Monoprice was like a Banquo at the banquet for the European 3D printing community. The US-based company was making waves online with its inexpensive 3D printers but Monoprice itself was nowhere to be seen. Little understood or known, the company was selling tens of thousands of units. This changed at the TCT Show, where for the first time the team came over from the States to present its Monoprice printers and officially ship them to Europe.
Famous for its $219 Monoprice Select Mini 3D printers, the company couples a US-based retailer with white label production in China to get low cost 3D printers to people. At new price points Monoprice is pushing a part of the market significantly downward in unit price. The company initially gained traction by selling $199 printers to people who considered that amount to be squarely inside their impulse buy price range. Simultaneously hundreds of companies are doing similar things, selling clones or cheap printers direct from China with Chinese brands. Can Monoprice add some 3D printing engineering sauce and branding to its printers to stave off low cost competitors? Will this company attack the market from below and gain even more market share? And what is Monoprice exactly and what does it want to do?
Monoprice itself was founded in 2002 by Jong Lee and Seok Hong, initially selling HDMI cables. It was sold to internet company Blucora and later in 2016 to YFC-BonEagle. BonEagle is a Taiwanese cable company, a large seller of LAN, HDMI and other cables. It bought Monoprice for $40 million cash. This amount can surely be considered a steal because it gives BonEagle direct retail access to consumers. To me it seems like a brilliant move to go direct rather than be squeezed by retailers and OEMs. Also, if you can manage to make money on selling power cables then you’re probably a lot brighter than the average bear and have good low cost sourcing prowess. Monoprice now is a white label retailer for over 6500 products. Monoprice typically gets good reviews for inexpensive products and is continually expanding its product line up. The company rarely advertises and instead relies on recommendations and low cost to draw in consumers. On the negative side, there have been a number of lawsuits against the company for IP infringement and some of its products do seem a bit copy pastey.
Editor-in-Chief Sarah Goehrke and I spoke to International Sales Director Alessandro Gambaro and Vice President of Product Shane Igo to find out more.
“It is exciting for us that in the US with the Mini we have been the market leader since the last quarter. We’ll be releasing three new models in the coming months, starting with an SLA machine,” says Gambaro. “The last four years we have looked how to enter into 3D printing, with solid features that print right out of the box and a price at entry level, even at $200. We make tools, not toys, and our consumers really appreciate that.”
Monoprice machines use Cura and you can use any filament or slicing software. In addition to the US website they now have a UK one and will be launching in more countries soon.
On value proposition they believe that, “the community values features for the price, they are blown away by the price. A few years ago at this show, we saw similar features to this at 10 times the price. We see a lot of potential in this market. We’re new, learning, and looking to be successful.”In addition to makers they value the educational market, as Gambaro continued, “We see our printer can fit well in a teacher’s day-to-day job. Students can learn and be up to date in technology, and it fits a school’s budget.” In the future, “We’re coming out with three new models: dual extrusion printer for $1400, a top of the line one for $2000. SLA is very exciting and will have a launch around CES at a printer around the $500 price point.”
VP of Product Shane Igo adds that, “in the States, we have around 6,000 products; we obviously use 3D printing a lot for prototyping…We don’t anticipate a printer on every desk, but we’re on the way, and who knows, maybe someday. We want to start with a £220 machine; you don’t need a £2,000 Stratasys machine, you just need to get started and get ideas to come to life. Kids now are learning CAD in school, and 3D printing can make that real, we need to keep that passion going. For us, we see this as something growing this market. There are more people experiencing 3D printing, manufacturers proving that 3D printing makes sense.”
He even thinks that, “You can start a printer farm with 10 of our machines for a really economical space, without having to pay £20K for tooling.” He reiterates that Monoprice 3D printers are “tools not toys”; “tools we’re okay with people adjusting; we listen to the community, we modify all the time when we see these great ideas from the community.”
It is interesting that now even the printer retailers operating in the $200 space will reference enterprise and print farms. It is also notable that the same hacker spirit that we saw in the RepRap and Fab@Home early days is being referenced by Monoprice. Usually there is a stark delineation between open source companies and commercial ones, and Monoprice breaks the mold in this sense. Indeed if you look at one of the several MP Select Facebook communities, they’ve come up with hundreds of hacks, add ons and improvements to the systems by themselves. With their new $1400 and $2000 printers the Monoprice team seems sure to break into new territory in the coming months. But, will people buy these systems over others in the $1200 and $2500 price segment? This is the most competitive segment in 3D printing at the moment and contains a number of experienced well capitalized players.
By continually delivering value and extreme low cost Monoprice is pushing 3D printing into new pricing territory. By this point I completely believe that Monoprice has purchasing prowess. I also believe that currently its systems work so-so straight out of the box. But if you have some time and want to give a $200 printer some love I’ve found that the darned things actually work. The most interesting thing to me about Monoprice is not just its sheer pricing pressure. If the company coupled this together with engineering, development and quality control it could become a dominant player in our market, having taken a different path than other 3D printer players. The $200 price point may for a particular market segment become the new normal. This point could be the one where many more people join our industry. In this sense Monoprice has the potential to really expand our market. Will people stick with the brand, however? And will the company be able to sell printers at higher price points? Or is this a high point followed by an assault from Chinese companies at the same price point? These are things we do not as of yet know. Over the coming years we will see if Monoprice’s approach will let it push upward in price and market share. What do you think?
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]