colorFabb’s Strategy: 3D Materials or 3D Printers?

I read an interesting announcement from Aleph Objects and colorFabb that begs a question about the latter’s strategy.

Aleph Objects is, of course, the producers of the very popular line of LulzBot desktop 3D printers. These are very well regarded machines that have proceeded well through a number of increasingly powerful iterations, leading up to today’s flagship model, the TAX 6.

colorFabb is a manufacturer of high-quality 3D printer filament in a wide variety of materials. The company has historically been one of the leaders in exploring new types of materials. They often experiment with something new, tune it up and transform it into a popular product.

colorFabb is actually associated with Helian Polymers, a Netherlands-based company focused on producing a variety of polymers, including bioplastics. The two companies actually share an address in the Netherlands near the German border. As you might imagine, this combination of 3D print and plastics expertise is a large part of their success.

But something happened last summer: colorFabb began selling 3D printers themselves. They struck a deal with Stacker, a USA-based startup offering an interesting multi-headed machine.

At the time I thought it was unusual for a plastics manufacturer to branch out into equipment. However, it does make sense: desktop 3D printers don’t work without filament, and 3D printer filament companies don’t work unless there are 3D printers for their products.

As a major supplier of 3D printer filament, colorFabb does receive a lot of traffic from interested 3D printer operators. And those are people who may want to buy new equipment as well as filament.

In fact, one of colorFabb’s claims to fame is printing reliability: lousy filament almost always results in poor or even failed prints, and colorFabb’s products have a reputation of being very reliable.

Thus their clients likely include many who seek reliability.

What if colorFabb were to offer equipment that would carry their reputation for reliability? How could colorFabb NOT recommend a good, reliable machine? It seems that this is a powerful position to be in, if one were to consider selling 3D printers as well as filament.

Now back to the announcement. Aleph Objects announced that colorFabb is to be their European distributor. This increases the printers sold by colorFabb to four: two Stackers and now the LulzBot Mini and TAZ 6.

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