Makerbot Has Now Cut 36% of Staff in Last 6 Months

The CEO of Makerbot, [Jonathan Jaglom] announced this week a massive reorganization. Twenty percent of the staff will be laid off, management will be changed, an office will be closed, and perhaps most interestingly, the production of 4th generation of Makerbots will be outsourced to contract manufacturers.

This news comes just months after Makerbot announced its first 20% reduction in staff, and follows on the heels of a class action suit from investors. These are troubling times for Makerbot.

So Goes Makerbot, So Goes The Industry

In the last six months, Makerbot has closed all three of its retail locations in Manhattan, Boston, and Greenwich, CT. It has moved out of one of its office buildings in Industry City, Brooklyn as the company faces a class action suit from investors for possible securities violations. These are by any measure troubling times for anyone at Makerbot.

The 3D printing industry has been forced through the rollercoaster of the hype cycle in the last few years, and where Makerbot goes, media coverage and public perception of 3D printing goes with it. According to pundits, we are now deep in the doldrums of the trough of disillusionment. No one wants to make their own parts for their washing machine, it is said, and 3D printers are finicky devices with limited utility.

Despite these pundits’ projections, the 3D printing industry doubled in 2015. Multiple manufacturers of sub $5000 machines are going gangbusters, and seeing the biggest revenues in the history of their respective companies. By any measure except the one provided by Makerbot, we are still in an era of a vast proliferation of 3D printing.

Makerbot, for better or worse, is a bellweather, and public perception and media attention is highly dependant on the success of Makerbot. The Verge writes – incorrectly – “…The consumer 3D-printing market’s rise has slowed”, and Business Insider writes ‘consumers are beginning to lose interest.’ These are not statements backed up by facts or statistics or even hearsay; they are merely a reflection of the consumer’s disinterest in Makerbot and not of the 3D printing industry of the whole.

Unfortunately, we will not know the extent of how bad it is at Makerbot until Stratasys releases its 2015 financial report sometime in early March next year. Wohlers Report 2016, the definitive guide to the 3D printing industry, will be released sometime around May of next year. Keep one thing in mind: Makerbot did not build the 3D printing industry, and the public perception of Makerbot does not necessarily translate to the public perception of 3D printing.

3D Printering: The Makerbot Class Action Suit

Since the 5th generation of Makerbot 3D printers were released at CES in 2014, there has been an avalanche of complaints about the smart extruder in these printers. Clogs were common, and the recommended fix was to simply replace the extruder. The smart extruder is a $175 part, and the mean time before failure is somewhere between 200 and 500 hours. With these smart extruders, you’re looking at a new extruder every dozen prints or so. Combine this with Makerbot’s abdication of open source values, and it’s easy to see why no one in the know would buy a Makerbot.

The performance of the 5th gen Makerbots is also reflected in the Stratasys stock price. The stock has tanked, from a high of $130.83 in early 2014 to a low of $31.88 a few days ago. This has investors calling for blood, and now there’s a class action suit claiming Stratasys violated securities laws. The court docs found by the folks at Adafruit allege Stratasys rushed the 5th gen Makerbots into production resulting in an avalanche of negative feedback, warranty claims, returns, and misled investors until the stock collapsed when the market was made aware of these issues.

The court documents allege Stratasys and Makerbot touted the incredible ease of use and ‘unmatched’ quality of the 5th generation of Makerbots, while former Makerbot employees confirmed known issues with the smart extruder. The 5th gen Makerbots were rushed into production without proper testing for performance and reliability and no standardized testing and validation program. In short, Makerbot itself didn’t know how bad the smart extruder was, but shipped the product anyway. This in turn hurt sales, with one sales executive leaving the company as he “did not want to sell the 5th generation printers after learning about the defect issues because he has a ‘conscience’.”

Despite this, those in charge at Makerbot and Stratasys continued to make misleading  positive claims about the reliability of their printers and how the printers were received by the market. This is the crux of the lawsuit, and something that points to an artificially inflated stock value.

The plaintiffs for this lawsuit are limited to Stratasys stock holders, and anyone out there who only owns a 5th gen Makerbot will sadly be ignored in this lawsuit. Still, if the claims of this lawsuit are true, Stratasys and Makerbot are in for a world of hurt; this is an alleged violation of federal securities laws. demanding a jury trial. Popcorn abounds, and as always, [Zach] and [Adam] came out ahead.

3D Printering: Laser Cutting 3D Objects

3D printing can create just about any shape imaginable, but ask anyone who has babysat a printer for several hours, and they’ll tell you 3D printing’s biggest problem: it takes forever to produce a print. The HCI lab at Potsdam University has some up with a solution to this problem using the second most common tool found in a hackerspace. They’re using a laser cutter to speed up part production by a factor of twenty or more.

Instead of printing a 3D file directly, this system, Platener, breaks a model down into its component parts. These parts can then be laser cut out of acrylic or plywood, assembled, and iterated on much more quickly.

You might think laser-cut parts would only be good for flat surfaces, but with techniques like kerf bending, and stacking layer upon layer of material on top of each other, just about anything that can be produced with a 3D printer is also possible with Platener.

To test their theory that Platener is faster than 3D printing, the team behind Platener downloaded over two thousand objects from Thingiverse. The print time for these objects can be easily calculated for both traditional 3D printing and the Platener system, and it turns out Platener is more than 20 times faster than printing more than thirty percent of the time.

You can check out the team’s video presentation below, with links to a PDF and slides on the project’s site.

Thanks [Olivier] for the tip.

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3D Printering: Hobbs Meters And 3D Printer Reliability

A direct link to Makerbot's  3-pack of Smart Extruders is very hard to find
A direct link to Makerbot’s 3-pack of Smart Extruders is very hard to find

It’s been a little over a year since Makerbot introduced their new line of printers, and since then there have been grumblings about the quality of the Smart Extruder that each one of these printers comes with. While there is no 3D printer extruder that will not eventually clog, wear down, or otherwise break, there are reports of the Makerbot Smart Extruder failing in only hundreds or even tens of hours of use. Considering that a single large print can take a dozen or so hours to complete, you can easily see the why the Smart Extruder is so despised and why even the availability of a three-pack of Smart Extruders is a joke in the 3D printing community.

Of course a cheap shot at Makerbot that plays right into your preconceived ideas and prejudices is far too easy. We’re here to solve problems, not just state them, so here’s what we’re working with: to quantify the long-term reliability of 3D printers we need a way to measure the mean time before failure of extruders. This is already a solved problem; it’s just not implemented.

On aircraft and some very expensive engines that power things like buildings and ships, there’s one gauge, tucked away in the control panel, that keeps track of how long the engine has been running. It’s called a hobbs meter, and the idea behind it is extremely simple – when there is power going to the Hobbs meter, it counts out hours on a small clockwork display. The resolution of the display is only tenths of an hour, usually, but that’s good enough for scheduling maintenance and to be mentioned in NTSB accident reports.

Spend enough time with a 3D printer, and you’ll quickly realize the ‘estimated print time’ is merely a ballpark, and with failed prints the ‘total print time for this object’ isn’t exactly a perfect measure of how many hours you’ve been using your extruder. Only by directly measuring how many hours are logged on a hot end or how many kilometers of filament have been sent through an extruder will you ever get an accurate idea of how long an extruder has been running, and how reliable a printer is.

Hobbs meters are available from Mouser, but you’ll be overpaying there. The better option is from a vendor in a different niche; $30 for a meter that can connect directly to the extruder heater. If enough people add this and keep proper logs, there’s a slight chance of improving the state of 3D printers with real data and not the prejudices of people trying to justify their own designs and purchases.

But perhaps that’s too hard; adding a $30 item to a printer’s BOM just for the sake of data is a bit much. Luckily, there’s an even simpler solution that won’t cost a dime. Just measure the time a heater has been on in the firmware, or save the total length of extruded filament in a microcontroller’s EEPROM. Every printer firmware out there, from Marlin to Repetier to Sprinter has in it a way to calculate both the length of time a heater has been on or how much filament has been pushed through a nozzle.

However, this is 3D printing we’re dealing with. An organized community is not a luxury we currently enjoy, and for this to work several things are needed. The first is somewhere to upload failure statistics. This would be a web site, naturally, with the ability to input the printer make, extruder and hot end model, and the time since last clogged nozzle. The website itself is just a database, some JavaScript, a bit of CSS, and some hosting costs; not hard until you consider tens of thousands of operators would have to know about this website and contribute.

Secondly, if we’re not going with mechanical Hobbs meters there would need to be a ‘total time heater on’ or ‘total length of extruded filament’ variable in the various firmwares. There would hopefully be standardized Gcodes or Mcodes to read and reset this variable.

Will this happen? Of course not. Organization isn’t a strong suit of the RepRap project, and any company that implements Hobbs meter functionality will probably lock that up in proprietary obfuscation. However, Makerbot isn’t dumb, and given they’re selling three-packs of extruders, I would bet they have some data on the MTBF of their extruders. A community-based measurement of the most common cause of broken printers is certainly possible, but like all problems it’s one of organization, not technology.

3D Printering is a semi-weekly column that digs deep into all things related to 3D Printing. If you have questions or ideas for future installments please sending us your thoughts.

3D Printering: Custom RC Camera Mount Takes To The Sky


3D Printers are only good for printing trinkets and doodads, right?  Not really. Although, I do print the occasional useless object, most of my prints are used for projects I’m working on or to meet a need that I have. These needs are the project’s design requirements and I’d like to share the process and techniques I use when creating a functional 3D object.

My pal [Toshi] has RC Airplanes and flies often. I have an Action Camera that I never use. Why not combine the two and have some fun? The only thing standing in our way was a method to mount the camera to the airplane. 3D printing makes it easy. If you have a popular vehicle or application, there may be something already available on a 3D model repository like Thingiverse. Our situation was fairly unique I decided to design and print my own mount.

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MRRF: Roundtable And Roundup

Last weekend Hackaday made a trip out to the Midwest RepRap Festival in Goshen, Indiana. We met a ton of interesting people, saw a lot of cool stuff, and managed to avoid the Amish horse and buggies plying the roads around Goshen.

We’ve already posted a few things from MRRF, including [Jordan Miller] and co.’s adventures in bioprinting, a very cool printable object repo that’s backed by a nonprofit LLC, some stuff from Lulzbot that included a new extruder, stretchy filament, and news of a 3D scanner that’s in development, ARM-based CNC controllers including the Smoothieboard and capes for the Beaglebone, 3D printed resin molds, the newest project from [Nicholas Seward], creator or the RepRap Wally, Simpson, and Lisa, and 3D printed waffles. It really was an amazing event and also the largest DIY 3D printer convention on the planet. How this happened in Goshen, Indiana is anyone’s guess, but we’d like to give a shout out to SeeMeCNC for organizing this event.

With so many famous RepRappers in one place, it only made sense to put together a round table discussion on the state of RepRap, 3D printers, and microfabrication. We have a 40-minute long video of that, which you can check out after the break.

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3D Printering: Making A Thing With Solidworks, Part II


Last week we started to Make a Thing  in Solidworks.  We got as far as sketching and extruding the base. This week we’ll make the back portion. We’ll use some of the same techniques in Part I and a few new features such as 3D filleting and the Hole Wizard.

As you know, this is not the first ‘Making a Thing’ tutorial. In case you missed them, the softwares previously covered in the 3D Printering series are:


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