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Why MakerBot Didn't Kickstart A 3D Printing Revolution (backchannel.com) 274

Bre PettisâS once said MakerBot gave you a superpower -- "You can make anything you need." But four years later, mirandakatz writes that though MakerBot promised to revolutionize society, "That never happened." At Backchannel, Andrew Zaleski has the definitive, investigative account of why the 3D printing revolution hasn't yet come to pass, culled from interviews with industry observers, current MakerBot leadership, and a dozen former MakerBot employees. As he tells it, "In the span of a few years, MakerBot had to pull off two very different coups. It had to introduce millions of people to the wonders of 3D printing, and then convince them to shell out more than $1,000 for a machine. It also had to develop the technology fast enough to keep its customers happy. Those two tasks were too much for the fledgling company."
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Why MakerBot Didn't Kickstart A 3D Printing Revolution

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  • It's always cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2016 @04:43AM (#53418721)

    Do I spend a grand and a bunch of time learning the software necessary to print the widget, or do I buy the widget for $2 and spend no time learning how to use software? Virtually everyone I know with a 3D printer uses it for pointless projects that have no practical value. If it isn't a premade design, they're not printing it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, exactly. What is needed is a more expensive device that can be put into corner shops that prints high quality metal parts and maybe ceramics. These little plastic printers are just toys used to print toys.

      • Re:It's always cost (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @09:41AM (#53419385) Homepage

        That's really a key issue. Most "standalone" things people want are not made of plastics, except for toys. There are a some things - for example, parts for a small homemade drone or whatnot, where strength is not important but lightness is. But most often, if you want something "standalone", you want it out of metal.

        Being able to print replacement plastic parts for other things could be nice, mind you. For example, I've twice had to replace a plastic part on my refrigerator and it cost something like $50 each time with a nearly month delay, due to customs fees, shipping to where I am, etc. Having been able to print one out would have been great. Except, having a 3d printer alone wouldn't have been enough, because there's no "universal spare part database" that manufacturers upload to. A 3d scanner as well might have been able to enable reproducing the part from scanning its broken pieces, except that not only do you have to have one, the part was transparent, and many 3d scanners don't like transparent objects.

        A "3d printing revolution" may come some day. But things are a lot more complicated than just making it possible to print something out of some material.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Humbubba ( 2443838 )
          Do 3D printers have an industry wide ranking and class designation yet? You know, a shorthand to let us know what kind of product, quality, utility and reliability it makes.

          And yeah, before I buy one, I want to see a catalogue of quality certified stuff the system can make that I want, need and desire. Include in that catalogue the time and materials needed. Post production instructions would be handy too. Maybe different kinds of catalogues; Some like the old Sears catalogue, others like a Chilton Repai

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          To replace even a fairly simple plastic part from your refrigerator, you need a 3D model of said part for the 3D Printer to produce it from.

          And said 3D model needs to be dimensionally correct and the printer has to then print it accurately.

          Whereas with a novelty item or toy, the 3D printer can just burp something out that meets a close enough approximation to be amusing.

          Anybody successfully cloning appliance parts with a 3D printer at home could find professional work for a substantial amount more than they

        • ...many 3d scanners don't like transparent objects.

          Did you try painting it, or colouring it with a sharpie?

        • by samkass ( 174571 )

          A 3d scanner as well might have been able to enable reproducing the part from scanning its broken pieces

          Not with current technology. I have two different 3d scanners and what you end up with is a "blobby" version of the object that also has any tight corners, occluded areas, or holes very distorted. It's nice for larger objects but precise parts are way beyond home-grade 3d scanners today, and many parts are just physically incompatible with being scanned in that way.

      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @09:56AM (#53419449) Homepage Journal

        What is needed is a more expensive device that can be put into corner shops that prints high quality metal parts and maybe ceramics.

        What is needed is a not-very expensive device that can be put into the home that prints high quality metal parts, plastics, ceramics and electronics.

        FTFY

        • I'd settle for just high strength hard plastics.
          • You can buy filament which you bake after printing, which makes it much stronger - add to that the composite filaments you can now get, and you can print some pretty strong components.

        • It should also make Earl Grey Tea.
          Hot, of course.

        • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @12:17PM (#53419989)

          What is needed is a not-very expensive device that can be put into the home that prints high quality metal parts, plastics, ceramics and electronics.

          FTFY

          No, the $1000 printer that most of us can afford for the home is going to be good for nothing but small and flimsy PLA widgets. But now imagine being able to upload your design to a $25K commercial printer that works in metal or ceramic, and being able to pick up the piece after work. NOW it's getting to be useful.

      • "Yes, exactly. What is needed is a more expensive device that can be put into corner shops that prints high quality metal parts and maybe ceramics"

        Exactly! Such a business would be the Kinko's of the new century.

  • because (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @04:45AM (#53418725)

    nobody wants to spend £1000+ on a device which makes shitty low quality christmas cracker toys. It was obvious from the start that this was this seasons desktop publishing fad. The sort of people who it was argued would use these are already aware of better alternatives.

    • Re:because (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo&world3,net> on Sunday December 04, 2016 @07:13AM (#53419059) Homepage Journal

      3D printing has some very good uses. Makerbot's problem is that rather than owning your own £1000 device just to do a few prints now and then, it makes more sense to use an online 3D printing service or the one at the local Hackerspace.

      The online services are fairly cheap and have better quality printers. They offer finishing too like polishing, better materials and tighter tolerances. You would have to do a hell of a lot of 3D printing to make it worth buying your own printer.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Indeed. I've ordered 3d prints online several times and as things stand there is no reason I'd ever do otherwise. The choice is, "have something produced using top notch hardware and finished by professionals", or "have something produced by crappy hardware, by you". The marginal cost may be lower if you do it yourself, but you have to plop down $1k first, so unless you 3d print a lot, you don't win even on that comparison. It's just not worth it.

        If you run a business where you're 3d printing prototypes

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I've experimented with 3D printing, but always end up using laser cutting instead. It's easy to do a basic top+ bottom cover in Inkscape, and cheap.

          I really must try a proper 3D one.

      • by flux ( 5274 )

        Well, there's some benefit to having fast round-trip-times. I've noticed that Shapeways can take weeks to deliver, but I suppose that cold be because I've only ever ordered metal things from them.

        But no service can beat one hour delivery time.

        This is probably valuable to you only if you're designing and building something, though.

        • If you did a lot of 3D printing, it might make sense to print prototypes of a part to make sure you've got it right, then send it off to somewhere like Shapeways for the final part. I've built and used two 3d-printers, which can be super handy if you know how to use them, and I've ordered stuff from Shapeways. They each have their place but I think it's a pretty useful combination.
  • !Revolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @04:57AM (#53418743) Homepage

    The internet was a revolution, starting with a few networked government buildings.
    Mobile phones were a revolution, starting with heavy briefcases that barely worked anywhere.
    Computers were a revolution, starting with speeds so slow a human could keep up.

    None of these revolutions happened overnight.

    3D printers will become cheaper and will become common place so slowly, we won't even notice it until only in hindsight we will say "it was a revolution".
    It may take another 20 years to get there, but we will.

    • None of these revolutions happened overnight.

      And none of them happened with the over-priced, feature-poor, unreliable, first generation products that were available at the start.

      Maybe one day there will be a device that can trace it's origins back to the slow, wobbly, objects that squirt little bits of plastic into barely recognisable shapes that we call "3-D printers". But those breakthrough machines will be much easier to use, they will not be restricted to making the sort of crap that a low-cost foreign manufacturer would be ashamed of and they w

      • Re:!Revolution (Score:4, Insightful)

        by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:47AM (#53418855)

        And none of them happened with the over-priced, feature-poor, unreliable, first generation products that were available at the start.

        Oh wow, you really don't know the history of the 3 things listed above do you.

        • by Calydor ( 739835 )

          No, he really does.

          The first generation of computers? Someone in the business (I think it was IBM, but don't quote me on that) predicted that the world might need FIVE computers!
          The first generation of mobile phones? Literally briefcases owned only by the richest business people wanting to look hip and futuristic.
          The first generation of the internet? Two computers trying to communicate over the phone lines by sending the word 'LOGIN'. They broke down after the G.

          • No, he really does.

            The first generation of computers? Someone in the business (I think it was IBM, but don't quote me on that) predicted that the world might need FIVE computers!
            The first generation of mobile phones? Literally briefcases owned only by the richest business people wanting to look hip and futuristic.
            The first generation of the internet? Two computers trying to communicate over the phone lines by sending the word 'LOGIN'. They broke down after the G.

            I'm glad you're agreeing with me but disappointed you didn't realise it.

            The GP said none of the products were overpriced unreliable and feature poor.
            You provided examples of produces which were overpriced, unreliable and feature poor.

            • The GP said none of the products were overpriced unreliable and feature poor.

              You should reread the GP. He said that the revolutions didn't happen with the overpriced, unreliable, feature-poor, first-generation products.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Darinbob ( 1142669 )

        There are good professional 3d printers. They're very useful and they've been around for some time. Makerbot though is not all that good. I didn't understand why people liked it so much when the output was so mediocre. Yes it's affordable in the home, but there's not a lot you can do with it either.

    • The internet was a revolution, starting with a few networked government buildings. Mobile phones were a revolution, starting with heavy briefcases that barely worked anywhere. Computers were a revolution, starting with speeds so slow a human could keep up.

      None of these revolutions happened overnight.

      3D printers will become cheaper and will become common place so slowly, we won't even notice it until only in hindsight we will say "it was a revolution". It may take another 20 years to get there, but we will.

      The word revolution also contains the word evolution, and you might have noticed that we've evolved past the point of calling a paper printer a necessary component of computing today.

      3D printing, regardless of cost, hasn't even established itself as a useful product for the masses, and in today's landscape of patent and liability induced paranoia, it may never stand a chance. People freaked out over the concept of 3D printing gun parts, as if milling machines and AR-15 CAD drawings didn't exist before shit

      • The impact of 3D printing has long been over hyped and exaggerated. Not that it isn't a wonderful technology that has many benefits, but it is far from holding a promise of low cost mass production. 3D printing is a step above CNC, but with more material limitations.

        3D printing will continue to expand where it makes sense, but it is not destined to be a mass producing technology any time soon. Its perfect for making molds for mass production though, and its a great product development tool.
        • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

          I wouldn't call 3D printing "a step above CNC", just like a laser cutter is not "a step above CNC" either. Each of these three computer-controlled tools are complementary because they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @10:06AM (#53419495) Homepage

        The word revolution also contains the word evolution, and you might have noticed that we've evolved past the point of calling a paper printer a necessary component of computing today.

        And the word "internet" contains the word "tern", so clearly it is built upon angry arctic birds with sharp beaks that dive bomb anyone who gets too close to their nesting grounds.

    • While you're definitely right that it needs some time to mature, I don't think 3D printing is something that is ever going to be widespread in the public.
      Honestly, even if I could print whatever I wanted right now, I don't know what I would do. I have a need for one maybe a few times a year, not every day like for the internet, or phones or computers.
      It's for professionals and some hobbyists, not the general public.

      In the industry, it will be a revolution, and it's already happening. At my company we use th

      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

        You might want to look into 3D-printed molds from Stratasys [stratasys.com]. It's not as strong (i.e. very limited runs) as metal molds but for short runs of prototypes it seems to be an excellent solution.

    • Lets see what kids that were exposed to 3D printers make when they're in their 20s and 30s.

  • Mangled unicode in the second word. That's got to be a record!

  • 3D Printing is hardware, not software, you can't just re-write and make it better for everyone instantly at virtually no cost. As soon as you produce a better piece of hardware you have to distribute it, make it sound good enough to people that bought your last hardware, make it sound better to those who haven't bought it already, etc etc. Hardware takes time, it takes patience, it takes perseverance. People are still interested in 3D printing, other hardware designers love it for rapid prototyping, it's s
    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Someday, a while from now, you'll be able to go to a website, select a cup or a custom statue or whatever, have it 3D printed and delivered to your door for a fairly reasonable, even cheap, price.

      You mean something like Shapeways [shapeways.com] or 3D hubs* [3dhubs.com]?

      * they also list commercial/industrial-quality services, not just home owners.

    • 3D Printing is hardware, not software, you can't just re-write and make it better for everyone instantly at virtually no cost. As soon as you produce a better piece of hardware you have to distribute it, make it sound good enough to people that bought your last hardware, make it sound better to those who haven't bought it yet.

      Nonsense. I just download the newer schematics and hit the print button. In no time at all I've got the latest hardware model, cheap to free to make and distributed to everyone instantly for free. Thats how it's supposed to work right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:13AM (#53418767)

    Makerbot was a hype-machine that didn't have the technical competency to compensate for their artisan pricing model. They were a bunch of creatives that were very good at branding and marketing, but what few Hardware Engineers they held in their employ left the sinking ship when they pushed their shitty printhead disposable printhead to production thereby killing any remaining ounce of brand loyalty that existed from their laser cut balsa "cupcake" days.

    Their entire business model was built off of freeloading on the back of the Reprap community and when they finally needed to actually in-house talent to design for mass production(ie. the reprap community IP is useless at this scale) they didn't have the hiring skills or management talent to pull it off.

    Hackaday did a good forensic analysis/post-mortem on the company. I'm not sure how many shares they were able to pass off to the "old kids on the block" at Stratasys of Z-corp or whoever it was that bought a sizeable portion of their company, but I hope it wasn't too many because I hate to see these sorts of shenanigans pay off for douchebags.

    It didn't help that there were a billion "me too!" startups birth'ed from the same hype and froth which were all doomed to failure once China let the dust settle around the cheapest design to knockoff and undercut.

    All that said: Thingiverse is a nicely designed front-end/community and if we give it a couple more years, I suspect that some combination of WebVR/Project Sansar/HTC Vive/Augmented Reality games like Pokemon Go will eventually give "Thingiverse" a second life(in much the same way Mt.Gox found a new purpose as a Bitcoin ponzi scheme). That is: if their lawyers can keep it in their pants regarding how aggressive they are on expanding the Intellectual Property provision of the terms of use.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:18AM (#53418779)

    And one of the key ones is that there are too many out there. With heatpads and without, with this or that plastic, and let's not get started on the various designs on how to get the filament on the ground. Many different designs, some looking rather ridiculous like something Dr. Strangelove would have invented. Yes, it still is a rather experimental thing, and it looks the part, too.

    And people don't want that. Especially with something they're supposed to pay a thousand bucks for or even more. What people want is something that "just works". And "just works", it sure doesn't. It needs tweaking and a lot of try and error to get it right.

    And in the end, what do you get out of it? You can print plastic parts. Provided you have the design files for them. Umm... yeah, that's ... well, ... why sugar coat it, it's bullshit. Unless there is something you can print that you can't buy MUCH cheaper, there is exactly no point to drop a thousand bucks and go through all the hassle on top of it.

    • by dontbgay ( 682790 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:44AM (#53418845)
      Prusa Research has been pushing the technology closer to a consumer class appliance. They've taken care of the calibration headaches with their new bed leveling algorithm and heated bed design. The carriage is mounted rigid to the linesr rails, and the mk42 heated bed has more even distribution so there's less chance of a curled corner. They haven't open sourced their design so I'm waiting for that.

      All the criticisms of 3d printing are fair, but there's money being devoted to engineering those problems out as we speak. With exotic filaments like continuous strand carbon fiber and all the new ones coming out each week, it's just getting started. I give it 3-5 years before it's ready for mass market. I think the cost barrier is going to be an issue, but costs will come down with economies of scale.

      Prusa I3 mk2 [prusa3d.com]

      Here's a link to the i3 MK2. The videos are definitely worth watching. I have zero financial ties to this company. They definitely have s cool product.
      • No doubt about it, but look at it: Frankly, it looks like something you'd expect in some cheesy 60s scifi movie. People are used to appliances that are closed black boxes that just spew out what they're supposed to produce, they don't want to see the wiring under the board.

        Yes, I do and yes, I agree, the Prusa is a great design and I love it every time I use it, but the topic here is the question why this didn't get mass appeal. And mass appeal is something gained and won by the way it looks. And this looks

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        the technology is already in consumer class devices

        https://www.google.com/webhp?s... [google.com]

        an as an owner of an prusa i3 I can safely say its a wonky slap it together in your garage pain in the ass, nothing about it is finished. From its limit switches being held in place by zip ties so they move whenever they get bumped by the head, to its dumbass firmware putting the print bed all the way to the back when its done forcing you to fiddle with a menu or reach in to a hot machine. If you dare move the print bed by h

      • Prusa Research has been pushing the technology closer to a consumer class appliance.

        The problem isn't the lack of a consumer class appliance. Never has been. The problem is lack of consumer need or even desire - and that's going to be difficult to overcome. Most people don't need something printed daily, or even weekly. A significant percentage don't need something printed even monthly. There's just no mass market to be had. Other than the maker market (the folks who make cool stuff just because), the

  • by Jesus H Rolle ( 4603733 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:21AM (#53418795)
    3D printers will one day be able to print copies of themselves, circuits and all. Minor variations in each iteration will be tested for improvement. Improved machines will share their specifications with others. Also there will be gay printers.
  • 1. There's a certain number where something becomes an impulse buy. For me and 3d printers that was $200. [amazon.com] Ultimately I decided that with inflation, I spent more on my original NES set years and years ago.

    Makerbot could have killed it at that price, and still can if they can figure out how to do it at this price.

    2. The only hurdle past price is having the needed skills to create things in 3d. Printing other peoples stuff off the web gets old after a while. Luckily the 3d modeling software I taught myse

  • Only a few years ago the thought of quickly drawing a 3D CAD design and having it delivered to your door for any reasonably time or cost was ludicrous. Nowadays it is a standard service offered all over the world. Not that this matters as I know several people with 3D printers which is why I haven't bought one.

    It may not have revolutionised society on a whole (it was never going to, that was just absurd), but it most certainly has revolutionised the hobby / DIY community.

    • It may not have revolutionised society on a whole (it was never going to, that was just absurd), but it most certainly has revolutionised the hobby / DIY community.

      Add to that the startup community. You can churn through variations on whatever it is you're designing really cheaply and quickly.

  • Kind of obvious... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @05:53AM (#53418873) Journal
    Here in Sweden a typical Makerbot would set you back 18K Sek (that's roughly 2000$) and for what? A slow, primitive - made out of wood 3D printer that looks like it was made by a bunch of tech kids at a high school.

    It also takes TONS of fiddling around, and the patience of a saint to even produce something useful with it. If you want something better like the Ultimaker 2 or 3, you pay around 4000-5000$ in Sweden, and most people aren't ready to fork out that kind of money. However, you can always gamble on cheap Chinese clones of the older makerbots, often made in plastic instead of wood or just coated wood for that matter, but the same enthusiast process involved, it is NOT just print and you're ready, it takes TONS of work. Lots of preparation, and you need to clean and prep. your 3D work before you hit the print button so to speak.

    I'm a 3D modeler, I've been working with 3D for over 20 years. I've YET to see a useful home-model that isn't just "look - I - printed - a - stock - model - ma!" tech demo. You'll actually be better off with a good CNC machine if you want to make prototypes on the cheap.

    But they're fun tho...if you have the time AND the money to burn on the countless rolls of ABS plastic you're gonna need.
    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @06:15AM (#53418925) Journal

      I'm a 3D modeler, I've been working with 3D for over 20 years. I've YET to see a useful home-model that isn't just "look - I - printed - a - stock - model - ma!" tech demo. You'll actually be better off with a good CNC machine if you want to make prototypes on the cheap.

      Yeah because those two things are entirely equivalent. I know my way around a manual lathe and mill well enough to not make an idiot of myself, and I've done a bit of CNC. I also happen to own a 3D printer and know my way round a CAD program well enough to take something simple enough all the way through to production. IOW, I'm a practicioner, not expert.

      And I know what you're saying is off the mark.

      Milling is a much greater pain in the arse than 3D printing. You just don't have the whole datumming/clamping problem that you have with 3D printing, for a start. I mean don't get me wrong, it's cool to make things out of metal, but christ flood coolant is a mess. A 3D printer is the kind of thing I can have up in my attic office/light workshop.

      It can sit there running while I do other stuff and I can leave it overnight. The stock is cheap, easy to get and available in a wide variety of forms (how well does a CNC mill work with soft rubber?). These days it's well enough set up and calibrated that unless I have an awkward part to make (e.g. small contact area, very large) I can pretty much hit print and go. It certainly takes far, far, FAR less prep than milling anything.

    • by daid303 ( 843777 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @06:45AM (#53418989)

      Makerbot pushed too soon and too hard. Their machines where not up to the expectations set by marketing.

      However, wood? That was years ago. We've progressed a lot. I'm not saying it's "one click and 100% reliability". But it's not as error prone as it was 3 years ago.

      I work for Ultimaker, and the Ultimaker 2+ (while a bit older) is still selling very strong due it's reliability. Prototyping, showcase models and jig&fixtures are the main markets where we see sales.

      I work at R&D, we have CNC machines next to our fleet of 3D printers to prototype as well, but they require a lot more expert knowledge, we have a full time operator on that. Unlike the 3D printers, that are even used by our reception desk, provide little to no noise, and no dust.

  • It's a 3D printer using flimsy plastic at a low resolution. Once the novelty wears of there's really little use for it.

    Wake when there's a metal powder fed 3D printer cheap enough to own. That will start a revolution.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Yeah. I think of something made of plastic that I'd like to print maybe once a year. I think of something metal I'd like to print once every other week or so.

    • I routinely print pieces of laptops for my workplace. We are always losing hinge caps and dock covers.

  • It was dirt cheap [around 300 dollars] and works AWESOME. There are some niggly downsides though and the biggest being the filament and the need for updated/upgraded extruders for multi color printing and the general handling of the filament in general kind of sucks. The other downside is the time it takes to print something and many people have no patients. If they can't say "Tea, Earl Grey" and poof it's there then screw that. I think it's still going to be a few years until they are ready for the masses.
  • The MakerBot is like the Altair 8800... It's works, most of the time, but it's complicated and slow, and it's produce is not that useful. and... what am I really supposed to do with it??

    The Altair 8800 came out in 1974, but it took another ~10 years for home computers to really take off... I'm sure that in less then 10 years we'll all have some kind of 3D printer at home.

  • I took one look at the consumable material and promptly forgot about the idea.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @06:41AM (#53418973)
    3D printing is still fiddly, complex, error-prone, expensive and slow.

    FDM style printers (the cheapest kind) require wrapping your head around calibration, nozzle diameters, temperatures, slices, alignments, supports, bed heating, the properties of PLA / ABS and all the rest. If you're lucky you'll set the printer going and hours later your efforts will yield some crudely finished single colour part. If you're unlucky you'll come back to discover something that has skewed left, warped on its base, or turned into some dante-esque spider's web that has stuck to everything.

    Maybe SLA is better? Well it certainly yields better parts for sure (assuming it cured properly, but then you also must have space for a wash station. And all the sticky, smelly gunk resins to work with that get on EVERYTHING. Beyond that you've got stuff like SLS, SLM etc where things get more interesting. But now we're talking industrial equipment with the costs and power consumption to match.

    I think the most likely form of 3D printing to take off is one which hasn't gotten much press - laminate printers [youtube.com]. The price has to come down much more than where it is to be consumer attractive but I think that's viable.

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @06:41AM (#53418975)

    Makerbot capitalized on a great idea that came from expired patents. It wasn't cutting edge stuff but it is part of the history of 3D printing revolution, much like the people with 2400 baud modems were part of the internet revolution. There have already been significant advancements in 3D printing (like SLS and SLM) but they are locked behind patents and a lack of inexpensive pulsed lasers. Once these issues can be addressed, there will be inexpensive SLS and SLM which can then easily be used for semiconductor fabrication. It wouldn't be anything cutting edge but being able to make micrometer ICs on the cheap would be a boon for everyone.

  • by dnaumov ( 453672 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @06:52AM (#53419017)

    ...was making the assumption that public at large has the skills or the interest to make their own 3D models. The average person gets confused by their web browser and email client and 3D printer vendors expected them to master 3D modelling packages.

  • This article once again ignores the elephant in the room - which is that 99.9% of consumers do not need to manufacture stuff at home.

    It is both easier, faster, cheaper and better quality to buy it at the store.

    It was the journalistic hype about a "revolution" that was supposed to come that fueled the rise of Makerbot and now those same journalists are crucifying the company for not being able to deliver on something the company didn't even originally target. It is ridiculous.

    That's not to say that Makerbot

    • The "every small part you ever need at your fingertips at home" revolution didn't happen.... or maybe hasn't happened yet.

      But 3D printing is definitely revolutionary in the business world. People are just figuring out how to use the technology now, but it is already having an impact at the very high end... like SpaceX making parts of their super-draco engines with 3D printing. Or 3D printed automotive parts. [machinedesign.com]

      Sure, we don't have laser-sintered makerbots available for $75 that can print any tool or part you

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      And you ignore that 3d printing is not about printing things you can buy.

      Where can I buy a Garmin to BMW GPS adapter plate? nowhere
      Where can I buy headphone hangers for my specific desk? nowhere
      Where can I buy a Death Star dice box for my friends that are Star Wars RPG lunatics? nowhere
      Where can I buy a switch delete plug for a 1979 civic? nowhere
      Where can I buy a China bolt style red 3Watt LED to Yamaha rear tail motorcycle mounts that look stock? nowhere.

      3d printing is for creating and printing thi

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        The elephant you're ignoring is that very few people need custom parts like that. And a very small percentage of those people would be able to design the part even if they wanted to.
  • by thisisauniqueid ( 825395 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @07:58AM (#53419169)
    Also: 3D editing is hard on a 2D screen with primarily 2D input devices. It will probably always be hard until we get really good Brain-Computer Interfaces.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I think 3D modeling software is a big reason 3D printing hasn't been the home revolution.

      I've been using computer based 2D drawing software since MacDraw in the 1980s and have used it for drafting home improvement projects, woodworking projects and floor plans. I've downloaded Sketch-Up a few times and always found myself baffled quite quickly, even tinkering with generic rectilinear shapes.

      And even drawing some boxes or other regular geometric shapes doesn't get you very fair in a world of tapered curve

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @09:08AM (#53419297) Homepage

    My monoprice mini was under $200.

    3d printing still takes a LOT of education and skill. and the bulk of the population does not want to bother with learning and tinkering

    THAT is the real reason.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @09:39AM (#53419381)

    CNC machines more cheaply build higher quality parts given current technology. They can work with a wider range of materials. They are easier to maintain. They are just better.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They didn't start a revolution, they killed one. Almost all of the consumer 3D printing tech came out of the RepRap project. All the companies grabbed RepRap's open sourced designs and research, added marketing, and then killed progress. Most companies don't invest in research, they invest in fooling people into buying their products and attacking competitors. As a donation funded business, RepRap quickly died under the weight of all those startups promising the world and none of those guys have the for

  • by w3woody ( 44457 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @10:11AM (#53419517) Homepage

    One place where I see a 3D printer being of use is when repairing things with hard-to-obtain parts. But of course you can't do this unless you have a database of parts you can print for the thing you are repairing. So like MP3 players (which did not explode until there was a database of downloadable songs that you could buy for 99 cents), we need a database of 3D printable parts for things like dishwashing machines and refrigerators and the like which can be downloaded for relatively cheap and printed on your printer which can be used to fix the broken component.

    Of course not all parts can be replaced like this. But certainly there are plenty of components (such as the plastic drive gears in a garage door opener) which can be printed and replaced by consumers.

    At the higher end I can see companies like auto repair shops using professional or pro-consumer level printers for printing harder, and more refined components for auto repairs, and even using 3D subtractive technologies (like CAD-driven lathes and CAD-driven milling machines) for making metal components which fail that do not require tight tolerances.

    I think where things like the MakerBot gadget failed was that it seemed to be oriented around the idea that everyone could design their own components. But even in today's environment there are far fewer mechanical engineers and designers than folks like that give credit for.

    • But certainly there are plenty of components (such as the plastic drive gears in a garage door opener) which can be printed and replaced by consumers.

      And how often does the average consumer need to print out weird parts? (And how many of them actually have the skills, experience, and tools to make use of them?)

      That is the fundamental limitation of 3D printing - the average consumer doesn't have significant need and/or the relevant skills. The "needs" 3D enthusiasts keep positing will enabl

  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Sunday December 04, 2016 @10:31AM (#53419555)

    For Makerbot to assume that they would revolutionize the world by selling a 3D printer at a low cost point is like someone assuming that houses will suddenly become super-cheap because they teach widespread classes on how to nail 2x4s together with a hammer and nails.

    Let's start with the first problem...so Suzy Homemaker buys a 3D printer and brings it home to her family. Now what? "oh, it can make stuff." How do you define that 'stuff?' You have to design it, using 3D software...ah, whoops. Hm, bit of a learning curve there...and even if their son Bobby is plenty good with computers, you end up with a child who has the technical knowledge and adults who own the use cases...and let's face it, in almost no family is anyone good at packaging either the knowledge or the use cases so that others could make use of them. So you end up with parents who have a vague idea of what they would like but can't communicate it, and a kid who can probably figure things out but doesn't know how to teach it. (This is the "knowing how to build framing doesn't mean you have a design for a house to work from" part of the analogy.)

    Then, let's look at the limitations...the material can only do certain things. You can basically make little plastic widgets. (This is the "houses have a lot more than 2x4s in them" part of the analogy.) You can't replicate a broken part very easily either...you're kind of focused down into a world where you're going to have to invent things for this to be useful. So add another necessary skill set to Suzy Homemaker's family for this whole thing to work.

    I think MakerBot was a success...just not the kind of success they thought they would be. They helped put 3D printing on the map for Suzy Homemaker. People have gone into Home Depot and watched 3D printers at work, creating things...that's not a small accomplishment. The price of printing continues to come down, even for technologies that remain out of reach but are far more useful (being able to 3D print with metal is very important if you want to be real about this, because only toys are only made of plastic) and now the public is a bit better-prepared for a near future where they actually *can* print things. And now, there's an awareness that the printers are just the razor blade handles...and the designs are the razor blades. Once truly useful printing becomes accessible, there will be business activity that addresses that problem. I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes the same kind of shift that Eli Whitney created when he began the manufacture of devices that had interchangeable parts.

    The moral of the story: massive shifts in society resulting from singular technologies are, in essence, Black Swan events. You cannot reliably predict them, no matter how badly you want VCs to give you money so that you can become the next Apple/Google/Microsoft/Facebook billionaires. Aim for major increments of change, and your business plans will be more viable.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday December 04, 2016 @10:37AM (#53419571) Homepage

    I think the single biggest problem with 3D printing is that most people don't have any idea what they would use it for. It's a neat concept, and it does seem useful that you could create a custom-made little plastic doodad of any specifications you want. The idea of being able to share designs seems to also have potential. Still, if someone gave me a 3D printer for free, I can't think of what I would use it for.

    Maybe I just don't have enough imagination, but I think most of the population probably has even less than I do. There are only so many little plastic pieces of junk I need in my life. I think I'd get more use out of an automated loom that could make clothes, or an automated printer/binder that could make books. Or a system that made custom Ikea pieces for assembling custom furniture. I suppose you could make plastic furniture with a big enough 3D printer, but I don't want plastic furniture-- or a big enough 3D printer for that.

    I've read through articles online about all the useful things you could make with your 3D printer. It's always stuff like book ends or door stops. Basically stuff that I don't really need, but if I did, the same purpose could be served by a small rock.

  • The answer to this question is quite obvious to me: MakerBot is to Matter Compiling (see "The Diamond Age" from Neal Stephenson) what the C64 is to the Smartphones we carry around with uns today, that resemble some distant spacey science-fition vision of a 19981 Cray 2 supercomputer for your pocket and that cost roughly a days salary of a regular worker today in 2016.

    MakerBot marks the beginning of a revolution, not the revolution itself.

    Like Commodore is basically just some brandname used on some products

  • I initially preordered a Thing-O-Matic, but was quickly warned off while waiting for it to cancel and get one of the many great RepRap kits available. I'm glad I did. Anyone that spent more than an hour or two a week trying to 3D print stuff quickly came to realize that MakerBot printers were to be avoided. They cost more and were less capable than most of the alternatives. When people can 3D-print their own custom designs and thereby rapidly improve existing 3D printer designs, mass-producing printers on a long product life cycle is a losing proposition. As far as I can tell they only got as far as they did on Bre Pettis' cult of personality and hype. While Thingiverse is handy it is/was also subject to their whims and censorship, and they blocked any weapons or weapon parts from being uploaded there, highlighting the need for other methods of sharing 3D printing designs. All I can say in conclusion is good riddance to MakerBot, long live 3D printing.
  • by ghoul ( 157158 )

    Porn has driven the progress of the WWW. Porn sites have been early adaptors of almost every web technology and they have stress tested every tech.
    The progress of 3D tech will progress on the printing of sex toys (many people are embaressed to buy sex toys and would rather print the same)

  • It had to introduce millions of people to the wonders of 3D printing, and then convince them to shell out more than $1,000 for a machine. It also had to develop the technology fast enough to keep its customers happy. Those two tasks were too much for the fledgling company

    3D printing just isn't there yet. You can make small plastic objects out of one or two materials, the surfaces are rough, and that's if you're lucky and the print doesn't fail (MakerBot is worse than many others in that way). It's also exp

  • The issue is, that I cannot 3D print a working 4TB SATA hard drive and even if, it will be much more expensive than buying one already made. If they would have found out a way to 3D print a girlfriend the nerds would have been all over it.

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