MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement is being acquired by Stratasys for about $403 million. Not bad for a company whose origins are the open-source community.
I use open source and MakerBot in the same sentence rather loosely because MakerBot became pretty closed and proprietary not all that long after its inception in 2009. It certainly began with an open-source design based on the RepRap Project, but effectively became a “closed” system with the advent of the Replicator 2 in September 2012. At that time, the company said it “will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI.” This sudden departure from its previous open-source embrace and no longer willing to share with the community that made MakerBot possible in the first place was met with criticism in many circles. To be fair, though, MakerBot has created several products and services beyond its flagship 3D printer, which was definitely an improvement over its base design.
Officially, this deal is being called a merger and Stratasys intends for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.
If you have never seen a MakerBot Replicator 2 in action, check out the following video:
For its part, (and until now) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because their historical customer has been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things change, though, and with this transaction, Stratasys has certainly changed its tune. A customer is a customer, and with the additive manufacturing/3D printing market consolidating, Stratasys didn’t want to miss out on an acquisition opportunity that was probably being explored by competitors, possibly including 3D Systems or HP.
This merger is an especially good opportunity for MakerBot to take advantage of Stratasys’ technologies that could boost part resolution, quality, and build material choices. To reinforce this possibility, the following statement was part of the press announcement: “Upon completion of the merger, Stratasys and MakerBot will jointly develop and implement strategies for building on their complementary strengths, intellectual property and technical know-how, and other unique assets and capabilities.” However, whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as companies are usually very cautious about possibly cannibalizing existing products when new assets are acquired.
Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals stand to make a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few will truly benefit from this transaction that in reality was the work of many in the open-source community. Business is business, I guess. Who says there’s no money to be made in open-source technologies? Not me, not anymore.