Jun 22, 2015 | By Kira

Oh, MakerBot. It was once the sweetheart of the 3D printing industry, the poster child for success and a beacon of hope for those that, from the very beginning, recognized the potential of this powerful new technology. Flash forward six years, and our rising star has come crashing down. A series of very poorly managed decisions—patenting ideas uploaded to Thingiverse, building a poor excuse for a working extruder, undercutting their own resellers, and perhaps most painfully, turning their back almost completely on the Open Source and Open Hardware community—led to their very near demise. Last April, the company was forced to close down its three retail stores and lay off a fifth of its personnel. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that MakerBot just might be the most hated company in 3D printing.

Now, the company seems determined to right their wrongs. They may never have reach the same level of potential they once had, but they did play a huge role in putting 3D printing on the map, and the least they can do is honor that by doing right by the maker community. As part of that mission, recently appointed CEO Jonathan Jaglom (who replaced previous figurehead Bre Pettis) has announced that he is hitting the road, visiting 22 states in about 12 weeks in order to speak firsthand with customers, partners, and resellers, and to get an “unvarnished account” that will inform decisions about the development of the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem and the Thingiverse community.

Jonathan Jaglom, the new CEO of MakerBot

Specifically, Jaglom requested a one-on-one, no-holds-barred sit down with Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the engineer, creator, and moderator behind Adafruit. Adafruit turned to their readers, members from all walks of life of the maker community, to find out: if you could ask MakerBot anything you wanted, what would it be?

The comments poured in, some in the form of legitimate questions, others more akin to spiteful rants, however in the end, Ladyada got the heart of the most pressing issues, and confronted Jaglom about the purpose of his cross-country tour, his stance on patents, the value of DRM’ing filament, and the company’s troubled relations with its resellers (Adafruit used to stock MakerBot, but stopped).



Are Jaglom’s open-minded answers enough to re-gain trust within the industry? It’s probably too early to tell, however see for yourself in Adafruit’s summary of the discussion below:

MakerBot and Open-Source – There’s an opportunity to patch things up with the Open-source community, is MakerBot interested?

Jonathan said they’d like to promote the open parts of Thingiverse, the API, how those can be used. He was very interested in how MakerBot can communicate clearly what is open and what is not. He said they haven’t been very clear about this and part of this road trip is to address that. All summer, Jonathan will be meeting with customers, prospects, and power users to listen to their thoughts and learn about their needs. These meetings will give him an amazing view of the landscape and help inform our future plans. The tour will cover 22 states in about 12 weeks.

We suggested looking at some examples (http://www.apple.com/opensource/ etc.) and talking to Open source organizations, people and projects to find out what’s important to them for 3D printing in general. Ladyada suggested open-sourcing the Gen 5 motor controller/driver PCB because it’s not protectable anyway – it would be way to say “this part is open” these parts are not. Also, previous versions of MakerBot are open source, we suggested that can be promoted and made clear.


MakerBot and Material lock-in
Should people be able to use material in printers that they own? There is a concern that MakerBot is planning DRM and material lock-in. Does the new CEO think that people should be able to use material in printers that they own? We understand the benefits to users in knowing where their materials come from and that they are all going to perform as expected, however, what about the people out there like our customers who understand the tradeoffs using 3rd party filament? In a recent Copyright Office hearing MakerBot was mentioned, a lot. A majority of our customers and community believe they have the choice to use their printer as they see fit. Regardless, we’re concerned that using copyright as the legal mechanism to force material lock-in is a bad-scene for the 3D printing ecosystem. Stratasys owns MakerBot and currently chips materials.

Jonathan said at this time he sees no value in DRM’ing filament for MakerBots. It would be expensive, hard to enforce, cause less sales – there’s not a lot of compelling reasons to do that.
We said Stratasys should not speak on behalf of MakerBot if they’re going to talk to the Copyright Office regarding DRM protection/issues because it’s not helpful for the MakerBot and 3D printing community.

He agreed and said he would talk to Stratasys about that including Johan’s help (PR manager).


MakerBot Replicator 5th gen
The MakerBot replicator 5th Gen units had some challenges and mixed reviews at launch, we know you’ve been working to fix the issues such as the Smart Extruders, we decided not to stock them at this time. What’s being worked on now to address the previous issues, what type of testing and assurances will the customers and community have that if they trust MakerBot again that they will not be let down? For resellers, would we be able to thoroughly test units before launch as part of a private beta program for example?

Jonathan reports a lot of progress with this and the quality has improved. Recently, they’ve seen a 74% satisfaction rate among Smart Extruder users and a 40 percent decline in Smart Extruder customer support cases since February 2015. Average support wait time is now 34 seconds. Six months ago, it was 11 minutes.


Analytics on Thingivese
We’d like granular analytics on our designs.
Eric will help make that happen and request what’s important to us to see for analytics.


Spam becoming an issue on Thingivese
Thingiverse has some spam issues… maybe a report spam button is necessary.
Eric said they could make the button bigger, etc and will work on this.


Promotion and celebration of designs on Thingiverse
Specific ways to get featured placement. Will email Adafruit to get our designs featured more.


Reselling MakerBot products
Generally speaking, dealing with the MakerBot distributor(s) was not as easy or as profitable as when we were able to purchase directly from MakerBot. For Adafruit we need better margins if we’re going to resell 3D printers. The return policies were not reseller friendly. Over the years the price of MakerBots seems to have gone up, while the price of other 3D printers of good quality went down, this made it a challenge to stock. For the Digitizer, MakerBot was selling them below the cost we purchased them, that was really rough on us.

Jonathan did channel sales and will specifically address this on the road and with us if we choose to stock MakerBots again.


General questions and comments
Are there areas you feel you can make the most improvements in user experience and printer output? Do you see any major technological changes in the near future or small incremental changes? What Stratasys technologies do you see making it into the MakerBot lineup of products? We’d like to see more MakerBot blog posts, people from the company making and sharing things, MakerBot has a long history of not only making 3D printers, but content themselves – we’d like to see that again.

We talked a lot about ideas and how MakerBot can state what it’s cause is and getting more of a face out there for this “relaunch” of sorts. Blog posts, videos, covering the 3D space. We suggested they consider “Make a Difference with a MakerBot” – Jonathan was receptive to the suggestions and is totally OK with talking to us again about these ideas if MakerBot wants to jump back into the 3D printing community.

Jonathan specifically said patents are necessary, but not the only way to win, it’s about innovating fast, great service, support etc. Specifically you do not maintain leadership through protection, you maintain leadership through innovation, specifically in the world of high tech. He pointed us to this video as an example of his thoughts in the space where he said the same thing: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000202359


Related to patents, we’d like see a defensive patent pool that manufacturers can opt into. That would be really great, we didn’t get a chance to bring that up in the meeting, but we’re mentioning it now here. MakerBot has many patents.

-Ladyada and Adafruit

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Company

 

 

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Ben wrote at 6/27/2015 1:19:43 PM:

I fail to see any useful information in Jaglom's responses. The 5th Gen was a disaster which was driven purely by the desire to lock clients in to the platform and materials. MakerBot has to realise that the old "razors and razorblades" business model will not work in the 3D printing market. The desktop FDM market is where it is because of the open source community. Without them we would not have a polished firmware lke Marlin, which enables everyonr from school kids to pensioners to build their own machine and make it functional. makerbot rode on the coattails of these exceptional people and now wants to monetise the work of people THEY DIDN"T PAY! I love how they've painted themselves into a corner with the "smart" extruder, they have been absorbed by an old fashioned rapid prototyping business and have now blackened their name by accepting the old business model Stratasys has run with for two decades. Look out Stratasys, your patents couldn't be far away from expiry and when they're gone you'll have nothing except an outdated, bankrupt business on your hands. Look at what happened to Kodak.

Kevin wrote at 6/22/2015 7:38:23 PM:

The problem with companies spitting out so many patents for so many tiny little details about this kind of technology is nobody else can make anything remotely similar without paying or risking lawsuit. It stifles innovation when the costs outweigh the benefit. I mean really, why would a patent be awarded for something as simple and basic as a filament spool. There's nothing special about it, it's a SPOOL!

Jeff Osborn wrote at 6/22/2015 6:53:29 PM:

What's so sad is that the problem was so specifically one person, Bre Pettis. He and his henchwoman, Jenny Lawton are the embodiment of evil for what they did to a bunch of dedicated people and a great idea at MakerBot.

Just Some Guy wrote at 6/22/2015 5:30:15 PM:

This "interview" was a joke and only brings down Adafruit's reputation.

AMnerd wrote at 6/22/2015 11:23:51 AM:

Interesting article but terrible formatting on the questions



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