Ultimaker has launched the Ultimaker 2+ Connect, a single extrusion, wireless-enabled, touchscreen 3D printer priced at $2,400. The Ultimaker lineup now has the costlier and more advanced S3 and the high-end S5, but is now joined by a capable entry-level system. The printer has a better feeder and is essentially an evolution of the much loved Ultimaker 2 with a 223 x 220 x 205 mm build volume. The printer will be manufactured in the Netherlands and the U.S.
The new printer works together with the Ultimaker Digital Factory which lets users manage groups of machines even in different locations. Through Ultimaker Academy, users can receive free training on using the systems.
Ultimaker CEO Jos Burger said of the new system:
“True progress happens when reliable technology is accessible to everyone, everywhere. By seriously upgrading our most popular single extrusion 3D printer while maintaining affordable pricing, educators and small enterprises can keep getting their hands-on powerful entry-level 3D printers that simply work, day and night.”
Ultimaker is aiming the printer at university and company print labs as a cost-effective but reliable way to let students or employees print. At the same time, the printer could be used for single nozzle manufacturing applications in print farms. The printer takes 0.25 mm, 0.4mm, 0.6 mm and 0.8 mm nozzles. It also comes with the Ultimaker 2+ Connect Air Manager, which is a costly cover of $450 that can reduce printer emissions and keep users away from nozzles.
On the whole, I think that this is a great announcement. A better Ultimaker 2 is what a lot of people need and want. The sturdy Ultimaker 2 systems are easy to use, reliable, have high uptime, and last for years. I can really see such a system working well in universities, for example. There, a higher cost solution with lower maintenance and higher uptime would make a lot of sense. In my mind, Ultimaker reigns supreme on the desktop in companies, but they will need universities in the future. If universities switch to a different brand, then Ultimaker would be very vulnerable to a large player coming in below in price but with enough quality to cater to the tens of thousands of universities and other educational institutions worldwide. As Apple has shown us, universities and education are a powerful but large niche market that can incubate future market dominance. Universities care about reliability and quality and want things to last—exactly the kinds of characteristics that can make a good 3D printer company a better one. At the same time, as we’ve seen with SOLIDWORKS, university exposure can have huge enterprise market effects, as well, as students become employees.
We can all surmise that the next generation of Pro printers for the enterprise will be offered by not only Ultimaker, but a whole host of new entrants to that segment (see our 2020 Desktop 3D Printer Buyer’s Guide). Along with BCN3D’s interesting workstation concept, there will be offerings from XYZPrinting and a host of other competitors. To me, the future of Enterprise printing will be fought in the halls of academia. Who wins there will hold the key to future market dominance in both segments.
Having said that, I do think that the Ultimaker 2+ Connect, especially with the air manager, feels expensive. There are print farm operators that are looking at $250 Anet or Creality systems, for example. Their way of thinking is “I’ll buy ten of these for a single Ultimaker 2+ Connect and pull one out if it doesn’t work.” Also, for both the university and print farm segment, I love the Prusa Mini, which is also a workhorse and very reliable but comes in at $349. So you could get seven of those for one Connect. Through software and service Ultimaker could shore up its proposition, but even just looking at this market now they have competition on their hands.
Ultimaker has had a bit of luck of lately that Raise3D‘s initial inertia has not built up into something more. Very credible competition from Craftbot, whose printers I love, was hampered when the company made its printers too complex and too expensive. Also, the Makerbot Method is actually quite good as a system, but this has not been recognized by the market, perhaps due to some Makerbot hate still coursing through our veins. BCN3D may yet outflank Ultimaker if it offers real quality and service in a larger but ultimately lower operating cost solution as well. This gives Ultimaker a huge opportunity to forge ahead while others try to figure out where the future is.
For print farms, I really do think that the Prusa Mini or higher quality versions of entry level printers provide great economics there. But, yes the Ultimaker 2+ Connect is a good step, especially for universities, and will do much to ensure that Ultimaker has a good lineup to offer to that crucial market.
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