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What doomed MakerBot? The Osborne effect (hugs.io)
159 points by hugs on April 19, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 84 comments

The MakerBot's problem is simply that low-end extruder-type 3D printers don't work very well.[1] They're easy to make, so there are lots of variations on that theme. TechShop has, over time, had one or two of all the major flavors. They're useful for making relatively thin parts, but anything taller than 3cm or so usually founders on the basic fact that ABS has too big of a coefficient of expansion to build something tall without delaminating due to thermal stress.

The frontier in 3D printing seems to be to get the cost down on the high-end processes, which are now very good. The Form1, the low-end stereolithography printer, is a nice little machine, and it's real. TechShop SF and Hacker Dojo in Mountain View both have one. Form1 charges $145/liter for the working fluid, so that's how they make their money.

Eventually, somebody is going to get low-cost laser sintering of metal powder figured out. But not quite yet. The Aurora Labs 3D metal printer turned out to cost about 10x the original $4000 price. MatterFab hasn't shipped their device. There's a low-end electroplating printer, but that's inherently a very slow process.

[1] http://gizmodo.com/why-3d-printing-is-overhyped-i-should-kno...

I'm not sure that's their main problem. Other companies are alive and well selling similar printers to customers that know what they buy.

I think MakerBots biggest problem is that they've marketed (and with Gen5, designed) their products as being "consumer ready" when they're far from it.

With the huge brand name of MakerBot, I can't help feel that this is going to create a setback for the 3D printer market. It's just sad.

> The frontier in 3D printing seems to be to get the cost down on the high-end processes, which are now very good. The Form1, the low-end stereolithography printer, is a nice little machine, and it's real. TechShop SF and Hacker Dojo in Mountain View both have one. Form1 charges $145/liter for the working fluid, so that's how they make their money.

High quality desktop CNC Mills are out.


$3000 for a proven technology. Home-made CNC mills have always come in between $1000 to $3000, and now professional turnkey solutions are available in that price range.

I do realize CNC machines are the "opposite" of a 3D Printer. But if a CNC machine can get a software stack as easy to use as the 3d printers, then I think they'd get a lot more use.

Carbide3D is still at "preorder". PocketNC has a very nice 5 axis machine for about $3K, but they were demoing two years ago and still aren't shipping. Roland has some nice machines starting around $5000, and those are real, shipping products.

I'd really like to see PocketNC deliver.

Milling software remains a problem. For 3-axis machines and simple work, there's the Cut2D/Vcarve/Aspire line, which is easy to use. Most work at TechShop uses that program. At the high end, there's Hypermill - $22,000 a seat, but you get your money's worth.[1] Look at the videos of it controlling a 5-axis machine, with long thin tools working deep through narrow openings, without screwing up. In the middle, there's SprutCam, from Russia, which is startup-grade software - clever, but buggy. (I've used it.) Since in the CNC business, bad software results in rejected parts and tool and machine damage, buyers are unwilling to buy bad software.

There's some open source software for CAM, but it's below Cut2D, which is considered entry level.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnIvhlKT7SY

Easy-to-use already exists, it's getting it at a reasonable cost that's missing. ArtCAM, for instance, will gladly sell you something in the automobile-priced, dongle-secured range, that can handle all of the toolpath calculations, tool swaps, etc. (so you don't need to be a machinist to understand what's going to break and what's going to burn, etc.) But if you need $10K software to turn a model into instructions for your $2K mill, there's a bit of a prohibitive imbalance there from a hobbyist's perspective.

MeshCAM (what comes free with the Nomad 883) is easy to use... although speeds and feeds still need to be manually inputted. But still, if you break your block of wood because you feed was too high, you just drop down the feed (or increase those RPMs) and spend $5 on another 2x4 block of wood.

Or if your RPM was too high and you smell burning, you drop it down on the next run.

In the worst case, if you catastrophically fail at those numbers and break say an end-mill ($20 to $50), that's still not that big of a deal. A major mistake / catastrophe still is cheaper to deal with than regular maintenance of say... a Form 1 stereo lithography plastic that costs something like $150 per liter.

I'd bet you that MeshCAM (again, free with the Nomad, $200ish otherwise) will create more precise parts than your typical Makerbot stuff anyway. Waterfall + Pencil Finish is more than enough to get the majority of projects done. (Steriolithography from Form1 looks... very impressive though, but the running costs are absurd in comparison)

ArtCAM, and other professional toolsets, are probably much better suited for professional artists who need to keep track of the grain of wood and the cutting direction. But... you can ignore the details of wood-grain and still come up with something with far more detail and precision than anything Makerbot can ever hope to do.

Basically, you start to care about those minor details with CNC machines because you actually have a machine that has such accuracy that those details matter. Also, $5 wood blocks and $20 leather (Drag Knife on a CNC machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMoRUZnvbXw) honestly feel more "artisan" than the $100+/liter plastic that comes out of a Form1.

No, that is not Makerbot Industries' problem.

They have problems at two levels. At one level is that their management isn't very nice and thus the internal culture appears to be very strained. At least if you read the comments from about 50-60 former and current employees on one of those "employee satisfaction" websites whose name escapes me at the moment (Glass Door?).

They went from a very open company embracing open source and the Maker culture, to a closed company that was about pushing products that were not mature in order to meet revenue demands from their new owners. Their new owners being one of the big names in an industry that has been defined by patenting the fuck out of everything and then holding progress back for dear life. (High end 3D printers are the ultimate razor-blade business model -- with the slight difference that the razor handle isn't exactly cheap. Ask someone who owns a high end printer and they'll be able to tell you how insanely expensive they are to run).

At the more obvious level, Makerbot are in trouble because they have made a defective product. It would have been okay if the product was still "open" so users could service the parts or upgrade components, but now you can't.

In particular they have made an extruder that fails on almost every level. From the badly designed hotend that has an entirely wrong temperature gradient, to the non existing adjustment of idler wheel pressure, the unnecessary custom designed hobbed wheel, the lack of gearing on the stepper, meaning that it is too weak to do its job (look for "tick of death"), the fact that you can't open the extruder without voiding the warranty and risk breaking off the tabs to hold it together and the various Z-axis calibration problems which means that automatic offset measurement both results in the wrong distance AND it takes more time on EVERY print than it takes to calibrate the Z-offset on a manual printer ONCE.

The upshot of this is very frequent printing malfunctions, an extruder that is only guaranteed for 200 hours of operation before it has to be replaced, and if the extruder clogs, you have to send it in to have it cleared. (Extruder clogs can happen at any time. I've had extruders clog after just 2 hours). In Norway a new extruder costs about 4000,- NOK ($510)the last time I checked. For moderate use while prototyping you need between one and two new extruders per month, plus you need a population of extruders big enough to guarantee that you have extruders on hand when sending back extruders for repair.

You can calculate how many times over a year you pay the price of a new printer in spare parts alone. The Makerbot is a fucking expensive machine to run. (Yet not as expensive as the big high end printers from 3DS, Stratasys etc)

(Of course, in real life, time is worth more, so you fix the clogged extruders yourself and void the warranty).

So no, it is not about high end versus low end processes. Most people who are in the market for FFF (FDM) printers know precisely what the process can deliver. And there are printers that reliably deliver the expected results. Makerbot's fifth generation printers are not among them.

While the Osborne effect might have been a contributor to their earlier troubles, it isn't what is ailing them now. In fact, you would have to ignore half a dozen bigger issues before you would desperately reach for the Osborne effect.

(I have a Makerbot fifth gen at work and we've gone through three extruders before just giving up. The thing doesn't work. I occasionally update the firmware and the desktop software to see if things have improved, but there really isn't that much you can do when the key problem is horrendeously inept mechanical design.

I also have a Makergear M2 at home which (in Norway) costs about half of what the Makerbot costs, and which has worked impeccably for months now. After 4 monts the extruder mount started breaking apart. So I quickly printed a new one (before it broke completely) and replaced it. It cost me about $2 and it took 90 minutes from I discovered the cracks until I had the new part mounted. Apart from that I have had no problems and have had to replace no other parts)

Mhh. I was never very impressed.

It started when they initially refused to credit RepRap with all the open-source stuff they included in MakerBot. They then proceeded to bury the credit when they finally gave it.

They claimed they were putting a lot of unique IP in, but realistically in v1 it was just a different case.

Ultimately MakerBot tried to cash in on a trend, by taking a lot of open source design and building a product around it - but failing to do so in a open friendly fashion, and not understanding how to do product management.

i am always amazed at how 3d printer articles brought to the forefront of this aggregator rarely, if ever, talk about the peachy printer

in considering lowering costs i suppose the question is who is assessing these costs: an individual, or a company

form1 is interesting but at 3.3k that is quite expensive for an individual

there is an effort for a 100$ stereolithographic printer called the peachy printer

comparing specs:

                    pP(i)       form1(ii)
    resolution     .2mm    20-200microns(.02-.2mm)
    build vol      ?inf?*     125×125×165
    software       open         closed
    price printer  100$**        3.3k$
    price resin     60$          150$
    * peachy's design is formless, seemingly only limited by the tank volume and struts
    ** 100$ self assembly, 400$ fully built
when the peachy is finalised and in the hands of users i think this build volume aspect will be a source of very interesting experimentation and debate

peachy was impressive when it started its effort and has steadily improved but the really impressive element of the campaign for me is the transparency of development(iii), and the ethics of its staff(iv)

also the software is opensource : https://github.com/PeachyPrinter


(i) http://www.peachyprinter.com/#!printer-specs/c1gk6

(ii) http://formlabs.com/products/form-1-plus/

(iii) https://www.youtube.com/user/PeachyPrinter

(iv) http://www.peachyprinter.com/#!ethics/c2208

I'm guessing no one talks about it in when articles like this show up because... well.. no one's really used one yet. I've spent the weekend hand-assembling what is hopefully the final prototype rev of the PCB though, and hopefully they end up in peoples hands soon.

I don't speak for my employer at all, but I'm pretty excited that they should be out in the wild Really Soon(tm).

I wonder why we haven't seen a hybrid of a 3d printer plus cnc machine? That way you could have a really inexpensive 3d process that is low resolution, then have a cnc cutter that finishes it up. (A cnc machine by itself normally has as a disadvantage of a large amount of waste of input material).

The machine you describe exists at least in prototype form.


I think Aurora Labs are still working hard (iterating) on their design to get the costs down and will have something to show, shortly ..

The challenge of being an open source hardware manufacturer in the presence of an economy that is better suited to create hardware than you are (China in this case) is that you really have to execute well. I agree it was a huge mistake on Bre's part to leak the upcoming Rep 2. Without incoming orders you have to fund current orders and R&D out of cash on hand, and that doesn't work without a big line of credit.

But it is also really unfair to second guess someone who is riding a bucking bull in a nursery. That is what running a very successful startup can be like, lots of money coming in, decisions needing to be made with too little information, large outcome swings based on them with precious little runway to correct for errors. When you are in that space and someone reaches in and offers to lift you out, it can be hard to be rational about the choices you are making. It seemed to me that Stratasys knew exactly what they where doing, and less so for Bre and crew.

Unfortunately for Stratasys they failed to understand why Makerbot had been growing like it had, probably taking the late product launch as all the rationale they needed for a cash short company. I believe that had they understood what they had stepped in to, they would have approached it very differently and made very different choices. Not the least of which would be a mixed model of open and proprietary gizmos for their printers.

I am convinced that their lack of openness lead directly to the C.F. that is their "SmartStruder" which now has people calling for class action lawsuits.

A company with the Goodwill of a Printrbot and the resources of a Stratasys would have dominated the 3D market completely. Instead small printer companies are flourishing and kickstarters for new printers regularly cross $1M in pledges (and that is for printers no one has any right to believe can even be built!)

I found it hugely ironic that Bre is on the cover of this month's Popular Science [1]

[1] http://www.popsci.com/2015-invention-awards

The trouble with MakerBot isn't just that they're a US open source hardware manufacturer in a world where China is better economically suited to making hardware, it's that their business model is based around taking other people's openly-available R&D and designs and turning them into products. Which means that they have nothing to compete on other than patriotism when Chinese companies do the same for less.

For example, I believe MakerBot changed their extruder design for one that was suspciously similar to something one of the Chinese manufacturers came up with. Then their parent company Stratasys sued that company to stop them selling their printers, claiming the extruder infringed a patent of theirs via some, errm, creative interpretation of the patent claims. Buying MakerBot printers doesn't even help fund the companies that do the original R&D - it helps fund someone that's trying to sue them out of business.

Their printers are not cheap, not reliable and not even all that original, so why would you buy them?

Seconded regarding his cover on popsci. You have to admire his knack for self promotion.

I don't think it's entirely self promotion.

Despite their looming fall and whether or not you feel betrayed by the switch to closed-source, IMO MakerBot played an important role in turning 3D printing from "a thing in movies and high-end research labs" to "a thing hobbyists and consumers could do". Their place in history may not be as large as they would have liked, but it's definitely there.

> I am convinced that their lack of openness lead directly to the C.F. that is their "SmartStruder" which now has people calling for class action lawsuits.

What is the story of this? (I tried searching for "SmartStruder class action" and all I found was this particular comment.)

It's actually called the Smart Extruder, you should find more results if you search for that. Rumour has it they knew they were dodgy, shipped them anyway, and then quietly redesigned them a few months later: http://www.reddit.com/r/3Dprinting/comments/2ovd27/makerbot_...

Only "calling for class action lawsuits", in the way that enthusiasts spurned do.

I'm pretty tech savvy, and I honestly can't find a reason, other than tinkering, to buy a 3d printer. In almost every case, the thing the printer would be making for me, at huge effort in time and materials, is solvable with a cheap, sub-$1 Chinese made part or some other more convenient alternative.

The lack of real use-case is what's killing consumer-level 3d printers. Most people just don't need to run off a couple copies of a 3d trinket or toy with enough frequency to make it worth it. And the subset of those people with useful 3d-modeling skills is some tiny fraction of that number.

Whenever I see somebody using a 3d printer at the consumer level for something useful, it always seems to have just been for a one-off Arduino case or something like that. That's really just not incentive for me to spend the time and money to get setup with 3d printing, when I can just buy a case off of Amazon or whatever and be done with it.

The cost of the parts is the cost of your time + materials + setup costs (the printer). Is an Arduino case really worth $1400-$6500? That price only comes down if I print off more stuff I suppose, but at what point do the trinkets and dodads I'm printing off start to make economic and time sense? That's pretty far down the production chain, and I simply don't have that much stuff to print.

I was in the same boat, until very recently.

I am the founder of OpenPnP, an Open Source SMT pick and place platform. I eschewed 3D printing for my design work for several years thinking that it was not accurate enough, not strong enough, etc. Having experience with CNC mills I kept comparing 3D printed parts to ones cut accurately from aluminum and found them lacking.

What I recently came to realize is that the power of 3D printing is in it's instant turnaround and the ability to quickly iterate. Now, I design my parts for 3D printing. They look and function differently than they would if I had cut them from aluminum and I have to take the limitations of 3D printing into account, but they work. And most importantly, I can test a new design simply by hitting "Print" and waiting an hour or two.

I agree that much of the consumer market is dominated by people who buy a 3D printer and then use it to print trinkets until they get bored, but there are also a lot of people out there who are engineering new devices and machines using the ability to quickly test new designs on a 3D printer.

Are there advantages to the 3D printing process besides the speed? That is, if a fool-proof CNC mill was available for the same price, would you switch back? Is the price difference of the consumables a significant factor?

I have trouble shaking the feeling that printing 3D parts with little dabs of plastic has a lot in common with putting ink on pages with a dot-matrix printer. While they were revolutionary for the time, you don't see many dot-matrix printers these days.

The primary advantage is that a 3D printer is truly able to create features in any orientation in 3D while a typical mill cannot. The price of consumables isn't really something I consider important, especially when prototyping.

The thing that a lot of people don't realize about traditional machining operations is just how long they take to set up. I didn't, myself, until I bought a CNC mill. I thought it was just a matter of sticking a big hunk of metal in it, hitting Go and then coming back when it's done.

The first problem is that for a typical 3D axis milling machine you have to find a way to mount the material you intend to cut without getting in the way of the cutter, and if your part is at all complex this can be very tricky. Different materials and thicknesses all require different methods of mounting, and learning how to mount and setup a part is an education in itself.

The second problem is that a 3 axis mill can really only cut down. That means if you want a hole in the up/down Z axis, you are fine. If you want one in the X/Y axes you are out of luck. You have to finish your Z axis operations, unmount the part, turn it, find a new way to mount it, zero the machine to the new part configuration and then do more operations. If you have a part that has, for instance, mounting holes on several sides you are looking at a LOT of manual work to complete that part. And each time you remount the part you have to be able to tell the machine exactly how the part is mounted so that everything lines up.

Industrial machine shops get around this by using 5 or more axis mills. These are insanely expensive and not really available to the home / hobby engineer, although I am quite interested in what http://www.pocketnc.com/ is doing.

3D printers, on the other hand, are truly 3D. You can have features in almost any configuration and it's no more difficult to print than a simple cube. It is literally a matter of starting it up and coming back when it's done.

I don't think 3D printing is the be all end all of machining, especially FFF, but for the home or hobby engineer it's an incredibly powerful and easy to use technology right now.

I'm in mechanical engineering and love tinkering with stuff, and I also can't really find an excuse to get a 3D printer. In the research lab I used to work in, we had both a printer and trotec laser cutter (for acrylic and similar), and the cutter was used multiple times every single day while the printer was fired up once a month or so. Note that we also had two CNC milling machines, a lathe and a full complement of power tools, which likely contributed to the printer seeing very little use.

Also, your post reminds of a recent blog post by a friend of mind who is cofounder of a makerspace in the college town we were in. Loosely translated, he deplored how the maker culture has shifted from a utopia where everyone could learn to make their own durable and useful objects instead of buying into mass-production, planned obsolescence and consumerism, to a bunch of people manufacturing mostly useless plastic trinkets.

All in all though, when I move into a home with a garage, I'd love to get of those chinese mini-lathes which can be had for sub-1000$ :) And I wish laser cutters were less expensive (the trotec we had was bought around 40k I think, actually more than our CNCs).

If I had been born 10-15 years later I might have held that opinion too. But I was born in the early 1970s and I have seen computers, mobile phones, Internet and a few other things go from not being a clear consumer product to where the consumer sector completely dwarfs the corporate sector.

I'm not really disagreeing with you: right now it doesn't feel like 3D printers are a typical consumer item.

But experience tells me that this intuition is probably wrong.

As for "who needs it right now" I usually ask people if they own a plunge saw. Most people don't, but a lot of people do. In particular carpenters and DIY'ers. 3D printers are still unfamiliar territory for most people, but that'll change rapidly as they become better and cheaper.

In the future, as they become cheaper and better I don't see it as impossible that manufacturers of physical goods might use 3D printing to distribute spare parts and accessories for whatever they sell.

Well, I absolutely believe a 3d printer should find a home in tinkerer's workshops. It seems like it would yet another tool for building or crafting things. But I think the market for them is vastly overstated. Opening a dedicated store for the devices seems like opening a store dedicated to selling nothing but a couple tiers of tablesaws.

Hardware stores sell all kinds of DIY equipment, it seems to me that this is where they probably ultimately need to be channeled through.

Yeah, I think you are probably right about 3D printers being just another tool found at hardware stores.

Something that is a bit sad right now is that the printers you get from traditional retail stores are mostly the bad ones.

When I saw Makerbot make it onto the shelves in hardware stores I was a bit sad because I knew that this will lead to disappointment. I have seen a few other "brand" 3D printers which are not very good (and which try to develop a razor blade business model) as well.

I would also agree that they are a bit over-hyped. Just like home computers in the early 80s. And that there will probably be a backlash when people conclude that the Makerbots and the Dremels and the whatnots are really terrible products.

just this week:

(i) an arm on my glasses broke, i went to the shop i bought the glasses from, for 400$, and their suggestion? buy a new pair and my prescription has expired since the last time so i will need to have an eye exam for another 200$

(ii) the little plastic latch on my girlfriend's bike helmet broke in half, it still latches but can pop free with enough pressure

(iii) the clip on my compass broke so now i just tape a pencil onto it

(iv) variably sized plant pots

(v) mechanism holding the wheel on our closet door broke

(vi) clip on accessories: front and rear lights, phone nav; for bike

it's little annoyances that crop up and cause me to think i wish i could just print this little solution out


(vii) i think parents would love the long term savings :: http://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2014/12/29/arts-and-cr...

(!) tinkering

.. 'all this and more' for 100$ .. http://www.peachyprinter.com/#!blog/c16fp

i think we need the printers in homes before we start to think about what we can print with them

the biggest problem i see is print time and recyclability of old parts

it is funny thought though.. i hate personal printers, all this useless paper lying about: "print me a reciept", "print me a boarding pass", "print me a copy of the report"

The thing is, the parts you can make with 3D printers would be too weak for most things on your list.

To avoid the Osborne effect, they could simply have produced new versions and only open the source once released.

That's not the real problem. I guess it was a combination of chinese knockoffs and stratasys proprietary instincts.

In any case, IMHO, the layoffs are a result of losing the open community, which is now being serviced by true open-source proponents like Aleph with their excellent Lulzbot printers.

Yup, I only buy LulzBot printers (I own 3 now), pretty much a direct result of MakerBot's decision to go closed.

Just got a taz 5 a few days ago. Been really impressed with them. I still don't have the bed fully level but the PEI surface has been wonderful compared to everything else i've ever used. it's like it's a completely different kind of machine. I looked at them for the same reason, open source but they really deliver on the actual product. my only complaint is one i'm going to fix myself if i can't find any other way. the LCD is bright at night when printing in the dark.

If you are around northern Colorado, they give tours of their place.

The Osborne effect whee announcing a future product before it is made way too early cancels sales of the current project.

People forget when Osborne was losing sales, the IBM PC and PC-DOS was gaining sales and CP/M systems like those made by Osborne had a lot of competition. Microsoft/IBM had a converter program that could convert CP/M-80 programs to DOS programs. http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2015/04/17/10608...

Also Kaypro had won over Osborne customers with their own CP/M machines that reached the market before the new Osborne models.

Commodore had the VIC-20 and later Commodore-64 that provided cheaper computers as did the 8 bit Atari line. Some people would rather buy a $399 Commodore or Atari computer and hook it up to their TV screen.

So announcing a new product too far ahead of time was only one factor in the Osborne effect.

Makerbot has Chinese competition, and they had technical issues as well. There are more factors here than just announcing a new product too far ahead of time. Instead of Osborne it is more like the Apple III http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_III

(Author here.) I agree with you, there are several factors at play in what happened to MakerBot. I believe Bre learned the wrong lesson -- going closed might have looked like the obvious solution to their drop in sales. But the one huge advantage MakerBot had over their competitors (and the cloners) was the good will and support from the open source community. With that support gone after going closed, MakerBot had to sink or swim on its own. I think they could have found a way to stay open while dealing with concerns of revealing future plans. For one, they could have kept the plans closed during development, but released all the plans on launch, forcing their competitors to play catch-up. As a user, I wouldn't necessarily need access to future designs for future models, but definitely would want designs to the current model that I owned. But anyway, I now buy LulzBot 3D printers, which are fully open. The latest version is TAZ 5.0. I can't tell, though, just by looking at the LulzBot online repo [1] if plans for future versions are also posted there ahead of official release.

[1]: http://download.lulzbot.com/TAZ/

[Edit] LulzBot is more awesome than I thought. They post the source for future versions that they're working on, too: http://devel.lulzbot.com/TAZ/README.html "'Kauri' - EVT version of the next printer after TAZ 5.0"

Furthermore, Osborne himself in a front page Wall Street Journal article and/or interview admitted he lied about the cause of the company's demise. This section from Wikipedia casts further doubt on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_effect#The_Osborne_Myt... and I should really get around to working with someone with a Nexis account to properly source that article.

And Osbourne probably preannounced so early because of the competition (to pre-empt users switching). Preannouncement and failure were correlated due to a common cause.

OTOH MS vapourware has scuttled competitors. So it depends on your market power. Osbourne was against IBM and a disruptive tide.

Right - it was a move of desperation. Perhaps Osbourne could've marketed/distributed their way out. But it's hard to position yourself as the brand that no one gets fired for buying when someone's already got that spot.

With MakerBot, another issue may be that the market is approaching saturation. As they're being eaten by cheaper competitors, they haven't been able to create a new market to grow into. I suppose the Replicator is an attempt to do that - how has that done?

Also Intel with Itanium.

    Gee, thanks, Bre. Again, why do you think that's true?
    How did you come to that conclusion?
    What do you know that those of us still in the "fantasy world" don't know?
    Aha, that's it! 
    MakerBot fell victim to the Osborne effect, where talking openly about future products hurt the sale of their current products. 
    Sales dropped, so they got scared and went closed. 
    That sounds like a way more honest and real answer than the non-existence of an open source steel bender.
Commenting on the tone alone, this strikes me as the logic of someone who has already arrived at a conclusion (the MakerBot founders are concealing the real reason behind their abandonment of open-source), and is merely searching for evidence to back up a conclusion they've already arrived at.

The author may have a dog in this fight, but it would be incorrect to claim they have a beef with MakerBot's founders, given that Zach “Hoeken” Smith, one of the founders, has been openly critical of the move to closed source, and also was forced out of the company.

Agreed; this is a hit piece.

My thoughts exactly. If the statements about open source hardware don't fit your worldview, just deride them and make up some other explanation!

I didn't deride his statements because they didn't fit my worldview, I derided them for making no sense. He was the one that kept coming up with new explanations. His latest (which I quote in the post) is other-wise known as the Osborne effect.

Ok. But you blew off the main justification he gave for no sensible reason I can see. You just didn't like it, so you found some other explanation.

Makerbot is doomed because not only will nobody in the hobbyist market buy their printers anymore, but when the people who are in the hobbyist market get asked about what printer to buy, the will recommend against makerbot (well, more specifically against Bre Pettis).

We just bought a 3d printer and noticed this. There were so many negative comments about makerbot

Perhaps an open source model might have mitigated the atrocious quality of the 5th generation Makerbot. I must have replaced our extruder 5 times already, and the entire machine had to also be replaced once. This is all on a maker care warranty, so no matter what they charge, there is no profit left.

If I could have replaced the extruder with an open source clone that functioned better, I would have.

This seems like a normal result of post buyout restructuring by Stratasys. Does anyone have sales numbers to know if they are actually having issues?

This is what the business press is reporting, and it makes sense. The author of the article obviously has a grudge against MakerBot and decided to go postal against them when he read the layoff headlines without doing due diligence first. (Wait until he finds out they closed their retail stores!)

I'm curious to see how 3D Robotics handles a similar situation. Their drone platform has been open source hardware plus open source software. There are Chinese companies cloning the hardware and selling it for much cheaper than 3D Robotics sells it for.

3D Robotics just raised $50M in a series C. It will be interesting to see how their commitment to openness holds up.

I'm curious about that as well, some people have bet it's gonna be a mix of open hardware and proprietary (even if just by code) "governors", something the newest launch, the solo (http://3drobotics.com/solo/), would be well-equipped to do (I haven't done the research to confirm/deny that yet).

3D Robotics only open source the flight controller hardware and software and ground control software. delivering a safe drone platform requires a lot more hardware (the aircraft itself, camera and radio gear) and firmware (camera, gimbal, speed controller radio gear).

My guess, though, is that as the industry matures, low-level components like ESC & radio firmwares are not really going to be where most value gets added. Software is definitely going to eat the drone world, and it's going to be at the higher levels: First it will be flight software with amazing new features (VSLAM, sense and avoid, swarm control) and then once that's more mature, it will be the operations-level super-ground-control-system stuff.

Technically the ground control software is a separate open source project, also the px4 project is looking to release a open hardware esc (electronic speed controller) soon as well (https://pixhawk.org/modules/pixhawk_esc).

Agreed though, the magic is in the total sum.

Agreed that it will be an interesting study. 3DR needs to cross the chasm into mass acceptance before their cost-conscious hobbyist base migrates. (Consider this in the light of Anderson's comparisons to the Apple II.) As others pointed out, MakerBot's tech couldn't make the leap, and 3D printing doesn't have a mass market on the horizon.

If 3DR drones are more expensive, it's not only because they're not made in China. Manufacturing in Mexico is cheap enough, and buys you lead time, which suits their extremely fast iteration. A good idea in this gold rush.

People will pay more for the brand, if it stands for great support and integration. China is traditionally poor at those. 3DR started with a community, and regular people diving into drones will appreciate this comfort level.

TL;DR: To fight cheaper, make it better.

What does that say about the idea of doing open hardware in general? You do all the work, some other manufacturer in China greatly undercuts you. How is that a good idea?

How's that any different from pretty much any easily-copied business? How do Nike or Levi's survive, when pretty much any basement shop in China can undercut them on shoes and jeans?

The answer is your brand must must mean something. Be the domain expert. Be the one people turn to with questions. When the clones arrive, you are already ahead. That's easier said than done, and execution is everything and so on and so on. But there's not a vast difference between the open hardware space and other manufacturing businesses.

Nike and Levi's are bad examples. They use brands as illusions of superiority. Money in this case is not spent on R&D but spent on marketing.

Also how can you be the domain expert if you open source everything you know? The millions you spend on R&D are given away and allow others to arrive at the same knowledge for $0. How does that work out for a company from a competitive standpoint? You are basically shooting yourself in the foot in terms of staying ahead and being a domain expert.

This is a natural consequence of having contributed to a society where China does all the work, anyway.

Either beat China at the manufacturing game, or continually be side-swiped by Chinese manufacturers.

Alas, no amount of open source anything is going to assist with that challenge ..

Don't try to beat China at manufacturing. That's a fool's errand for nearly everyone. Let them make most of the things. Concentrate on quality and whatever your core business is.

I believe an emerging ethos indeed is that you must 'beat China' at its own game by simply, building local - i.e. do the global warming thing, and turn off the boats. The planes. &etc.

And instead build more robots. Local robots. Robots that build other robots, and .. things.

It is an emerging ethos, the local DIY-industrialist; actually a catch-up of the spirit that made China such cheap prowess in the first place, but when it happens as a Western phenomenon - i.e. local all the things. - it will indeed mean less cheap plastic crap floating around the ecosphere.

At least one can hope. An energy revolution and 3d-printing/transposing tech need not always start with a Fedex delivery. ("Solve global warming: stop using Fedex!")

What I generally do is "I've got Rev C for sale. Source and schematics for Rev A remain available on my wiki, sources and schematics for Rev B now are available on the same wiki."

I interviewed for a software job there twice. It seemed pretty dysfunctional to me. For one project, they had 20 people working on something that I thought would take 3-5 people.

I've found that's the case with almost all software projects.

This leaves out some really important background. Makerbot quietly sold out to Stratasys in 2013. When they did that they lost their soul and their independence. The first sign of that was when they went closed source alienating a huge portion of their customer base. This is just another shoe dropping now that Stratasys owns them they are moving to more tightly integrate Makerbot into the rest of the company. These layoffs are supposedly to remove duplicative positions due to the buyout. There is a good documentary on Netflix about the 3d printing revolution called "Print the Legend" It covers a lot of the history behind Makerbot including the fact that there were really 3 co-founders instead of just the one that gets regularly mentioned in news coverage.

TL;DR - If your corporation is extremely open/transparent, including R&D, you may risk losing sales from people willing to wait for a version 2.0. If so, don't close up/make opaque your business as a response, or you'll end up killing your core audience.

doomed is a strong word, and the article makes no attempt to argue that makerbot is doomed, but rather assumes it without any argument or demonstration at all.

i have no stake in it myself, but if you're gonna make a strong statement like "doomed" you should back it up. layoffs != doomed

It wasn't just layoffs. "Stratasys also announced a $100 million write-down on Makerbot’s valuation in February."

Link: http://makezine.com/2015/04/17/makerbot-lays-off-100-employe...

But you have a point, they're not dead yet. They might turn the corner, hire again, and regain that $100 million in value someday.

Did no one see "Print the Legend" on Netflix. Pretty well discusses this matter in detail. It also deals with funding a new business and the various pitfalls.

It was discussed in the article but the author didn't find the answer given in the documentary convincing.

Personally, I'm wondering how many on HN actually owned an Osborne machine.

Me. (Well, my Dad...)

I learnt _huge_ amount pretty much accidentally from that machine and the user manual that came with it. Nobody told me at 12 or 14 years old that kids weren't supposed to solder together a handful of parts to add a joystick to the parallel port and write Z80 assembler routines to speed up the inner loops of games written in basic.

I never owned one. But touched one when they were sold in shops.

I still have one! Flyback is shot on the CRT though =(

Heat and vibration rubbing the coil wires against each other is what kills flyback transformers, you can usually get replacements for about $50 or so and replacing them isn't hard.

Anecdotally, I stopped hearing people talk much about Makerbot right around 2012. Seems to coincide with when they closed source their stuff.

The author is somehow making a connection between what "doomed" Makerbot and why they went closed source. Makerbot biggest growth year was 2013 (approximately quadrupled booking rate over the course of it), the year immediately after going closed source.

MakerBot is still in business. Yes, a 20% layoff is not a good sign, but it's a little early to say MakerBot is "doomed".

Taking it one step further and saying that it's the Osborne effect which caused their troubles is even less valid. There are a ton of different possible causes for MakerBot's troubles. The only honest answer here is that we don't know why MakerBot is having trouble, although there are a number of very good guesses we could venture.

The OP seems to be frustrated with MakerBot going closed-source. I share that frustration, but let's call that what it is, a frustration with MakerBot going closed-source, rather than using MakerBot's failures as an excuse to gloat.

I think they would have been fine had they shipped a better product. When I was doing research to buy a 3d printer every review I read said that the closed source metal version was every bit as unreliable as the previous plywood laser cut makerbot.

I'm not quite sure we are at the stage where 3D printers are a home market item. I figured they would go into copy shops first with models priced like big copiers. It just seems a little early days.

MakerBot has just not been very innovative. I see their contribution more like that of a cheerleader of 3d printing (who layer got involved with too much sugar-dadiness).

'doomed' , really?

we are in an epic financial bubble right now that DWARFS all previous bubbles of the past 20 years so much so that janet yellen herself said "cash is not a good store of value"; meaning the bubble is so big that those who created and sustain it with unlimited cash are so scared of it popping that they will publicly allude to the possibility of unending limitless printing ( and the inevitable hyperinflationary boom it would conclude with ) .

all of the self congratulatory lying and self deception of silicon valley is that it is 'libertarian' and 'independent' , when in fact ALL THE NEW MONEY IN SILICON VALLEY COMES FROM THE FED THROUGH EITHER BANKS OR THE TREASURY BY WAY OF VC AND THE MILITARY RESPECTIVELY.

the boom will end as all booms do and the headline of what 'doomed' makerbot will seem like a joke.

laying off 20% isn't 'doom' by any stretch of the imagination.

if there are problems with makerbots business model, then they were relegated to the parent company which now owns it.

bri pettis is a political genius for ousting his 2 compatriots and keeping the control, and the spoils of the buyout , all for himself.

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