Much has been made of the poor financial results of the consumer arms of the industry’s biggest companies, some doomsayers suggest that there just isn’t a market out there for desktop 3D printers yet, others think there might never be one. Those cynics only need to cast their eyes over the books at Colorado-based Aleph Objects with its LulzBot series of machines to see that not only does a market exist but brand loyalty is as rife in 3D printing as with other consumer electronics.
LulzBot is perhaps less glamorous than some machine manufacturers, who hog the column inches, whose CEOSs have seen movies made about them, the Taz series and Mini machines are workhorses eschewing whistles and bells in order to bring a machine that does everything that it says it does. The glamour and the hype is not the end goal, particularly not from Aleph Objects CEO Jeff Moe. “We are firmly committed to a positive user experience with our products,” Moe told TCT. “From our thorough quality assurance processes to offering phone support seven days a week, we have found that focusing on our customers has enabled rapid growth.” Rapid growth is something of an understatement, in the past two years, a period which has seen a great deal of desktop 3D printing startups fold, CEOs leave and rather brutal staff cuts across the industry, Aleph Objects has experienced sales of over $1.6 million in the month of September 2015 and $3.9 million in Q3 2015. Overall, the company surpassed $10 million in sales year-to-date (through Q3 2015) compare this to total sales of $523,706 in the whole of 2012 and you see very clearly a company going places.
Lulzbot TAZ and Quote
Speciality material - a driving force
It was a passion for open-source that led Jeff Moe to 3D printing and this passions runs through every single aspect of how the company is run, from the people it partners with to the latest hardware and software innovations. “As a long-time advocate for Free Software and Open Source Hardware, when I first learned about the RepRap project I wanted to try to build my own as soon as I could,” the CEO said. “After building my first printer and seeing my first print come off the bed, I was inspired by the possibilities and began assembling a team to build an Open Source Hardware company informed by decades of work from the Free Software community. It is exciting to be here nearly five years later, with 93 employees at the company.” One such employee is VP of Marketing at Aleph Objects, Harris Kenny, who I recently met with on a trip to London to demo the company’s newly launched LulzBot Flexystruder v2 Tool Head. That tool head is designed to optimise printing
with one of the world’s most popular flexible filaments, NinjaFlex, LulzBot’s commitment to opening up the machine to work with as many materials as possible sets it apart from many other offerings. “Specialty materials are clearly driving interest in LulzBot 3D printers,” explained Kenny. “We have seen customers essentially start with a specific material in mind, then seek a printer that is most capable of printing with that material. The LulzBot TAZ and LulzBot Mini are so versatile, many customers are happy to learn that our 3D printers can handle that specific material, and dozens more.” This theory is propped up by fact; 25% of filament sales through Lulzbot’s online store are in specialty materials beyond ABS and PLA. “We are proud to partner with companies like CC-Products, ColorFabb, eSUN, NinjaTek, Proto-pasta, Taulman 3D,” said Kenny. “All of whom are actively working to bring new materials to the market. We are also eager to see new companies emerge with unique solutions.”
Seal of approval
Open Source, Jeff Moe's passion
LulzBot’s most recent partnership sees them team up with Micro Center and its 25 store locations throughout the US. Customers will be able to walk into the electronics department store and pick up a LulzBot Taz 5 or LulzBot Mini safe in the knowledge that not only will they be covered by LulzBot’s exceptional warranty offerings but the aforementioned seven-days-a-week support team will be on hand to help the user out with any issues.
According to Lead 3D Printing Analyst at Canalys, Joe Kempton a good warranty structure should not be underestimated: “Both 3D Systems’ and Stratasys’ consumer arms have struggled because of their high price points and strange refund policies, this led to a lot dissatisfaction from prosumers and consumers in both the brand and the future of them as reliable vendors to buy into.” The thing is about LulzBot is, the owners of their machines don’t complain, they don’t go elsewhere for modifications, they don’t launch internet campaigns criticising the customer service because they work and LulzBot are constantly improving on the design in the most free and open-nature possible. CEO Jeff Moe’s dedication to a fully open approach to hardware and software has seen Aleph Objects become the first ever hardware company to receive the prestigious Respects Your Freedom certification from the Free Software Foundation, Moe thinks that you ignore this community at your peril:
“The desktop 3D printing industry is undeniably built and advanced by Free/Libre/Open Source hardware and software communities. Collaboration is the standard and innovation thrives in open environments. Companies that choose to ostracize themselves and reject this philosophy put themselves on a difficult path.”