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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 »

MakerBot Reaches 100k 3D Printers Worldwide

 
April 7th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

This week MakerBot announced that it had sold more than 100,000 3D printers worldwide. The company said it was able to reach this milestone (as the first 3D printer company to do it) by providing an accessible, affordable, and easy-to-use 3D printing experience.

“Being the first company to have sold 100,000 3D printers is a major milestone for MakerBot and the entire industry,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO at MakerBot. “MakerBot has made 3D printing more accessible and today is empowering businesses and educators to redefine what’s possible. What was once a product used only by makers and hobbyists has matured significantly and become an indispensible tool that is changing the way students learn and businesses innovate.”

MakerBot was one of the first companies to make 3D printing accessible and affordable. Since its founding in 2009, MakerBot has pushed 3D printing and has introduced many industry firsts. Thingiverse was the first platform where anyone could share 3D designs and launched even before MakerBot was founded. In 2009, MakerBot introduced its first 3D printer, the Cupcake CNC, at SXSW. In 2010, MakerBot became the first company to present a 3D printer at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Now, 3D printing is its own category at CES with a myriad of 3D printing companies from around the world in attendance each year.

MakerBot 5th Generation 3D Printer

After being acquired by Stratasys in 2013, MakerBot introduced its Fifth Generation 3D Printers in 2014, which were the first Wi-Fi connected desktop 3D printers with a swappable Smart Extruder. (More about MakerBot’s Fifth Generation 3D printer and Smart Extruder below) Today, the company claims that out of the 100,000 3D printers it has sold, over 40,000 are Wi-Fi connected. Thingiverse also recently achieved a major milestone when it announced one million uploads to its site in October 2015.

MakerBot says its commitment to educators also continues to grow through Thingiverse challenges like the MakerED and Thingiversity S.T.E.A.M challenges and through product offerings like MakerBot in the Classroom and the MakerBot Innovation Center. Following the openings of a number of MakerBot Innovation Centers across the United States at universities likePenn State University and the University of Maryland , it’s clear the 3D printing is a crucial part to educating students and preparing them for jobs of the future.

MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement was being acquired by Stratasys in 2013 for just over $400 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 was called a merger because Stratasys intended for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.

For its part, (and until the “merger” announcement) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because its historical customer had been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things changed, though, and with the transaction, Stratasys 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.

The merger was 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.” For the most part, this statement has remained true.

Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals made a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few truly benefitted from the 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.

Then there’s the issue of MakerBot’s 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.

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?” The jury is literally still out on this one.

Lawsuits and other problematic issues aside and MakerBot goes on. The 100k milestone is very significant and to celebrate it MakerBot is reducing the cost of the MakerBot Replicator from $2,899 to $2,499 until June 15, 2016. MakerBot is also launching a social media contest to encourage customers to share their own #MakerMilestones for a chance to win one of three MakerBot Replicator Desktop Printers.

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