The MakerBot Obituary

MakerBot is not dead, but it is connected to life support waiting for a merciful soul to pull the plug.

This week, MakerBot announced it would lay off its entire manufacturing force, outsourcing the manufacturing of all MakerBot printers to China. A few weeks ago, Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, released their 2015 financial reports, noting MakerBot sales revenues have fallen precipitously. The MakerBot brand is now worth far less than the $400 Million Stratasys spent to acquire it. MakerBot is a dead company walking, and it is very doubtful MakerBot will ever be held in the same regard as the heady days of 2010.

How did this happen? The most common explanation of MakerBot’s fall from grace is that Stratasys gutted the engineering and goodwill of the company after acquiring it. While it is true MakerBot saw its biggest problems after the acquisition from Stratasys, the problems started much earlier.

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Hackaday Links: April 10, 2016

Spot the mirrored mac
Spot the mirrored Mac

Here is the best Mac mod we’ve ever seen. [Doogie] decided to take an Apple G5 Quad to the max. This means maintaining the liquid cooling setup, adding the max amount of RAM (16 GB), adding a Sonnet Tempo 6.0Gb PCI-e card and two Samsung 840 Pro SSDs, and an Nvidia Geforce 6600GT. The best part about this Mac? Instead of the classic anodized aluminum, [Doogie] polished the case to a mirror finish. Here’s a video of the entire build. The computer is currently serving up his webpage, and if you want to see how the server load test is going, you can check out the stats page here.

Hackaday links posts are where we put interesting kickstarters and crowdfunding projects, and this one is near the top. It’s a crowdfunding campaign for a glassblowing workshop in England. If this project is funded, people can come repair their scientific glassware, make new tubes, or take a glassblowing workshop. It’s not quite a crowdfunding campaign for a business (perhaps it should be?), but maybe someone out there has a glass lathe they can donate.

A few months ago, Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. There’s a lot of overlap in both company’s portfolios, leading many to wonder which products would be EOL’ed and removed from the market. This week, Microchip released a statement on the acquisition (PDF), and spelled out what to expect from the product line. It’s good news:

We know that stability and growth in manufacturing is an important consideration from a supply base, and it has been one of the key elements that Microchip has executed well throughout its 25+ year life. We will honor that concept in this integration activity as well. We also recognize that product End-of-Life may be one of your concerns in any acquisition, including this one. Microchip has a practice and track record of not putting products on End-of-Life, and it is our intent to continue to offer the complete portfolio of products from both companies.

On April 5th, Makerbot announced it has sold more than 100,000 3D printers worldwide. Sounds like quite an accomplishment, right? Wrong. From December 31, 2014 to April 5, 2016 – fifteen months – Makerbot has sold only 20,094 printers. Sales figures are hard to come by (I’m working on this), but Lulzbot is outselling Makerbot given one of their latest press releases and basic math. There will be more on this after Stratasys releases their 2015 yearly report (on May 9), but I’m calling this the beginning of the end for Makerbot.

Here’s a Kickstarter for a laser cutter. The first reward that will get you a laser cutter is €1.300, “a special 50% early bird Kickstarter discount off the estimated retail price.” That means this is a $3000 laser cutter. What does that get you? A five watt ‘shortwave’ laser, 20×16″ working area, and a software interface that actually looks rather good.

Repairing a MakerBot Mightyboard Clone

It can be argued that MakerBot, a company that makes popular 3D printers, hit its pinnacle with the introduction of the Replicator 2. It was designed well and completely open source, including the motherboard that drove the printer – known as the Mightyboard. China quickly picked up on the success of the Replicator 2 and copy/pasted several of their own versions (at a much cheaper sale price). One of these outfits is called Wanhao, and their version of the Replicator 2 is called..wait for it…the Duplicator!

Their version of the Mighyboard is identical to the original, minus a few nickle and dime components. This suggests that Wanhao made an effort to cut as much cost as possible without looking at what functionality they were removing. And anytime a company does this, you can bet the quality of the board manufacturer is at the bottom of the barrel.   [Avrydev] found this out the hard way when he repaired a faulty motherboard from a broken Duplicator.

The board would not connect to the software via USB, and the startup tune pitch was off. [Arvydev] flashed new firmware via ICSP, but that did not help. He eventually clued in on the main crystal for the Atmega processor. A quick swap and presto! The printer is as good as new.

The 3D Printers of CES

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is in full swing. That means the Hackaday tip line is filled to the brim with uninteresting press releases, and notices that companies from the world over will be at CES.

3D printing has fallen off the radar of people who worship shiny new gadgets of late, and this is simply a function of 3D printing falling into the trough of disillusionment. The hype train of 3D printing is stuck on a siding, people are bored, but this is the time that will shape what 3D printing will become for the next ten years. What fascinating news from the 3D printing industry comes to us from CES?

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Printing Soft Body Tissue

If you are like us, you tend to do your 3D printing with plastic or maybe–if you are lucky enough to have access to an expensive printer–metal. [Adam Feinberg] and his team at Carnegie Mellon print with flesh. Well, sort of. Printing biomaterials is a burgeoning research area. However, printing material that is like soft tissue has been challenging. In a recent paper, [Feinberg] and company outline a method called FRESH. FRESH uses a modified MakerBot or Printrbot Jr. printer to deposit hydrogel into a gelatin slurry support bath. The gelatin holds the shape of the object until printing is complete, at which point it can be removed with heat. If you don’t want to wade through the jargon in the actual paper, the journal Science has a good overview (and see their video below).

The gelatin is mixed with calcium chloride and gelled for 12 hours at low temperature. It was then turned into a slurry using an off-the-shelf consumer-grade blender. A centrifuge was used to remove most of the soluble gelatin. Printing inks were made with materials like collagen and fibrin. The FRESH process actually uses liquid  ink that gels in the gelatin.

The printer uses an open source syringe extruder found on the NIH 3D print exchange (they never say exactly  which one, though and we had trouble matching it from the pictures). In true hacker fashion, the printer prints its own syringe extruder using the stock one from ABS and PLA plastic. Then you simply replace the standard extruder with the newly printed one (reusing the stock stepper motor).

The paper describes printing items including a model of a 5-day-old embryonic chick heart, an artery, and a miniature human brain model. Another team of researchers in Florida have a similar system, as well.

We’ve talked about bioprinting before and even mentioned how to make your own inkjet-based bioprinter. The FRESH method looks like it is in reach of the hacker’s 3D printing workshop. We cringe to think what you will print when you can finally print body parts.

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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.