Stratasys Ltd., a maker of printers that can create three-dimensional objects, agreed to buy MakerBot Industries LLC for at least $403 million, acquiring a startup competitor in the nascent industry.


Stratasys will initially issue 4.76 million of its shares in exchange for MakerBot, according to a statement yesterday. That will be followed by performance-based payments that could add $201 million to the purchase price, Stratasys said.


MakerBot, a Brooklyn, New York-based company founded in 2009, has sold more than 22,000 of its 3-D printers -- devices that are increasingly popular among engineers, designers and manufacturers. The acquisition gives MakerBot a global channel to sell them, while providing Stratasys with a fresh source of growth and lower-priced models that can entice consumers.


“It’s really going to accelerate growth and increase global adoption of 3-D printing,” MakerBot Chief Executive Officer Bre Pettis said in an interview. “We’ve just had such a massive amount of growth in the last four years and have really brought this industry into the public spotlight. Now we get this added resource, the deepest expertise in the industry.”


MakerBot will also update its printers with Stratasys technology, Stratasys CEO David Reis said. MakerBot posted $11.5 million in revenue in the first quarter, compared with $15.7 million for all of 2012, according to the statement.


MakerBot’s line of desktop printers lets customers create objects such as plastic supplies and models -- anything from a bottle opener to a fly swatter -- in their homes or offices. The company estimates that 35,000 to 40,000 3-D desktop printers were sold in 2012, with that number doubling this year.

Stratasys, which focuses more on the professional market for 3-D printing, was formed last year out of the merger of Stratasys Inc. and Objet Ltd. Like MakerBot, it sells both the printers and the plastic materials needed to create the objects.


Shares of Stratasys, which has dual headquarters in Minneapolis and Israel, fell 1.8 percent to $84.60 yesterday in New York trading before the merger was announced. The stock has climbed 5.6 percent this year.


Stratasys will keep MakerBot as a stand-alone company while providing assistance in areas that can help accelerate its growth, Reis said.


“It’s kind of pick and choose from the MakerBot side, whatever they want to bring over,” Reis said. “We’re a much larger company and we’re growing fast, but MakerBot is growing even faster.”


More M&A activity in 3-D printing is expected, as Watermill Group's Ben Procter points out in our recent video montage on upcoming trends

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