Budget 3D printer which raised R18m on Kickstarter runs into financial woes

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In 2013 Pirate3D created a Kickstarter campaign for what seemed like an amazing product. The Buccaneer 3D printer looked awesome by the standards of 3D printer design at the time, and cost a fraction of what better known 3D printer brands did. The campaign sought to raise $100 000 (R1 30o 000), but ended up with a record-breaking $1 438 765 (R18 000 000) by the time it finished. What made the promise of the Buccaneer so special was its ease of use and very low price of entry; $297 (R3 886) paid for a full 3D printer, a printing cartridge and delivery to USA, Canada or Singapore.

Considering that now, in 2015, one of the cheapest printers (from a well known manufacturer, sans delivery) still costs around R7 000, the Buccaneer looks too good to be true, and that’s exactly what it is.

With the first batch of Buccaneers slated for delivery in December 2013,  by the time September 2014 rolled around, only 200 printers had been shipped. Now, in 2015, 60% of the backers are still waiting to take delivery.

In an update posted on the original Kickstarter campaign pages this week, Pirate3D discusses what happened to the project. The post is only available to view if you happened to be a backer of the original campaign, luckily TechCrunch managed to grab a screenshot.

According to the statement Pirate3D has “hit a major cash flow issue and to continue, [will] need to source for new finding”. This cash problem is attributed to over ambition, spending too much on research and development, and uneconomical shipping costs.

The company has had to stop operations for two months, and will need to remain that way for another “1-2 quarters” (three to six months).

In this storm of finical mess, Pirate3D is insistent that the backers will still receive their printers, but it won’t be the promised Buccaneer. In another update on the Kickstarter page, the company stated that it is going to design an entirely new new product:

Brendan Goh, the co-founder of Pirate3D

This move may seem strange; why go and create a new product when you couldn’t even create the one that was promised? Well, because of Kickstarter’s older terms of service, Pirate3D will be forced to either refund their backers or provide them with an order (any order, it seems). The big question is weather or not creating this new product, from scratch, will cost less than a simple refund.

Quentin Harley, Founder and Technical Director of local 3D printer company Morgan 3D Printers knows his fair share about the printing business, and added some insight into why Pirate3D may be experiencing their current problems:

3D printers are technically actually quite simple devices… All you really need to sell 3D printers is a good printer design, a way to make them, and some capital to fund it all, and that is where the Kickstarter came in. When you plan for crowdfunding you have to be sure of the following: a desirable reward / product, [knowledge] of what extra R&D is required, and what it will cost, cost to source and assemble the final products [and the] cost to distribute the product. The team from Pirate3D skipped all of these steps, believing that they could wing developing it when they had some money for R&D.  It looks like they estimated cost when they did the campaign.  This may be why they were so far off on the material cost of the machines.

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.