MakerBot Targets Schools With Rebranded Printers

MakerBot was poised to be one of the greatest success stories of the open source hardware movement. Founded on the shared knowledge of the RepRap community, they created the first practical desktop 3D printer aimed at consumers over a decade ago. But today, after being bought out by Stratasys and abandoning their open source roots, the company is all but completely absent in the market they helped to create. Cheaper and better printers, some of which built on that same RepRap lineage, have completely taken over in the consumer space; forcing MakerBot to refocus their efforts on professional and educational customers.

This fundamental restructuring of the company is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the recent unveiling of “SKETCH Classroom”: an $1,800 package that includes lesson plans, a teacher certification program, several rolls of filament, and two of the company’s new SKETCH printers. It even includes access to MakerBot Cloud, a new online service that aims to help teachers juggle student’s print jobs between multiple SKETCH printers.

Of course, the biggest takeaway from this announcement for the average Hackaday reader is that MakerBot is releasing new hardware. Their last printer was clearly not designed (or priced) for makers, and even a current-generation Replicator costs more than the entire SKETCH Classroom package. On the surface, it might seem like this is a return to a more reasonable pricing model for MakeBot’s products; something that could even help them regain some of the market share they’ve lost over the years.

There’s only one problem, MakerBot didn’t actually make the SKETCH. This once industry-leading company has now come full-circle, and is using a rebranded printer as the keystone of their push into the educational market. Whether they were unable to build a printer cheap enough to appeal to schools or simply didn’t want to, the message is clear: if you can’t beat them, join them.

A Familiar Face

While MakerBot hasn’t officially acknowledged that the design of the SKETCH has been borrowed from another manufacturer, those who keep their finger on the latest and greatest in the industry quickly recognized the machine for what it was. In the days following the SKETCH announcement we received a number of tips from members of the community who noticed this “brand-new” 3D printer from MakerBot bore a striking similarity to a piece of hardware currently sitting on their workbench.

There have obviously been cosmetic changes made to printer’s enclosure, but when placed side-by-side, it’s clear that the MakerBot SKETCH is a modified version of the Flash Forge Adventurer 3. The mechanical arrangement, from the removable print bed up to the unique enclosed extruder assembly, appears to be nearly identical between the two machines. The Adventure 3 even offers its own web-based management software, calling into question whether or not MakerBot Cloud might itself be a rebranded product.

Interestingly, MakerBot isn’t the only company who’s taken a liking to the Adventurer 3. Monoprice is currently selling their own version called the Voxel, with no obvious changes to the design outside the addition of their logo. Credit where credit is due, at least MakerBot put in the time and money to make their version match a bit better with the design language of their existing printer lineup.

Admittedly, if you’re going to pick a 3D printer to rebrand as your educational offering, you could do worse than the Adventurer 3. The fully enclosed design not only means it’s less likely that a curious child will reach into the machine, and that anything unsavory generated by the printing process will be contained. In fact, MakerBot has even gone a step farther and added an integrated filtration system to remove any particulates from the build chamber. The touch screen control and integrated network connectivity also go a long way towards making the machine easier to use for teachers and students alike.

It’s Not About the Printers

The Adventurer 3 is currently available directly from Flash Forge for $449, and the Monoprice Voxel is selling for an even $400. So for the price of the SKETCH Classroom pack you could get four printers, with potentially enough money left over to get some filament should you save a few bucks by going with the Monoprice version. If the goal was just to get a small print farm going, then obviously that would make the most sense.

But that’s not what the SKETCH Classroom pack is really about. While MakerBot’s track record would lead us to believe there’s a healthy markup on the hardware itself, the cost of the printers is really only half of the equation. You also have to take into account the cost of developing and maintaining the curriculum.

For educators, a complete turn-key solution like this is very appealing. Anyone can go on Amazon and pick up a pair of entry-level 3D printers, but they aren’t going to include the class materials or training that will help you keep a room full of preteens interested in them. Buying the hardware without a clear plan on how to turn it into a useful educational tool has left an untold number of 3D printers collecting dust in schools all over the world; if MakerBot’s new package can solve that problem there’s no question it’s worth the asking price.

34 thoughts on “MakerBot Targets Schools With Rebranded Printers

        1. Why would he mean that?

          In between the time where Apple was so big in schools with old-school products like the Apple II and when they grew into the giant they are today they almost tanked. It was with products like the iPod and later the iPhone that they brought it back. Their desktops are still very rare outside of hipster circles and only regained that market on the coat tails of their handheld devices.

          Also, Macintosh computers are not Unix workstations. OSX is not Unix, sorry. It’s Mach with a bunch of services running that borrow some code from BSD.

          And no, having a terminal with a bash shell doesn’t make it Unix either.

          1. This is incorrect. macOS is POSIX compliant and SUS (Single Unix Standard) Registered. It meets all the requirements and is identified as a fully compliant system.

            macOS is Unix, and Mac computers are Unix workstations. They may not look and feel the way we picture terminal systems from Bell Labs running, but they meet every requirement to serve that role.

        2. I’ve been dissapointed by MakerBot and Lulzbot. Are there any big name preassembled printers at all that are significantly better than $120 used monoprice stuff?

          Also, are these premade lesson plans actually worth anything? I know teachers are busy and all, but understanding and adapting premade content takes time too I’d imagine, not that I know anything about teaching kids beyond what I hear from a few teacher friends.

  1. Hopefully they won’t abandon their cloud solution like they have the abomination that thingiverse has become.
    They were supposed to fix the problems with the site, but it is still as slow as molasses.
    Don’t a lot of their printers require proprietary filament spools? or am I thinking of another company?
    Ripping off open-source designs and passing them off as your own is shameful, especially when you put an extortionate mark up on it.

    1. “They were supposed to fix the problems with the site, but it is still as slow as molasses.”
      That’s client side browser scripts for ya.
      Outsourcing the computation originally done by servers to the end user, resulting in gimped, battery molesting and sluggish sites.

        1. My take is that thingiverse is super slow, people is scared that it would vanish, a lot of people started to back it up, and now each time they double the speed, more people is backing it up, and yet they still do not communicate etc etc.

        2. Are you just looking for a place to plug that quote? Making client machines pick up computational slack is a very common thing to save money on hosting. Wouldn’t call it necessarily malicious, but that’s a question of degree. It is kind of crappy when you have as much tracking and ad payload as Thingiverse and most news websites for example.

          Also, all sorts of things that could conceivably be dumb mistakes turn out to be truly malicious. Dumbness is one of the most common covers for foul play. That maxim isn’t actually that dependable.

  2. We have to keep in mind that most teachers won’t be as knowledgeable and/or experienced as most people reading HAD. There is definitely value in a well planned and documented curriculum, and if the printers themselves are roughly $400 each, $1000 for such a plan doesn’t seem unreasonable unless it’s yet another subscription arrangement. And I would (naively) hope the printers aren’t DRM’d to only work with Stratasys branded filament.

    What’s odd is that the classroom push is usually for the goal of increasing retail sales through familiarity. With Strarasys pretty much abandoning the retail/consumer market, what do they hope to gain, or are the $1800 packages of printers/lesson planns enough in themselves?

  3. Just to add a little context… the Adventurer 3 (and Voxel) have an optional HEPA filter as well. It’s actually a standard feature in some countries like Australia. As for the curriculum, both the Adventurer and Voxel come with Polar3D’s Polar Cloud feature built in. The Polar Cloud has lots of curriculum already in place and is highly integrated into the printer’s software ecosystem. The price of the Polar Cloud for an entire school is less than the price for Makerbot’s cloud for 10 users only, including the printers. {Source:}

  4. “MakerBot was poised to be one of the greatest success stories of the open source hardware movement. ”

    ..and then:

    “In February 2017, MakerBot’s newly minted CEO Nadav Goshen laid off more than 40% of the workforce and changed the position of the company from consumer focused to two verticals based; professional and the education sector. This lay off was coined the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” as it happened the day after. Overnight MakerBot went from 400 employees to under 200 worldwide. ”

    and today, with chinese supply chains basically halted, it’s anyone’s guess how long these small companies can maintain stock and still survive.

    1. Not to mention they stole and close-sourced a bunch of community R&D. They’re shitheads. Gee, I wonder what’s motivating these rebrands? Surely it’s just for education, yes! C’mon, this is as blatant as Time Warner transmogrifying itself into “Spectrum.” They suck and they know it, and they’re trying to wriggle away from that culpability.

      1. Isn’t that exactly backwards tho? They’re putting their brand on new products, not wriggling away from it. This rebrand lets them keep up a release cadence without having to do much R&D on new hardware.

        If anything, they’re abandoning Thingiverse in favor of whatever “Makerbot Cloud” is.

        In my opinion, Stratasys gutted a competitor and what we’re watching now is the puppeted corpse. I know of a handful of employees that stuck with it, but the turnover (due to firing a couple hundred in 2015 and then again in 2017) is huge. The remains were the part that let Stratasys integrate with the low end education market.

    2. I always hate to see the Makerbot name tarnished by what’s happened after it was bought by Stratasys.

      The Cupcake was truly open-source and truly community driven. It wasn’t very good, by today’s standards, but it was a product of a lot of heart and hacker spirit, and it got a lot more people into the scene than the RepRaps did at the time.

      The RepRap ideology (replicating, etc) was inspirational for many, but the sheer practicality of being able to plunk down mere money and get something half-workable right off the bat was tremendously enabling.

      RIP Makerbot. (2013).

  5. I can’t wait to see this company go out of business. They not only didn’t admit it’s clearly a rebranded printer but have told schools in my district it’s made in USA now.

    Last time I checked everything was sent to China. They are this desperate to sell?

  6. A company called Research Machines (RM) did something similar in the 80s and 90s. Released a computer that was almost, but not quite, a PC, and charged 4x the going rate for what it was. Because they made it nice and easy for teachers. About whom the maxim “those who can…” is completely true. Stick a nice front end on it and figure out the language of educators, and you’re in! Make it simple enough that a barely competent network manager (we had two at my school and neither could use a DOS prompt, it was all picking from menus) can more or less keep it going, and rake in the money.

    At another school I went to, the science teacher abandoned the RM hegemony, and instead bought a load of 386s (the RM machines were 80186-based) for less money, and networked them up himself. Smart lad.

    The education sector is easy money. They will buy absolute shit from anyone, as long as you speak their language. It’s all about selling them something they’re capable of comprehending.

    Maybe Makerbot have spotted the low-hanging fruit, or maybe this is some desperate attempt to find an income source.

  7. My school district uses makerbots and they are an overpriced pain in the ass.
    Our recent replacement is a replicator+ that has to use different software… that doesn’t work with the old printer and the older good software doesn’t work with the new printer. F’ing awful. And the new software is ungodly slow. I’m trying to convince people to shift to other brands, with Prusa being my pick.

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