In a letter sent to customers last week, Aleph Objects, makers of the Lulzbot 3D printer, said they were streamlining operations:
Aleph Objects Inc. has reduced its staff as of today. Please be assured we will continue to manufacture and sell the LulzBot Mini 2, Workhorse and Pro series of printers and will continue to service the equipment as we are negotiating new ownership opportunities. All warranties will continue to be honored and the standard one year warranty will be included with all new printer purchases.
The numbers revealed by the Reporter Herald in Loveland, Colorado paint a dark picture: 80 percent of Aleph Object’s staff, or 91 of 113 employees, have been laid off due to cash flow problems. All departments still have personnel, and there is about $5M in finished goods and materials, but Lulzbot is on the ropes. A liquidation is expected at the end of the month.
The Current State of 3D Printers
In 2012, during the heyday of 3D printers, Lulzbot was one of, if not the 3D printer company. The company started off building components for 3D printers including hobbed gears and hot ends before breaking out into kit printers that looked very similar to the RepRap Mendel. I say this as one of Lulzbot’s first customers: Lulzbot was pretty great. Since then, the company has moved onto the Taz line of printers, The Taz Mini, and recently the Luzbot Biofabrication printer, a printer for bioactive liquids and gels and a printer whose future seems to be on hold at the moment.
Elsewhere in the 3D printing community, Ultimaker has been around for nearly as long selling high-quality printers and Josef Prusa has cornered the market as the standard 3D printer you should buy. During this time, 3D printers have popped up from Asian factories for a fraction of the price. These days, if you want a 3D printer, it’s a $300 drop-shipped purchase from Amazon. The Lulzbot Taz 6 sold for $2500. Obviously, the market decided.
Contributions to Open Source
Aleph Objects and Lulzbot are, or were, remarkable for their contributions to Open Source. Every printer released was Open Hardware, and every piece of software was released with an Open license. Engineered drawings for every part are available. The Luzbot was the first piece of hardware to ever receive a Respects Your Freedom certification from the Free Software Foundation. Lulzbot took Open Source to the extreme, with developers working on Open Source projects that weren’t necessarily part of the Lulzbot ecosystem.
However, these contributions to Open Source may have a price. There are rumors that it may be possible to look to outside investors, but these investors aren’t interested in being a completely big-O Open company. There is no IP, and there is nothing to keep another company from taking the best of what Lulzbot offered and repackaging it as their own.
The future looks dim for what was once the biggest and most successful Open Hardware companies, and it will be a shame to see Lulzbot die. However, if there is one saving grace from all of this, the hardware is, after all, Open. Those printers won’t die just because the company did.