wasn’t by any stretch the only new LulzBot 3D printer introduction this year; we also met the TAZ Pro and TAZ Workhorse this spring. LulzBot also introduced open source filament last year. If product introductions weren’t enough, Aleph Objects also opened a European headquarters this May in the Netherlands.

By all indicators, business should have been good.

Instead we have another tough lesson in business: even with a great product, a company needs to be properly managed with a viable strategy for the marketplace in which it operates.

Mass Layoffs, But Not An End

So what’s happened?

I first heard about the news privately, from a former employee, and it slowly began to spread. Social media began to carry the buzz, with a public Facebook post and a questioning Reddit thread adding to a flurry of questions on Twitter.

Digging through the rumor mill in the age of social media isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Conflicting reports have arisen: it’s definitely happening, take it from me, I’m a high-level employee versus it’s definitely just a rumor, take it from me, I talked to management.

The story is that on Wednesday afternoon, almost every employee at Aleph Objects’ Loveland, CO HQ received word they were being let go effective end-of-day Friday. Some upper management and a skeleton crew in tech and sales support are remaining in place, but a large majority of the entire workforce — which stands around 150 employees — have lost their jobs.

It sounds like the skeletal crew remain in place for ongoing support and, more practically, in case the operations find a new buyer. It would be a shame, after all, to simply bid adieu to everything LulzBot in one fell swoop.

An official press release sent out near end-of-business on Friday shares (some of?) the story from Aleph’s perspective — hardly sounding so dire as the death of the company other more personal reports indicate. In full, the statement released via email and on the LulzBot website reads:

“Aleph Objects Inc. has reduced its staff as of today. Please be assured we will continue to manufacture and sell the LulzBot Mini 2, Workhorse and Pro series of printers and will continue to service the equipment as we are negotiating new ownership opportunities. All warranties will continue to be honored and the standard one year warranty will be included with all new printer purchases.”

“Streamlining”

A move like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Turnover has been — we won’t say high, but somewhat consistent in recent years. A glance at Glassdoor reviews of the workplace is pretty bleak. Only 16 current/past employees have left reviews, so there’s not a ton to go on there, but that small sample size does give 1.7 out of 5 stars with some repeated comments that start to shape a narrative of the working environment.

One consistent bit of messaging from everyone I’ve ever heard from, personally or virtually, who has been at any point affiliated with Aleph Objects has been that they’ve loved what the company stands for. The open source ethos, dedication to innovation, and production of workhorse 3D printers that are among the most reliable desktop machines in the industry stand as strong testament to a team who know what they’re about.

That the company’s announcement of activity is reduced to “streamlining operations” is rather dramatically understated. Several sources have confirmed that while they don’t have an exact figure, the number of employees laid off is near the 100 mark — two-thirds of the company.

(Former) Employees Speak

I’ve been in touch with several former employees to hear more of the story. All spoke under condition of anonymity — and all are individuals I can vouch for as verified solid sources who have worked at Aleph Objects.

“Regarding LulzBot’s end, I’ll say the owner’s decisions, policies, and behavior are at the heart of it all. A challenging US manufacturing climate and unfairly cheap Chinese competitors didn’t help, but those things are footnotes,” one contact, who left the company more than a year ago, said.

This comment underscores the long and short of most of the conversations.

As with any mass layoff, it wasn’t just one thing that brought the pink slips down. Any number of factors contributed. Among them were the pricing structure of LulzBot 3D printers, which didn’t lead to great profitability; rising costs of raw materials in the face of tariffs; rising competition at the upper end from companies like Ultimaker and from the lower-cost end from companies like Prusa; and management.

While on the outside the “streamlining” is something of a shock this week, to those inside the company it was not the biggest surprise.

Several of the previous employees I spoke to, who had left the company more than a year ago, said that they “saw the writing on the wall” and chose to exit some time ago. In the face of this latest turn of events, one said, “There’s a sense of survivor’s guilt for having left already; should I have said more, could I have done more?”

That’s not to say everything was bad, of course; nothing’s so black and white. It seemed everything was “business as usual” as recently as last month, at least according to one visitor.

Fabbaloo friend Joel Telling (The 3D Printing Nerd) was on-site in Loveland in mid-September, filming a video about the LulzBot Bio.

“When we were out there, the vibe was actually kind of awesome,” he said. “There were three locations we visited of LulzBot. It was crazy how friendly everyone was, and I don’t think it’s because I host a show; these are just generally friendly people.”

Turning back to the opening question: is this the end of Aleph Objects as we’ve known it? Yes, as the massive layoffs are necessarily restructuring operations. But no, it’s not exactly “the end” as some operations remain up and running — just streamlined.

I’ve spent literally hours on the phone already, and anticipate more conversations in the days to come. There’s a lot going on under the surface here, and we’ll have much more to say about it in the days to come. Some of the happenings are pretty delicate, and we’re working to verify everything we hear. We are keeping our ears open, though, and invite more discussion.

Inside information? I’m easy to reach and happy to talk.

Via LulzBot



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