It’s with a heavy heart that we must report Printrbot has announced they are ceasing operations. Founded in 2011 after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, the company set out to make 3D printing cheaper and easier. Their first printer was an amalgamation of printed parts and wood that at the time offered an incredible deal; when the Makerbot CupCake was selling for $750 and took 20+ hours to assemble, the Printrbot kit would only run you $500 and could be built in under an hour.
Printrbot got their foot in the door early, but the competition wasn’t far behind. The dream of Star Trek style replicators fueled massive investment, and for a while it seemed like everyone was getting into the 3D printing game. Kit built machines gave way to turn-key printers, and the prices starting coming down. Printrbot’s products evolved as well, dropping wood in favor of folded steel and pioneering impressive features like automatic bed leveling. In 2014 they released the Printbot Simple Metal, which ultimately became their flagship product and in many ways represents the high water mark for the company.
Eventually, overseas manufacturers saw an opportunity and started flooding the market with 3D printers that were cheaper than what many would have believed possible only a few years earlier. Today you can go online and buy a perfectly serviceable starter printer for under $200, even less if you’re still willing to build it yourself. For an American company like Printrbot, competing at this price point was simply an impossibility.
Rather than give up, Brook decided to take things in a different direction. If he couldn’t compete with imported machines on price, he would start building high end printers. A new version of the Simple Metal was introduced in 2016 with premium features such as linear rails and cloud-based slicing, complete with a premium price. From that point on, most new Printrbot products would release at over $1,000; putting them more in line with “prosumer” machines from companies like Ultimaker. For hacker types who got their first taste of 3D printing thanks to a cheap wooden Printrbot kit, this was something of a bittersweet moment.
At the same time, Brook’s natural hacker spirit and love of the open source community lead to a number of interesting side projects that never quite got off the ground. Most recently, he’d been putting the finishing touches on the Printrbelt, a 3D printer with a conveyor belt in place of a traditional bed. Such a machine could finally bridge the gap between desktop 3D printing and true small scale production capability.
When we saw Brook at the East Coast RepRap Festival, he brought along a new machine that the more cynical observer might have taken as foreshadowing. The Printrbot Easy was going to be a modified and rebranded FlashForge Finder, a final acknowledgement that the only way to compete with the Chinese manufactured 3D printers was to sell one of your own.
It’s always sad to see a tech company go under, but seeing the end of Printrbot is especially hard. Built in America with locally sourced components and with a commitment to keeping their machines open source, there was a lot to love about the plucky little 3D printer company from Lincoln, California. Printrbot was the quintessential hacker success story, and we’re proud to say we’ve been in their corner from the start. Here’s to wishing Brook Drumm and the entire Printrbot team success in their future endeavors; we’ll be keeping an eye out.