Caribou appears to be shutting down.
The Germany-based operation has been in business for eight years, producing a range of 3D printers and associated hardware. Their current flagship 3D printer is the CaribouIDEX, a dual extrusion device. They also provide upgrade kits for their earlier models, which are all similar in design to the Prusa i3 series.
In an announcement last week, Caribou3D founder Wolfgang Schadow explained:
“Today I have the sad task of announcing that we are closing our web shop caribou3d.com.”
Schadown then explained the causes of the shutdown:
“The last 8 months have been very exhausting, and we have also tried to survive with new products in a changed 3D print market. The end user market has changed a lot with certain products that have also been very hyped on YouTube.
There are some new products, which from my point of view have only the goal of attacking the previous market and to push the brands and product developers out of the market. The customer is initially happy about low prices, but in the medium term, innovation and diversity will disappear as a result and the open source idea is also endangered.
In the end, the customer depends on certain manufacturers and their pricing strategy and availability of spare parts. We don’t have the size or the budget to keep up with this price and cut-throat competition. Unfortunately, at the end of our business operations to date, we are making a significant loss, which I can no longer justify.
In the last almost 6 years we have achieved a lot. From an idea in the attic, we have brought many new ideas and improvements to the printers and ended up with over 12,000 registered customers in our web store.”
What happens next? It seems the company is having a liquidation sale on their website, but the company itself won’t go away. Schadow continues:
”The Caribou brand, the Facebook groups github, dozuki will continue to exist. I am sure we will find a way to share newer developments as well. Our main focus will be development for business customers and research projects.”
What to make of this? I suspect this is one of many 3D printer manufacturer failures we will be seeing over the next year or two. The competition in the market has been fierce, and it is extremely challenging for Western companies to meet the price levels of increasingly capable equipment produced in Asia’s lower cost environment.
The CaribouIDEX machine, for example, is priced at €2665 (US$3000), which is significantly higher than competing non-IDEX machines. While the Caribou device includes plenty of highly-regarded components, it seems that’s no longer a formula for business success.
My thought is that there are changing quality levels at play here. Years ago, inexpensive machines from Asia were truly not good. They were unreliable, produced not great output and in some cases were unsafe — and some caught on fire! The response from Western companies was to produce “better” machines with more reliable components to overcome those issues.
That approach has worked, at least until now. Over time we’ve seen the quality of the Asian machines steadily increase. They do not catch fire, are more reliable and can produce outstanding quality prints. Recent machines also offer high speed printing and many convenience features.
It just might be that the quality levels achieved by the Asian manufacturers are now sufficient for most people’s use, negating the previous component advantage approach used by Western companies.
If that’s the case, then we may see the collapse of more companies in this situation.