TangiBot and the perils of Open Source Hardware

I’ve commented before on the terrible inefficiency and artificially high expense of the current crop of 3D printers. It simply doesn’t make sense to produce the plastic parts of 3D printer kits on a printer farm when there are literally thousands of Chinese injection molding companies that will make those parts cheaper. It looks like [Matt Strong] heeded my call and now has a Makerbot Replicator clone up on Kickstarter that costs $700 less than the official version. We assume the Makerbot lawyers are having a busy morning.

From the info on the Kickstarter page, [Matt] is used parts from his Makerbot Replicator to design a one-to-one copy. Every part and component on [Matt]’s TangiBot is 100% compatible – and seemingly 100% identical – with the Makerbot Replicator. Like the Replicator, [Matt] is offering a dual extruder version that allows you to print in two colors.

At the bottom of the Kickstarter page, under a section titled, “How is 3DTangible able to make a Replicator Clone?,” you’ll see [Matt]’s reasoning for cloning the MakerBot replicator. He says everything is open source, and, “MakerBot used other open source designs when designing and producing their 3D Printers.” We’ll agree that MakerBot used existing extruder designs (and improved upon them), but MakerBot was not this blatant in borrowing from the RepRap project.

For want of editorializing, I’ve complained about the stupid inefficiency of manufacturing 3D printers with 3D printers before. It was only a matter of time before someone realized current manufacturing techniques can be used to make 3D printers cheaper. [Matt] – dude – you were supposed to clone a RepRap. Makerbot has done some really incredible things for the community such as building Thingiverse and generally being an awesome cheerleader for the 3D printing community. Taking the flagship Makerbot printer and making it cheaper will not make [Matt] any friends on the Internet, but at least the laws of economics are coming to the world of 3D printers.

Thanks [Brad] for sending this in.

125 thoughts on “TangiBot and the perils of Open Source Hardware

  1. I cant find information on him actually innovatively designing software or hardware as an engineer on his existing site, maybe I missed it, however he does go into detail about breaking down products into a BOM to outsource to cheaper manufacturers and seems to have a long history revolving around that kind of management process. I can only see this now as a chance for him to start his own business around that kind of work model and I refuse to support it.

    Compare his kickstarter numbers it to other even cheaper but well thought out and enhanced printers on Kickstarter and you will see a stark difference in how the developers and community react to each other.

    Outsourcing the printers, claiming to set up support, using MB’s name and the actual replicators as an example of the tangibot and his credentials then throwing people to Makerbot for all their software needs? Realy? Some people dont see -THAT- as a dick move? IF MB changes anything to the Replicator, and decides to make something closed source that only they will support for their customers, tangibot owners are outa luck.

    1. Makerbot still can very easily bomb his kickstarter and even benefit all the comunity.

      Makerbot only needs to announce up to a few days before the time closes that they drop their Replicator prices to match or lower his kickstarter ones.

      A well known RepRap developer claimed here that $300 a pop may be feasible at large scale. Makerbot is selling them now for around $2000.

      Trying to scare people with alleged future compatibility issues is utterly ridiculous and sound as a desperate claim.

      You may like it more or less but the Tangibot is a clone and as open source and copatible as the Replicator.

  2. I was chatting with my father about this, who doesn’t follow this kind of stuff at all, but he was interested in the economics of this when I mentioned open source to him about a year ago, anyway, this is the editorial that I gave him, and I thought I might as well share (I realize it repeats some of the points made above, sorry):

    I think it’s ok. The tact he is taking might not be the best, in the way that he words what he is doing, but at the end of the day, the rules are the rules. The “Replicator” lists it’s license here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:18813 , which is explained here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

    It states very openly: “You are free to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work.” There is no clause requiring improving the design, and the clause isn’t buried deep in miles of legal jargon.

    All the naysayers that are complaining that he is using chinese labour compared to brooklyn hipster-man-power are guaranteed to be typing their comments on a chinese manufactured device. I’m a bit of a hipster my self, so I’m not against them, but that is just the way it is. iPhones are the number one hipster accessory, which are made in china too! How Ironic. People still have the choice to pay more if they want something made locally, and many do, at the grocery store for example. I think the market will and should decide the outcome. If he hasn’t made any improvements, as many complain, then why would the market favour him? (Maybe because Matt has made the improvement of reducing the price, with a tradeoff of using foreign labour.)

    What a lot of open source software companies do is give software away for free, and provide support at a price. I could see MakerBot going this route, by issuing a login and password to support forums for people that purchase a printer from them. Not ideal, but maybe one coping strategy for them.

    I think this is a good thing for MakerBot, as it pushes them to improve on the way they do things, and keeps them from becoming stagnant. Interestingly, MakerBot essentially “ripped off” a concept (FDM) that was developed by Stratasys 20 years ago, but I’m glad they did, as those machines cost waaaay too much! See a pattern? :-)

    His reply:


    Ultimately, do you think strong IP laws help or hinder innovation? I suspect the latter, but do you see a case for the former?

    Given strong consumer protection requirements in the pharmaceutical sector for example (and a good thing too!), who would innovate and take a 10yr+ R&D and regulatory hit without guaranteed monopoly profits (albeit regulated) for at least a few years?

    Just making a case for the bogeyman “Big Pharma” ;-)

    I haven’t quite figured out how open source would translate to something like the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe it doesn’t, but then what critical characteristics allow for something to be open source-able?

  3. Hello there,

    The reaction from the community was to be expected, the open hardware community has always given the “bad eye” to any “copycat” using free designs for commercial purposes, and yes, OSH is about giving your design away for free, but I think always looking for people to build upon it, not just copy.

    There is a BIG difference between making a copy for yourself or for a small group of friends or a hackerspace, and to try and build a company “for profit” on somebody else design (Just slapping a “new” logo/name is not enough).

    If anything, Matt had failed to demonstrate his abilities by not bringing any innovation to the product he is using to “Kickstart” his company and that may be an irreparable mistake.

    I hope this gets MakerBot on it’s toes, they got a FREE market study, if there’s anybody “listening” to these forums, only one thing is clear: “people want affordable/reliable 3D printers”.

    May be they will realize this and steer on the “right” direction, or may be somebody will catch up and come up with some “real” competition. May be even Matt will regroup and relaunch his plan.

    We’ll see….

    Just my two cents…

  4. Okay- with the gratuitous China bashing (from people who have never been there, or have little personal knowledge of the place). I live in the heart of Shenzhen, in a single day, on foot, I could purchase every component needed to build a RepRap machine- in single quantities, no bulk orders needed. All those Kickstarter projects that are are pushing back their delivery dates yet again? Those parts come from here- the local factory owners can buy them of the shelf. You can’t throw a stone without hitting an engineer, quality varies, but they are young, fast learning and hard working.

    On “Chinese quality”, they make everything from iPads to $60 Android tablets here- guess what? You get what you pay for. You can get great quality in China- often better than Western quality, or total crap. Depends who you are working with, and how much you are willing to pay.

    The dirty little secret of most “Western” brands is very little design and engineering actually happens in the West anymore. With rising wages in South China profits on manufacturing are slim- so most of the factories make their money on design and engineering. Nearly everything is ODM now. Then the Western company slaps their sticker on it, write a coherent manual, issue a few press releases and take credit for what is in reality Chinese design and engineering.

    China used to make crap, Japan- used to make crap, things change- and they change fast. You can go out to a factory in Dongguan or Foshan, sit down with half a dozen wet behind the ears, fresh out of SZU engineers, and they won’t know crap- but they are hungry, and will sit down and pound on a problem for weeks. Sure some of the solutions are pretty half-assed, but we used to call that “Yankee Ingenuity”- baling wire and chewing gum, seat of the pants, back of the napkin engineering used to be a source of national pride. Go watch “Tucker” if you think otherwise. We (Americans) forgot how to do it, and now are contemptuous even in the face of obvious results from people who have proven to be the best in the world at bringing products to market.

    This guys Kickstarter project is pointless- the boys in the back room already whipped one up and put it on sale:
    (and they made improvements)

    It’s not that the West can’t compete with China’s labor prices or practices- there are far cheaper place to have things made with far less regulation. They can’t compete with their ability to bring working, low cost products to market in a timely way. I waited months for a Solidoodle before giving up, and am still waiting weeks past promised delivery date for a Leapfrog Creatr.

    There is considerable demand for 3D printers, it’s not being met with adequate supply, the designs are in the public domain- why on earth would the Chinese NOT step up and fill the void left by Western companies too lazy to raise enough capital to keep a reasonable inventory?

    1. Milo. I agree with absolutely everything you said. For those who have never been, get on a flight to Hong Kong, and get the catamaran to Humen (or similar) and go out and explore Dongguan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou and you’ll learn exactly what Milo wrote above and much more that you never thought possible. The Pearl Delta as a whole is absolutely phenomenal and, for me, the only place I can get things made in the way that I want; in a timely fashion, with reasonable prices and with the most amazing manufacturing and design input/support from the factories. I just can’t get that at home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s