MakerBot is famed for its open-source approach to 3D printing. Or at least it was. The release of the Replicator 2 led to the revelations that the Botcave’s fourth iteration may not follow the open-source philosophy.
The open-source philosophy probably doesn’t include proprietary materials either, and simply adding ‘MakerBot’ before the ‘PLA filament’ certainly sounds like a propietary move. In the tour video Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, says: “We offer MakerBot PLA filament in an ever expanding variety of colours.” Note ‘we offer’.
The Replicator 2 is also a pre-assembled system that is ready to use ‘right out of the box’, and is aimed at engineers and designers in the ‘prosumer’ space. In this respect, closing the system would perhaps be the best move for MakerBot — users who want to do real mid-level work with their 3D printer are likely to be less interested in open-source and more interested in good quality, reliable and repeatable builds (if I am wrong about this, let me know below).
At $2,199 the Replicator 2 is not the cheapest on the market, nor does it have the biggest build volume, so it will be interesting to see where it sits with consumers. Or prosumers. The 100 micron layer height is certainly a step forward, but in terms of build volume, the Leapfrog Creatr is much larger (1189 cu. in vs 410 cu. in) and (at €1,250) cheaper too. Admittedly, the Creatr can only achieve 200 micron layers — though it does so in ABS, PLA and PVA — and its bigger sibling, the Xeed can only match the Replicator 2's resolution in the €5k+ price range.
If MakerBot manage to make the move to the prosumer level with this new machine, they will certainly have pulled off a major 3D printing coup. If they don’t there may well be a lot of disgruntled MakerBot users out there — a quick scan of twitter turns up tweets like this from Andrew Back (@9600): “So if Makerbot don't succeed in taking on their closed source compatriots, it may just be that they killed the golden goose,” or this from Ben O’Steen (@benosteen): “So Makerbot have gone closed source. Any chance we can get a waiver that they won't fire IP suits in future at the community they took from?”
I’ve got a feeling this will go on and on…
The latest developments from MakerBot certainly take it into the territory of rivals 3D Systems (amongst others) more obviously, and if imitation is the highest form of flattery, the Rock Hill crew should be blushing. As for my references to Apple yesterday, its desire to control the user experience (often having to break a few eggs on their way to the omelette) is legendary — but something that has served it very well. If MakerBot is going to become a properly big company, it’s probably going to have to concentrate on making great products and not being all cutesy and quirky. If making great products (that just work) means alienating a few of your early adopters, then so be it, right? All's fair in love and business... From the Homegrown Computer Club to the App Store and iTunes — it’s a journey that MakerBot would do well to re-familiarise themselves with.
In another nod to the Apple experience, MakerBot also announced its first retail store in the NoHo (me neither) area of NYC! Allowing people to get hands on with the tech is important is spreading the 3D printing love, and given MakerBot’s following I am sure the store will be a huge success for them, at least in the short term.
One 3D printing power-player, Josef Prusa, has some strong feelings about what MakerBot appears to be doing, and how they're going about it. Take a look at Josef's blog here (http://josefprusa.cz/blog), and if you're not sure what qualifies him to have such opinions, take a look here (http://josefprusa.cz/about-me).