I recently saw the $185/mo ad for a Stratasys Mojo printer. Stratasys is beginning to respond to the home/small business market, and Mojo is their offering. On the surface, it sounds like a great printer. 0.004″ layer height ( .1016mm ), ABSPlus ( A stratasys patented ABS blend, I think — I’m guessing more dimensionally stable ), integrated spool/head/seal ( so moisture can’t get in ), Modified PVA support material ( so it won’t degrade in air ), a fully heated build chamber ( so there are no thermal stresses on the 3d printed parts as they cool — no curl/bulge typical of ABS on RepRap devices ). Sounds like a good deal!
But then came the problems. It’s $185/mo for 60 months — 11K. Each Kg of material sells for $500. You need to buy print-beds, as they are a consumable in the device ( they print ABS to ABS, and eventually, the bed wears down. ) 5″ x5″ x5″ build area ( smaller than a Prusa! ) PC only ( no mac/linux support ), proprietary software ( no ability to use your own, either — so you can’t run it on a Mac no matter what. )
So, I took one of my STL files and used it to see how much it would cost, in pure raw materials only, from different 3d print processes. You couldn’t actually get parts printed this cheap and in your hands — there’s a lot more to that, and it can cost as much as 20-30x to actually get a part mailed to you from a 3d print service ( since they have to pay for the printers. Some of these processes have printers that cost 250-500K, need 3 phase power, are the size of a walk-in closet, and need experienced operators. ) The RepRap process used around $2.00 of raw material. A polyamide process would use around $5 of raw material. The Stratasys process would use around $15.00 in raw materials. If you had the part printed for you as a service in the US, ShapeWays ceramic process ( very weak parts ) would be the cheapest at $22 plus shipping, the ShapeWays polyamide process would cost around $60, and on average, a Stratasys print would start around $80 and up, depending on the service provider.
I then had samples sent to me from an industrial class Stratasys device, but not the Mojo, and compared it to samples from my RepRap device. Makerbots are a RepRap device, based on the RepRap Darwin design ( Aka RepRap 1.0 ). RepRap project is now on version 3.0, based on the Prusa i3, and MakerBot has modified Darwin so heavily, that I’m not sure it can be called a Darwin anymore. I’ve also seen samples from a MakerBot replicator and an Ultimaker — so I now have a really good comparison between the technologies. Stratays is the best — their industrial process is far beyond what Makerbot or RepRap can do. It’s not even close — they’re far better. Of course, you and I can’t run their industrial process — it’s a huge machine that takes up a room. Mojo isn’t supposed to be as good as their top-of-the line industrial machine. My best guess, Mojo and Makerbot’s replicator 2 are comparable for unsupported parts. But, if you need supported parts, then MakerBot/RepRap is too experimental at this stage for that type of parts. I think MakerBot/RepRap supported prints will become normal in about 1 year. The experiments are already under way right now, and I think the Open Source world will have it as normal/common within the year. Stratasys has several advancements that make the printer run well in all environments. RepRaps do not run well in cold, humid environments. I do not recommend a RepRap if your shop is under 55 degrees or has above 80% relative humidity for long periods of time. The filament will degrade in the RepRap/MakerBot design in those conditions. Your shop will need a de-humidifier/dry room to run a RepRap/Makerbot device at top quality for an extended period of time. So, to close — if you have a warm, dry room and don’t need support, then the MakerBot is the better choice right now. If you need supported prints, then the Stratasys device right now, though in a year, that will likely change.
So, this all leads me to wonder — how will Stratasys survive? The open source community is right on its heels — With MakerBot making a printer that is as good, but much cheaper, and many other RepRap style devices coming up. With the patents on many processes expiring ( or functionally dead. Solider process, for example, is likely patent-dead, given the failure of the entity that has the rights ), allowing many high resolution processes to enter the fray — tempting people to offer 3d Print services. I think the old guard is in serious trouble. Stratasys has only one way to survive — they must expand the market. But I don’t think they can/will. They’re in the IBM days when Microsoft came along — and I think they’ll stay there. Mojo does not seem to be a good enough answer to the open source threat — its quality is unknown ( no Mojo print samples in the wild, and they’re hard to get. ), its price is high, and other than what the ABSPlus material and “kiln” cooling cycle, doesn’t seem to offer an advantage over the open-source version of the process.
I think Stratasys will soon be in trouble. They currently earn about $44 million a quarter in revenue — MakerBot might earn $1 million in the same time. But, I think time is on MB’s side here. This is “disruptive” change happening due to a “generic” coming on market. As SSYS starts to die, a patent war should also start. I may pick up some put options on SSYS…