Formlabs Grows, Counts Millions in Sales Despite Patent Lawsuit

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3D printing itself has been one of those technology trends that seemed to get far too overhyped in the past few years, as enthusiastic tinkerers, entrepreneurs, and journalists declared that a new generation of manufacturing was around the corner, allowing consumers to just make spare parts, toys, and other everyday items on demand.

Formlabs’ promise seems to lie in the fact that it hasn’t really hitched its fortunes to a huge change in consumer behavior or spending patterns that would underlie such a wide-eyed future.

In both quality and price, the company’s product is clearly aimed at professionals in product design and engineering fields, who have already been using this technology for years to make prototypes and mockups of their projects.

While Formlabs’ prices of $3,300 for a printer and $150 for a liter of resin might seem steep for hobbyists, it’s much more affordable than some established competitors. Last year, I got price quotes for two of 3D Systems more entry-level printers that ranged from $16,000 to $19,000, with all the necessary accessories.

Established companies in the market have taken markedly different approaches to the new generation of 3D printing startups that have come charging into a previously quiet niche market. Stratasys, a competitor of 3D Systems, made a splash last year when it spent $400 million to buy Makerbot, a New York-based consumer 3D printing startup.

“Stratasys is taking more of a land-grab approach. They bought Makerbot so they could get a much larger install base in the rapid prototyping market, and so they could later sell more value-added services,” Forrester Research analyst Michael Yamnitsky says. “3D Systems has sort of taken a more careful approach.”

But even with established players like Stratasys and 3D Systems, there remains plenty of room for competitors to exploit the existing market of professionals and higher-level tinkerers. “When you look at the market, there really is no strong dominant player,” Forrester analyst Sophia Vargas says. “It really is anyone’s game, and folks haven’t really committed that much to any one type.”

Back at Formlabs headquarters, Lobovsky and company are seeing that market reality play out. The startup had a six-month backlog a year or so ago, but recently got the lead time for new printers down to about a month. The venture capital has allowed Formlabs to add salespeople and other staffers at a pace that wouldn’t have been possible with existing revenues alone. The company is growing into a more grown-up rhythm: sell printers, ship them, and nurture your customer base.

“It’s been a big evolution for the company, a big maturation,” Lobovsky says.

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