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.

3D Printed Desklamp Follows Tesla for Cordlessness

If not for [Nikola Tesla], we’d be pretty behind when it comes to electricity. So to pay homage to one of the greatest inventors, [David Choi] decided to make his very own wireless Tesla Desk Lamp!

As expected, [David’s] a big fan of [Nikola], and has always been inspired by his life and experiments — in particular he loves wireless power. Ever since he saw a Tesla Coil light up a bulb from a distance he was smitten. He even named his cat Tesla.

The funny thing is, [David] actually failed physics in high school, but a few years later decided to pursue it as a career while attending Wesleyan University. It didn’t stop when he graduated, he also studied electronic design in his spare time — which is where he learned about resonance.

Wanting to apply what he had learned he has created a very unique wireless desk lamp. Don’t let the pictures fool you; it’s actually 3D printed! It uses one of those retro “vintage” light bulbs, which has it’s power transmitted to it wirelessly by a 6.5MHz signal. It was relatively easy to get the wireless part right, because once he had calculated the number of coils he needed, all he had to do was 3D model the track for the copper to go in.

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Interview With A Printer

The Hackaday European tour continues, this time in Prague with Josef Průša (Google translate), core developer in the RepRap project, feature at all the Maker Faires and cons, and creator of his namesake, the Prusa Mendel and i3 printers.

[Prusa]’s involvement with the RepRap project started with a RepRap Mendel, the second iteration of RepRap hardware, but the first popular and easy to build version. [Jo] found the Mendel rather difficult to build, so he loaded OpenSCAD and started to design his own version of the hardware. This version became the de facto standard RepRap for a few years, with many inspired by and derivative printers making their way to hackerspaces and workshops around the world.

The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.
The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.

A few years ago, [Prusa] was one of the first to make a complete break with the traditional ‘threaded rod and nut’ construction of RepRaps with the introduction of the Prusa i3. This was the first model that had a metal plate as the frame, another feature that would be seen in dozens of other models. It’s not something that was without controversy, either; using a metal plate for the frame doesn’t allow for as much self-replication, something that’s a core value of the RepRap project. That didn’t matter to the community; the Prusa i3 or a similar design is the third most popular printer on 3Dhubs.

The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage
The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage

What’s the future of the Prusa name? There is an i4 in the works, and I’m pretty sure that’s all I can tell you. Someone already bought the Prusai4 domain, so there may be a name change.

In the interview below, [Prusa] goes over his involvement with the RepRap project, his business, what he considers to be the latest advances in 3D printing for the past year, what the worst things about the 3D printing scene is (it’s Kickstarter), the state of the RepRap project, and thoughts on SLS, DLP, and SLA printing technologies. Video below.

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Make Flexible PCBs with Your 3D Printer

The last few years have seen great strides in budget printed circuit board manufacturing. These days you can have boards made in a week for only a few dollars a square inch. Flexible PCBs still tend to be rather expensive though. [Mikey77] is changing that by making flex circuits at home with his 3D printer. [Mikey77] utilized one of the properties of Ninjaflex Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) filament – it sticks to bare copper!

The TPE filament acts as an etch resist, similar to methods using laser printer toner. For a substrate, [Mikey77] lists 3 options:

.004″ thick “Scissor cut” copper clad board from Electronics Goldmine

.002″ thick pure copper polyester taffeta fabric from

<.001″ Pyralux material from Adafruit, which is one of the materials used to make professional flex PCBs.

A bit of spray adhesive will hold the Flex PCB down on the printer’s bed. The only issue is convincing the printer to print a few thousandths of an inch higher than the actual bed level. Rather than change the home position on his Z axis, [Mikey77] used AutoDesk 123D to create 3D PCB designs. Each of his .stl files has a “spacer bar”, which sits at the bed level. The actual tracks to be printed are in the air a few thousandths of an inch above the bed – exactly the thickness of the substrate material. The printer prints the spacer bar on the bed, then raises its Z height and prints on the flexible PCB material. We’re sure that forcing the printer to print in mid-air like this would cause some printer software to throw errors, but the system worked for [Mikey77] and his Makerbot.

Once the designs have been printed, the boards are etched with standard etching solutions such as ferric chloride. Be careful though – these thin substrates can etch much faster than regular PCB.

MakerBot Files Patents, Internet Goes Crazy

In the past month, a few patent applications from MakerBot were published, and like everything tangentially related to the prodigal son of the 3D printer world, the Internet arose in a clamor that would be comparable only to news that grumpy cat has died. That’s just an analogy, by the way. Grumpy cat is fine.

The first patent, titled, Three-dimensional printer with force detection was filed on October 29th, 2013. It describes a 3D printer with a sensor coupled to the hot end able to sense a contact force between the nozzle and build plate. It’s a rather clever idea that will allow any 3D printer to perform software calibration of the build plate, ensuring everything is printed on a nice, level surface. Interestingly, [Steve Graber] posted an extremely similar design of a bed leveling probe on October 6th, 2013. In [Steve]’s video, you can see his bed level probe doing just about everything the MakerBot patent claims, all while being uploaded to YouTube before the patent application.

When it rains it pours, and the Quick-release extruder patent application, filed on October 28, 2013, bears this out. It claims an extruder that includes, “a bistable lever including a mechanical linkage to the bearing, the bearing engaged with the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a first position and the bearing disengaged from the drive gear when the bistable lever is in a second position.” Simple enough, a lever with two positions, where one presses a bearing against a drive gear, and the other position disengages the bearing from a drive gear. Here’s something that was published on Thingiverse in 2011 that does the same thing. Hugely famous RepRap contributor [whosawhatsis] has weighed in on this as well.

It is important to note that these are patent applications. Nothing has been patented yet. The US Patent and Trademark Office does seem to have a lot of rubber stamps these days, so what is the average Internet denizen to do? Here are easy to follow, step-by-step instructions on how to notify the USPTO of prior art. Remember, just because prior art does not completely invalidate a patent application’s claims doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send it in. It is a patent examiner’s job to review the prior art.

So there you go. MakerBot applies for patents, people complain, but not to the USPTO. Highly relevant video and transcription below.

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