Laser-Cutter Maker Glowforge Delays Pre-Order Shipments 6 Months

Xconomy Seattle — 

[Updated 4/19/16 8:32 p.m. See below.] The power supply for the forthcoming Glowforge laser cutter and engraver has to cycle on and off hundreds of times a second. The bespoke component is not available at RadioShack.

As a result of delays in procuring a power supply that meets its standards, Glowforge is delaying shipment of the devices to more than 10,000 customers who pre-ordered during a record-setting crowdfunding campaign last October. Instead of initial orders being fulfilled in June, the company said Tuesday it plans to ship them in December.

It’s a setback for the Seattle startup, to be sure, and a long wait—more than 12 months—for people (myself included) who plonked down $1,995 plus shipping for the basic unit, during a 30-day crowdfunding campaign that raked in nearly $28 million in pre-orders. Co-founder and CEO Dan Shapiro, in an e-mail to those anxiously awaiting a Glowforge, apologized and took personal responsibility.

“I worked very hard to deliver your Glowforge on time, and I am sorry that I failed you,” Shapiro wrote. “Our team has been amazing and done everything possible. This is on me.”

Those willing to endure the delay will receive $150 worth of plywood, leather, and other materials designed for use in the laser cutter and $50 in credit to purchase designs from Glowforge, as well as a 10 percent discount on purchases made in 2017. Glowforge is also offering full refunds to those who don’t want to wait.

The abandoned units would presumably find a home with another customer. “We’re backordered for months, and more people are getting in line every day,” Shapiro wrote.

There are certainly pre-order customers for whom this will be a huge disappointment and inconvenience. Others who were expecting to use this as a tool for their business may be missing out on potential earnings.

I’ve never had a laser cutter before, so not having one for an additional six months is no big deal—though I guess my laser-carved Jack-o-lantern will have to wait until Halloween 2017. This is part of the risk implicit in participating in a crowdfunding campaign. The reward is getting something that captures your imagination first, and at a steep discount. Pre-order customers paid half of the planned retail price.

Another crowdfunding risk: When it eventually does ship, it might not work as expected. So while I appreciate Glowforge’s freebies to make up for the delay, I’m more impressed that they’re willing to take the hit—financially and to their reputation—in order to ensure, to the best of their ability, a quality end product. I’m not interested in beta testing a laser; I’m grateful that some people are.

(The company expects to give away $2 million in materials and catalog credits, which is how we know that approximately 10,000 people pre-ordered last fall. Shapiro confirmed it’s “over 10,000”.)

Glowforge is not trying to hide from the delay or gloss it over or deflect blame to another party. It’s giving its customers a reasonable explanation. From Shapiro’s e-mail:

“Although it was scheduled to be complete in November last year, we’ve only just received units that met our stringent performance, safety, and reliability requirements. For that reason, we’re only now releasing beta units.

“We could hit the gas and start churning out huge numbers of printers in time to meet June. We would love to do that. We want you to have your printer. It makes us feel terrible to contemplate letting you down.

“But we’d feel worse about compromising on quality. We just got this power supply. Everything has been working well together, but we haven’t had enough time to feel confident that it will meet your expectations.”

In a follow-up e-mail to Xconomy, Shapiro explains what’s going on with this power supply.

“The power supply is tricky because it needs to supply thousands of volts to run the [laser] tube, but be able to switch it all on and off in less than a millisecond—then turn it back on again just as fast, over and over again, hundreds of times a second,” Shapiro says. “That requires a degree of precision and reliability that’s difficult to achieve. It’s a completely custom component, similar to what you’d find in a tube television, but more precise and requiring higher current.” [An earlier version of this paragraph said the power supply cycled on and off thousands of times a second. Shapiro later updated his comment to the correct number, hundreds of times a second.]

Shapiro plans to answer questions in Glowforge’s community forums Tuesday and Wednesday.