2012: 3D Printing’s Big Year

3D Printing & Imaging Technology Workshop

Two thousand and twelve was 3D printing’s breakout year. While still the realm of early adopters, the 3D-printed genie is clearly out of the bottle.

I checked in with several consumer-class 3D printer companies to see how 2012 went down for them and to get their thoughts on 2013 and beyond. Everyone I spoke with was extremely bullish about the future of 3D printing and some are already rolling out new models.

Following its celebrated debut on Kickstarter, Printrbot has continued to exceed founder Brook Drumm’s expectations.

“My expectation a year ago was zero because we’re only a year old,” he said.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 1.19.24 PM
Printrbot’s LC Plus printer.

Printrbot went on to sell about 3,000 printers in 2012 with sales of almost $1 million. Most sales were in December and January ’13 is on track to top that, Drumm said.

“The tech media is starting to cool their heels, but the mainstream is still getting into it,” he said.

Printrbot’s best sales have come from its low priced ($400) Printrbot Jr. model and there’s an even lower priced model to come. Printrbot  has targeted schools as part of its business plan with these value-priced printers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the company is gearing up to release the triple extruder Printrbot Pro, an all-metal, flagship printer that Drumm says will compete with MakerBot’s Replicator 2, but for a lot less money. He estimates it will cost $1,200-$1,500. He calls it the “kitchen sink” model.

Meanwhile, the company just went live with Makrz, an iPhone app with 30,000, open source 3D software files.

Speaking of MakerBot, the industry darling is  tight-lipped about its sales figures, but PR director Jenifer Howard said sales of the MakerBot Replicator 2 were “exceeding expectations.” According to data she gave MAKE, the company had 16 percent market share of all 3D printers (industrial and personal) from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, MakerBot had 21.6 percent market share, and in 2012,  MakerBot estimated it had 25 percent of the overall 3D printer market. Currently, there are more than 15,000 MakerBot 3D printers out in the wild, the company said.

San Francisco’s Type A is another newbie. COO Espen Sivertsten said, as a year-old company, he wanted to go slow and make sure they could meet customer expectations.

“We worry, in fact, that some of our competitors have scaled up too quickly and that as a result many customers have printers gathering dust,” he said. “A printer gathering dust is not a good introduction to the wonderful world of 3D printing!”

Type A Machines’ Series 1 3D printer.

Nevertheless, 2012 was a busy year for a company that doesn’t do any marketing. Sivertsten and others pointed to the publication of MAKE’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing as a key factor in the popularization of the technology. Starting at zero in January 2012, Type A sold more than 100 of its Series 1 printers.

“It just snowballed from there,” Sivertsten said. “It’s definitely been a good year for 3D printing.”

He said the challenge for 2013 will be explaining to the public what they actually do with 3D printers now that more people know what they are. To help do that, the company is headquartered on the 3rd floor of San Francisco’s Tech Shop where people are free to check out what the Type A crew is up to.

Even Portland’s Trinity Labs had a good year, considering they sold a printer that founder Ezra Zygmuntowicz said wasn’t “commercially viable.”

Zygmuntowicz founded the company in 2011 and was assembling a team to build a RepRap-style printer, but when he got the opportunity to sell the MendelMax printer, with its backlog of orders, he shifted gears. He sold about 350 kits for the MendelMax in 2012, but stopped taking orders in September. While he’s a fan of the printer, he said the dozens of hours required to assemble it from 400 parts sourced from 27 different vendors made it hard to get behind it as a consumer friendly printer.

Last month, Trinity Labs started taking orders for the printer Zygmuntowicz meant to sell in the first place, the Aluminatus. With a 320mm x 320mm x 350mm print capacity, it has one of the biggest print sizes on the market. It’s going to sell for about $2,200, but Zygmuntowicz offered discounts for pre-orders and he’s already sold more than 100 with plans to begin shipping this month.

“We sold the first 50 in ten days,” he said.

On New Year’s Eve, Trinity topped $100,000 in sales for one month, a record for the company.

“3D printing is really on fire and exploding right now,” Zygmuntowicz  said.

Trinity Labs also plans to release a “pocket printer” with a tiny 75mmX75mmX75mm print size that Ezra says makes it ideal for budget-conscious schools.

“It will literally fit in your pants pocket when it’s folded up,” he said.

Did you buy a 3D printer last year? Is one on your list for this year? Let us hear from you.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

  • 3D Printers Buyer's Guide — 15 Reviewed
  • Getting Started in 3D
  • Learn the Software Toolchain
  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

Buy now!

Just Released! 2014 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook


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