3D printing giant Stratasys has launched an unusual sales campaign that suggests they may be feeling some pressure from less expensive providers.
Stratasys was the company that first invented and commercialized extrusion-based 3D printing, known under their trademarked term, “FDM” (Fused Deposition Modeling), and now known more widely as “FFF” (Fused Filament Fabrication). This technology proved extremely useful for prototyping in the early days, and later for making production end-use parts.
Stratasys patented the process in the 1980s, providing them with a near-monopoly on the process for some 20 years. The company leveraged their patent rights by developing and selling industrial-capable 3D printers that required the use of proprietary materials that proved quite profitable for the Minnesota-based operation.
Stratasys Patent Expiry
However, in 2009 their key patents on FDM began to expire.
This opened the door for others to make use of the same process in their own machines. Numerous startup ventures emerged, hoping to use the technology in new ways — and at far lower costs.
Stratasys had little to be concerned with, at least at the beginning, as the new entrants offered equipment that, honestly, was woefully deficient in reliability, quality and other factors as compared to Stratasys’ commercial offerings.
However, these alternative devices were indeed less expensive, and typically allowed the 3D printer operator to make use of third party materials in a regime we now call “open materials”. These materials were also obtainable at lower price points, and frequently came in new types of materials and colors not offered by Stratasys.
While Stratasys felt no pressure initially, the intense competition among the new FFF device manufacturers spurred many innovations and increases in print quality and reliability. At a point perhaps two or three years ago it became clear there were indeed third party 3D printers that could match Stratasys in terms of quality and reliability, yet still be available at lower price levels.
Stratasys met that competition with the introduction of compatibility with various industrial and regulatory standards, which are often hard to obtain. Smaller players found this difficult, leaving a set of clients attracted to Stratasys due to their legal compatibilities with industrial processes.
Still, some of the market that Stratasys previously reached has been lost to competition offering lower-priced alternatives.
Inexpensive 3D Printers
One of the factors in play within the FFF competitive space is still price. A segment of that market is continuing to drive down prices to rock-bottom levels unimaginable in previous years.
These ultra-low prices have been attractive to some businesses who feel these low-cost devices “could do the job”. Perhaps they can, and perhaps they cannot. But the price is so low it’s easy to experiment, since a failure wouldn’t cost very much and a success could mean big savings.
Now we see a new campaign from Stratasys directly addressing these businesses. The campaign says things like:
“Tired of your under-performing hobby 3D printer?”
“Trade in your 3D printer and save $2K on Stratasys F123 Series”
“For a limited time, trade in your qualified competitor 3D printer and receive a $2000 credit!”
This campaign is available to North American operators only, and ends in August.
Stratasys highlights some advantages they may have over these alternative devices:
Simpler workflow (with the new GrabCAD software)
I’m not sure Stratasys is actually better in each of these categories when compared against every “hobby” device, particularly in the choice of “more materials”. Third party equipment typically offers far more choice in materials than Stratasys. Note that they do not say “less expensive”.
While one can debate the merits of this program, I’m wondering why Stratasys chose to do it. Is it because they feel there are numerous potential clients who have chosen alternative equipment? Are they feeling competitive pressure from increasingly sophisticated alternative suppliers?
It may simply be that Stratasys now finds themselves deep inside that same competitive space for FFF/FDM equipment and must amp up their marketing strategies to match the competition. That’s certainly a big switch from the past.