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.

An Interview With The CEO Of MakerBot

A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?

It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.

Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack  a few years ago. We know how that turned out.

Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.

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Ask Hackaday (And Adafruit): The New CEO Of MakerBot

Just a few years ago, MakerBot was the darling of the Open Hardware community. Somehow, in the middle of a garage in Brooklyn, a trio of engineers and entrepreneurs became a modern-day Prometheus, capturing a burgeoning technology into a compact, easy to use, and intoxicating product. A media darling was created, a disruptive technology was popularized, and an episode of the Colbert Report was taped.

The phrase ‘meteoric rise’ doesn’t make sense, and since then the reputation of MakerBot has fallen through the floor, crashed through the basement, and is now lodged in one of the higher circles of hell. It’s not surprising; MakerBot took creations from their 3D object hosting site, Thingiverse, and patented them. The once-Open Source line of 3D printers was locked up behind a closed license. The new MakerBot extruder – the Smart Extruder – is so failure prone MakerBot offers a three pack, just so you’ll always have a replacement on hand. False comparisons to Apple abound; Apple contributes to Open Source projects. The only other way for a company to lose the support of the community built around it so quickly would be a name change to Puppy Kickers, LLC.

In the last few months, figurehead CEO of MakerBot [Bre Pettis] was released from contractual obligations, and MakerBot’s parent company, Stratasys, has filled the executive ranks with more traditional business types. It appears PR and Marketing managers have noticed the bile slung at their doorstep, and now MakerBot is reaching out to the community. Their new CEO, [Jonathan Jaglom] specifically requested a hot seat be built at Adafruit for an open discussion and listening meeting. Yes, this means Makerbot is trying to get back on track, winning the hearts and minds of potential customers, and addressing issues Internet forums repeat ad nauseam.

If you’ve ever wanted to ask a CEO how they plan to stop screwing things up, this is your chance. Adafruit is looking for some direction for their interview/listening meeting, and they’re asking the community for the most pressing issues facing the 3D printing community, the Open Source community, and MakerBot the company.

Already on the docket are questions about MakerBot and Open Source, MakerBot’s desire to put DRM in filament, the horrors of the Smart Extruder and the 5th generation MakerBots, problems with Thingiverse, and the general shitty way MakerBot treats its resellers.

This isn’t all Adafruit wants to ask; the gloves are off, nothing is off the table, and they’re looking for questions from the community. What would you like to ask the MakerBot CEO?

Personally, the best interview questions are when the interviewee’s own words are turned around on them. By [Jonathan Jaglom]’s own admission, the barrier to entry for 3D design work has been substantially lowered in the last three years, ostensibly because of incredible advances in Open Source projects. Following this, do MakerBot and Stratasys owe a debt to Open Source projects, and should Stratasys contribute to the rising tide of Open Source development?

That’s just one question. There will, of course, be many more. Leave them down in the comments. “You are not [Tim Cook],” while a valid statement in many respects, is not a question.

Hackaday Links: May 10, 2015

Here’s a cool crowdfunding campaign that somehow escaped the Hackaday Tip Line. It’s a remote control SpaceShipOne and White Knight. SpaceShipOne is a ducted fan that has the high-drag feathering mechanism, while White Knight is a glider. Very cool, and something we haven’t really seen in the scratchbuilding world.

[Sink] has a Makerbot Digitizer – the Makerbot 3D scanner – and a lot of time on his hands. He printed something, scanned it, printed that scan… you get the picture. It’s a project called Transcription Error.

Keurig has admitted they were wrong to force DRM on consumers for their pod coffee cups.

The Apple ][, The Commodore 64, and the Spectrum. The three kings. Apple will never license their name for retro computer hardware, and there will never be another computer sold under the Commodore label. The Spectrum, though… The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega is a direct-to-TV console in the vein of [Jeri Ellisworth]’s C64 joystick doohickey.

Infinity mirrors are simple enough to make; they’re just one mirror, some LEDs, and another piece of glass. How about a 3D infinity mirror? They look really, really cool.

Here’s the six-day notice for some cool events: Hamvention in Dayton, OH. [Greg Charvat] will be there, and [Robert] is offering cold drinks to anyone who mentions Hackaday. If anyone feels like scavenging for me, here’s a thread I created on the Vintage Computer Forum.  Bay Area Maker Faire is next weekend. Most of the rest of the Hackaday crew will be there because we have a meetup on Saturday night

Take That Mario! 3D Printed Red Tortoise Shell Armor!

Between all the media coverage of using 3D printers for human prosthetics, some individuals are making a difference for animals too by using 3D printing. And here’s one we really didn’t expect;  a replacement shell for a tortoise!

We’ve all seen the heartwarming articles about pups getting wheels, or dogs getting replacement sprung feet — but is there any love for [Cleopatra] the Tortoise? Canyon Critters Rescue is an animal rescue based out of Golden, Colorado. The founder [Novelli] had recently took in little [Cleopatra] who had a painful and dangerous bone disease where her shell peaks and gets worn out — and without a shell to protect her, could easily become infected. This is typically caused by poor nutrition, so the rescue fixed her diet, but the damage to her shell was already done.

At a public education program for the rescue, [Novelli] made an offhand comment about how cool it would be to 3D print a replacement shell for her to protect the weak spots. Lucky enough for [Cleopatra], someone from the Colorado Technical University was there and wanted to help.

First they 3D scanned [Cleopatra’s] shell, and then created a 3D model of it optimized for 3D printing. They printed miniature test models on a MakerBot, and once satisfied printed the entire thing in 4 pieces. It fits over top of original shell, protecting the weak areas.

It was an incredible learning experience for all involved, and [Novelli] was extremely grateful for the help he received from the community:

I am grateful to all these people volunteering their time and energy to help me. At the rescue I don’t have the resources or funds to do something of this scale.

As for [Cleopatra], she’s living a happy tortoise life once again — and since she’s only in her teens, she has nearly a century of life to look forward to with thanks to 3D printing.