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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Class Project Turns To Possible Class Action Lawsuit

 
November 5th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

As a first-year Denver Math Fellow (I assist math teachers and tutor in small groups), last week I was give a reprieve from my daily grind of lesson plans and teaching by participating in what my school calls Explore Week. This is a week where I was partnered with a teacher, chose a topic to explore with students, made a video promoting our explore class, and had students sign up to join us.

The topic my teaching partner and I decided on was “Creating Furniture Using Non-Traditional Methods and Materials.” Our course included designing and creating furniture models from cardboard, as well as 3D printing simple models. It was a lot of fun, and as I said, a nice change of pace, not to mention I really felt I was in my comfort zone.

Explore Week was made possible by the efforts of several companies, including:

Software we used for the project:

  • Onshape for 3D design for 3D printing
  • Autodesk 123D Make for converting 3D designs to 2D cardboard designs for laser cutting of cardboard

Hardware we used for the project:

Example 3D printed models were generously provided by:


Although most of the work for the week was performed at our school, we did take a field trip to the ideaLAB at the Denver Public Library to check out the shared Maker Space.

As the week progressed, we met and talked with a number of people working directly with 3D printers, because we were interested in learning more about our MakerBot. Especially so, because we were experiencing problems with the extruder head jamming. Being relatively new to the MakerBot, we just figured we were at fault – until we started talking to people who participated in our Explore Week course.

One party we talked with had the same problem as we did, and had replaced seven MakerBot extruder heads in less than two years. Another party we spoke with had also replaced several extruder heads, and eventually sent the machine back for a refund. Maybe we weren’t at total fault after all.

I did little digging and didn’t have to dig too deep to discover that we and the people we spoke with were far from alone with MakerBot (Fifth Generation/Replicator Gen5) problems.

As it turns out, the federal court system has gotten involved, as a class action lawsuit has been filed against MakerBot and its parent company, Stratasys.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the MakerBot Smart Extruder, a device touted as a way of simplify 3D printing by automatically leveling the build plate and pausing the print if the filament jams or runs out. In reality, however, the smart extruder has been known for jamming and clogging easily and causing degradation of print quality over time. We experienced this a few times during Explore Week, and so did most of the parties we spoke with.

MakerBot’s initial solution to the problem was to take advantage of the inherent hot swappable design of the Smart Extruder and offer customers three packs of replacement extruders for the “low” price of $495 (a savings of a whopping $10 per extruder over buying them individually). To go along with this, MakerBot also started offering a $50 credit towards your next extruder purchase when you return your “worn” Smart Extruder. Such a deal!

Since the lawsuit was filed, MakerBot has claimed that it has greatly improved the reliability of its Smart Extruder and has fixed issues to help those still having problems.

The question now in the courts is, “were the actions taken by MakerBot a “fraudulent [criminal] scheme” committed against their customers and shareholders?”

Only time will tell. My school hasn’t decided if it wants to get involved with the lawsuit, but I am encouraging it to do so. Our MakerBot was purchased with already tight funds, and we literally can’t afford to keep replacing extruder heads – even at a “low” price.

Class action lawsuit aside, though, Explore Week was a success and I think our little team influenced and made an impact on at least a few of our students who said they enjoyed the challenge and may pursue design and engineering careers because of it. Just hearing that was payback enough for me and the work we put into the project, because I experienced first hand how to get potential future engineers excited and motivated for a future of innovation.

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One Response to “Class Project Turns To Possible Class Action Lawsuit”

  1. ChrisG says:

    I have been following this lawsuit as well as a couple of groups I work with have Makerbots.

    My first question relating to a lawsuit is not how much Makerbot was trying to charge for replacement extruder heads, but rather the issue of fraudulently hiding or lying about design issues? Only exploration into internal memos, etc… will shed light on this question.

    I remember the uproar that Makerbot caused in the Make community by taking their design ‘closed source’. Maybe if it had been kept open source knowledgeable users would have come forward to suggest improvements to Makerbots design before throwing around the threat of lawsuits.

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