The number of 3D printing startups continues to grow. Here are the most promising 3D printing companies you should watch, with notes on their current status.
Although 3D printing itself is a relatively new technology, invented three decades ago, its mass market potential is only just beginning to be realized,
The first to recognise this opportunity have launched 3D printing startups, and some of those startups have already grown into larger and established international 3D printing companies. Others are still in the early stages, but hold great hopes for a future that is just beginning to unfold.
Let’s take a look at how the current players are doing, and their respective gains and setbacks. On this list are 3D printer manufacturers, plus 3D printing services and shops. There are also online software tools and networks, bioprinter makers, plus great 3D printing ideas for new products.
Let us know in the comments if we missed anyone!
Rising 3D Printing Companies #1: Formlabs
Founded by MIT graduates in 2011 after a very successful Kickstarter run, Formlabs is the first 3D printing company to bring stereolithographic 3D printing to a mass market. From a purely numerical standpoint, the Massachusetts based company has already sold more SLA 3D printers than all other SLA 3D printers cumulatively sold since the technology was invented in 1986. Today, it has offices and two assembly plants in the US and Europe (with the European HQ in Berlin).
Rising 3D Printing Companies #2: Shapeways
Founded in 2007 as a spin-out from the lifestyle incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, Shapeways is financed by many large investors (including Hewlett Packard). Although its business model is entirely new, the 3D printing company has successfully established factories in both Europe (Eindhoven) and the US (NYC), with several industrial grade SLS, SLA, binder jetting, MJM and FDM 3D printers. In fact, Shapeways has almost single-handedly created the idea of B2C (business to consumer) 3D printing service.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #3: 3D Hubs
3D Hubs is the brainchild of Brian Garret and Bram De Zwart. Like Shapeways, it originates from The Netherlands. 3D Hubs plans to do for additive manufacturing what Airbnb and Uber did for hotels and cars — enable people to interact directly with each other in order to obtain services, and to leverage the widespread availability of 3D printers. The 3D printing company successfully closed two rounds of financing (collecting several million dollars), and the number of registered hubs (personal 3D printers and 3D printing services) has been growing exponentially, currently nearing 25,000.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #4: Carbon 3D
When talking about 3D printing startups, it’s not necessary for them to be already established for inclusion on this list. Some are in consideration for their potential, others for the investments they have collected. For Carbon 3D it is both of these; the 3D printing company co-founded by CEO Joseph De Simone combines molecular science research with hardware and software technology to propose a system that could 3D print up to 100 times faster than current methods. This has attracted the attention of Giants such as Autodesk and Google, who have invested $10 million and $100 million respectively to bring Carbon 3D’s CLIP technology to market. This new approach, however, is still very much in development.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #5: Ultimaker
In a global scene where there are literally hundreds of FDM (fused deposition modeling) based desktop 3D printers, what makes a 3D printer company stand out — taking for granted the actual quality and reliability of the machine — is how well people recognise the brand. Ultimaker has certainly made a name for itself as a manufacturer of some of the best 3D printers you can buy, and it is very likely (although there is no certain data available) the current leading startup in the segment. But to retain pole position in the long term, Ultimaker has a complex challenge to maintain its public commitment to open source hardware and software, whilst also staying at the forefront of innovation.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #6: Zortrax
As FDM technology evolves, new manufacturers are offering desktop 3D printers that are more reliable and stable. For little over €2,000, the M200 from Polish company Zortrax has an almost completely plug-and-play solution that rivals some of the more expensive professional-grade systems from industry leaders Stratasys and 3D Systems. The 3D printer company is rapidly making a name for itself, with an unabashed commitment to ABS filaments and proprietary hardware/software, and has made large sales to household names like Dell. The big question is whether Zortrax will be able to continue offering such an attractive price-to-quality ratio with future models.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #7: Local Motors
When first announced, the idea of 3D printing an entire car as a single piece seemed like just another media stunt. And yet it proved to be not only successful, but also one of the most daring and potentially disruptive initiatives in 3D printing.Local Motors is already a solid company that offers a co-creative car customization online workspace for designers, engineers and enthusiasts. With Strati, the first 3D printed car, it showed that fully 3D printed cars are not the stuff of the future but a fascinating project to work on in the present. However, the real test is to win over car-makers in one of the world’s most conservative industries.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #8: MyMiniFactory
MyMiniFactory and the iMakr store, led by founder Sylvain Preumont, makes up an ambitious network that encompasses both 3D modeling and 3D printing. MyMiniFactory is primarily a curated database of 3D printable models, as well as an academy for young designers who want to learn how to design 3D printable, physical objects. These activities are growing significantly and are proving synergistic to iMakr’s distribution and 3D printing service business. In other words, Preumont has blazed a trail for other 3D printing services to follow.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #9: Aleph Objects
With its Lulzbot range, Colorado-based company Aleph Objects is currently America’s favorite open source desktop FDM 3D printer manufacturer. Founded by Jeff Moe, the 3D printer company’s goal is to produce all types of electronic and mechanical hardware using a fully open source approach. This is working out great so far; Aleph Objects is growing extremely fast and selling thousands of its Lulzbot Mini and Luzlbot Taz machines, which sacrifice an elegant appearance for reliability and quality. Its greatest asset is being based in the U.S., a highly receptive market for the open source category of products, while the biggest challenge is to maintain pace with the evolution of the market.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #10: Doob Group
It may not be as well known as the other 3D printing companies in this top 10, but Doob Group is a 3D scanning startup based in Düsseldorf, Germany that has achieved some spectacular results so far, especially with respect to the huge business of 3D selfies. While there are other successful startups in this segment, for example another German company Twinkind, Doob is the only one that offers fully tailored solutions — both with 3D software and 3D printing — as well as several branded stores with its proprietary “Dooblicator” photogrammetric 3D scanner. These stores are located in some of the biggest world capitals, including New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin and Barcelona. The physical photography business is just beginning, and Doob is poised to be at the forefront of its evolution
Rising 3D Printing Companies #11: Sculpteo
Sculpteo followed a similar path to Shapeways as an online 3D printing service, except it hails from Paris, France, instead of Holland, and it expanded to San Francisco instead of New York City. Sculpteo also offers more B2B solutions, including the option to use its Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printers for small serial production. Establishing itself as a business solutions company may have been important to ensure long-term sustainability, but it has also resulted in less visibility to the general public.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #12: Whiteclouds
Founded by Jerry Ropelato, the man who created a media empire in the early days of the web with sites such as Space.com and Tom’s Hardware, Whiteclouds focuses solely on offering a full color 3D printing service. The strategy works, and Whiteclouds recently become the biggest full color 3D printing service in the world, expanding its range of full color Projet 660, 860 and 4500 3D printers from 10 to 24 machines. Although the competition is mounting, the future looks bright (and in full color) for this Utah-based 3D printing company.
Prospects: Very Good
Rising 3D Printing Companies #13: Winsun
Now we start getting into startups that are rated more for their future potential more than for their current business. One of these is Winsun, the Chinese company that has — so far — built the largest cement structures using 3D printing technology. A full size villa and a five story building seems like just the beginning, especially since it uses a sustainable type of concrete recycled from construction waste.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #14: Biobots
Biobots is on this list because it’s the first company to disrupt the young and booming bioprinting industry, by launching the first low-cost 3D bioprinter. The Biobots 1 is not meant to replace higher cost machines such as EnvisionTEC’s bioplotter, but to enable more and more researchers to begin experimenting with 3D cellular biological structures. This field is still in a very early phase, and yet it holds an enormous potential for further development. The only real risk for Biobots is the competition from other manufacturers that will inevitably arise.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #15: Voxel8
The pneumatic extrusion 3D printing process can be implemented in several different applications. One is bioprinting, another is clay printing. Born out of the Harvard Lewis Lab, which actually specializes in bioprinting research, Voxel8 uses this technology to extrude printable electronics as well as polymer materials. This means it can potentially create a functional electronic part in a single process. This amazing potential attracted Autodesk’s Spark Investment fund, which contributed with $10 million to its further development. At the moment, the technology seems still far from actual commercialization, but the team is working hard.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #16: Sharebot
Getting back to hard reality, Sharebot is a 3D printing startup that rapidly became the largest low-cost 3D printer manufacturer in Italy, and has even began international expansion by opening a branch in Germany. What makes Sharebot different from other startups is that it didn’t stop at low-cost FDM 3D printers. After introducing three FDM models, the company developed and launched several Digital Light Processing (DLP), SLS and SLA 3D printers. While this far-reaching strategy has enabled the company to prosper in its early phases, continued growth will depend on its ability to fully industrialize and scale up.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #17: WASP
Sharebot’s alter ego in the very dynamic Italian market is WASP, a company dreams of saving the world. Don’t believe us? WASP actually stands for “World’s Advanced Saving Project”. Founder Massimo Moretti’s focus is on developing a huge 3D printer to create low-cost housing units using low energy and local resources. However, the 3D printing company also makes some of the best low-cost delta 3D printers, and the only ones that can also implement a truly efficient system for pneumatic extrusion of clay. They have recently begun expansion overseas to the U.S. market.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #18: Kabuku (Rinkak)
Based in Japan, Rinkak is the largest 3D printing service and marketplace in Asia. In other words, it is a sort of Shapeways tailored to a very receptive Asian public. Kabuku, the company behind it, has begun expansion to the West after successfully closing a significant round of investments for around $2 million in 2014. It has since continued to offer new services, which enable anyone with a professional 3D printer sitting idle to collaborate.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #19: CELLINK
When we said Biobots should look out for competitors, we meant companies like CELLINK. This Swedish startup began by developing a commercial “consumable” for bioprinters. In other words a low cost “hydrogel” that could be used in several different open systems. After that, they went the extra mile and launched a low-cost bioprinter. Now they are already starting to pursue the idea of a Thingiverse-like database of biomodels, as well as the business of commercial bioprinting services.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #20: Makie Labs
One of the first 3D printed consumer products to hit the market, Makie Dolls also has the distinction of being a new mainstream toy product not produced by a major toy giant like Disney, Hasbro, or Mattel. Production has been increasing (but now the body of the dolls are made by injection molding), plus potential business applications for the Makie Dolls editor software as well. The real hard part, however, is not manufacturing but marketing. Makie Labs founder Alice Taylor and her team in London compete with toymakers whose budgets are substantially greater.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #21: Body Labs
Based in New York City, Body Labs is at the forefront of technology that makes it easier to create virtual copies of oneself, either to use in health and fitness or for online shopping. Both applications can result in either virtual or 3D printed physical products, customized according to one’s exact body measurements and data. But whether this approach will find the mass adoption they seek remains to be seen.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #22: 3DPrinterOS
Both the personal computer and the mobile device eras have seen technology companies that “dominate” hardware platforms through proprietary software: Windows, MacOS/iOS and Android were the keys to PCs, mobile phones and tablets. 3DPrinterOS is leading the charge of 3D printing companies that want to create a universal, open operating system for 3D printers that is both easy to use and complete. It’s a daunting task, but it has to start somewhere.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #23:Astroprint/3DaGoGo
Astroprint is the biggest competitor to 3DPrinterOS at this time. The service relies less on cloud services, but it can count on the support and experience deriving from 3DaGoGo, an online 3D model marketplace.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #24: BeeVeryCreative
BeeVeryCreative was the first 3D printing company to envision the idea of a consumer 3D printer that was easy to use, reliable and stylish. When the Portuguese company first launched BeeTheFirst onto the market in 2013, perhaps it was still too early. Today, however, the time may have come for their machine to really “be the first” 3D printer for the home.
Rising 3D Printing Companies #25: 3DSlash
3DSlash is a 3D printing startup from Paris, France, with one simple but brilliant idea. To develop cloud-based 3D modeling software that’s as easy to use as a set of LEGO bricks or a game of Minecraft. And once you’re done, it’s a simple process to convert the model into an STL file for 3D printing or to send the file directly to a 3D printing service. There’s a working beta of the software already available, on desktop computers and tablets, and plans are underway to collaborate with various partners in bringing 3DSlash to as wide an audience as possible.
About the Author
This article was written by Victor Anusci of All3DP.com. Born in Paris in a family originating from Poland, Victor Anusci develops an early passion for the digital arts while working in his father’s photographic studio. In 2002, he moves to Haifa, Israel, where he begins collaborating with newspapers and websites specializing in photography. During this time he develops a passion for 3D printing technologies, which has led him to join the team at All3DP.com. see more.