What are some interesting ways that MakerBot and Ultimaker could fit together?
With the upcoming merger of MakerBot and Ultimaker — and I still feel very strange writing those words — one has to consider how all the parts could fit together. Each party operates a wide breadth of equipment, services, materials and programs, some of which directly overlap, but others seem rather complementary.
3D Model Repositories
Thingiverse and YouMagine are the two 3D model repositories in question. Thingiverse is vastly larger, but has been mostly left alone by MakerBot, aside from some controversial moves recently.
One approach would be to combine the two repositories to create a massive single repository. If I were in charge, I would retain the Thingiverse name and brand, but perhaps use the YouMagine interface design and code. Many complain about Thingiverse’s software, but you never hear a bad word about YouMagine. Pick the tool and name that work.
Both companies have developed relationships with an increasing number of materials providers to certify their products for use on the 3D printers in question.
You might think it could be a simple matter of just piling them together, but there’s more to it than that: this is really about material profiles for specific machines, and those are embedded into the slicing software systems. If the software differences can be resolved, then there’s a place for a unified material profile ecosystem that plugs into that software.
My thought would be to create a material profile platform that would serve not just MakerBot and Ultimaker products, but all 3D printers and material providers. This would create a kind of de facto central clearing house for material profiles, and possibly could be funded by third parties paying to have profiles appear in the system. On the other hand, material profiles are a way for both MakerBot and Ultimaker to make their 3D printers “sticky” with clients, so perhaps this can’t happen.
The two companies have quite complementary sales approaches. While MakerBot mostly sells equipment directly off their website, Ultimaker relies mostly on regional resellers.
One approach that could be done here is to enable the Ultimaker resellers to be able to sell MakerBot gear. That would almost instantly light up MakerBot equipment sales as so many more would have access. Perhaps Ultimaker could consider selling equipment direct, but that could be seen negatively by existing Ultimaker resellers.
Education vs Professional
MakerBot has significant penetration in the education market, where it first engaged after departing from the consumer market years ago. They’ve developed a considerable offering in that segment, including course materials and much more.
This capability could be leveraged by Ultimaker with some adaptions to sell different types of equipment, particularly to higher-level education.
Both companies have cloud-based services to serve clients, and this will likely have to be unified one way or another. It makes no sense to pay for the development and maintenance of two clouds for one company. Putting them together could be a complex matter, however.
Ultimaker’s cloud involves a tight relationship with their slicing software, Ultimaker Cura, while MakerBot’s CloudPrint positions the slicing function in the cloud itself. These are two very different approaches.
One approach could be to go the MakerBot path and eliminate the standalone version of Ultimaker Cura and simply do it all in the cloud. However, as Ultimaker Cura is used by hundreds of third party machines there would likely be massive negative publicity if this were the approach taken. Because of this, I suspect it would be more likely to adapt the Ultimaker approach where there is standalone job preparation software that integrates with the cloud. However, they could also offer a cloud-based version of Ultimaker Cura for those MakerBot operators expecting cloud-based solutions.
This approach would enable the continued use of the growing complement of plugins available on the Ultimaker Cura Marketplace, which would be difficult to abandon. Would you want to tell all the participants their work is going away? Or has to be completely changed to work in on a different platform?
MakerBot Ultimaker Future
These are only a few of the major questions facing the newly merged Ultimaker and MakerBot operation. There is an enormous amount of work to do on both sides to arrive at an efficient single organization and product set.
Today I imagine there are some big thinkers in an office somewhere attempting to plot out all the things that have to be dealt with, and they will probably run out of whiteboards to list it all.