The desktop 3D printer market is maturing. The top OEMs are on their third- or fourth-generation products, and now many of them are looking to build their global sales and support channels. This effort is driven by a need to compete with market leaders such as 3D Systems and Stratasys, and to stand out from the large crowd of second- and third-tier brands.
Announcements of partnerships provide insight into the global channel strategies of the 3D printer OEMs. All the companies making moves have a few things in common. First, they have their roots in the consumer market and they are all looking to build sales in the professional and education markets. They initially relied heavily on direct sales. And they all understand that survival likely means they need the ability sell and support their printers globally.
U.S.-based Formlabs followed up its introduction of its third-generation printer, the Form 2 (see “New Formlabs Form 2 3D Printer Ups the Ante for Low-End SLA Systems”), with an announcement on October 28 of five new resellers in five separate countries: Systematics in Israel, Build Volume in South Africa, 3Developer in South Korea, Creative Tools in Sweden, and 3bFAB in Turkey. In the United States, Formlabs has a direct-sales strategy because the company believes it is the best way to ensure consistently good service and support.
It is much harder for any 3D company to match its local distribution, service, and support capabilities outside its native country’s borders. For this reason, Formlabs chooses is overseas channel partners carefully. “We look for partners who value long-term relationships with their customers,” said Luke Winston, sales and operations lead at Formlabs. “We train and collaborate with our partners to ensure a great experience. These partners are often able to offer more than we do as an OEM thanks to their training and local support capabilities.”
All of Formlabs’ new partners are well-established in the 3D printing field. All carry other leading 3D brands and offer a range of services and supplies. Systematics also offers other products and services in CAD/PLM and model-based design, both of which are tied tightly to 3D printing. These companies clearly have the experience, track record, and infrastructure to succeed as channel partners.
Aleph Objects, the OEM of the Lulzbot 3D printer brand, last week announced its printers would be sold through the Micro Center retail chain, boosting its presence in the United States. Lulzbot is one of the better-known brands of inexpensive 3D printers thanks in part to a global retail/reseller strategy. Based in the United States, Aleph Objects has channel partners in 85 countries.
Aleph Objects’ strategy is not focused on any one type of channel. In the U.S., for example, you can buy Lulzbot printers through online retailers such as Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers such as Micro Center, or resellers such as Designbox3D. Aleph Objects’ objective is clearly to cast a wide distribution net.
Some OEMs are getting creative by working with partners that might not seem obvious fits at first. Taiwan’s XYZprinting just completed a nationwide Mini Maker Faire hosted by U.S. book retailer Barnes & Noble, which sells XYZprinting’s DaVinci-branded 3D printers and supplies. The event had an education focus and was intended to show how 3D printing could be used in the classroom and everyday lives—all in support of the XYZprinting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program. XYZprinting STEAM, currently in beta, is an online curriculum to support 3D printing education.
Although its parent company Kinpo Group has a long history in electronics manufacturing, XYZprinting is a relative newcomer to 3D printing having started in 2013. Since then, it has built a global channel partner network of resellers and retailers. Working with channel partners to execute creative promotions like the Mini Maker Faire is an effective way to stand out from the crowd and strengthen partner relationships.