May 7, 2016 | By Kira

TIME Magazine is one of the most influential news publications of, well, all time, and so when its team of editors puts together a list of what they consider to be the most influential technological gadgets ever, it is certainly worth taking a closer look. That list has been carefully assembled, deliberated on, and finally published, and we’re happy to report that 3D printing technology made the cut.

But even this requires a closer look, for TIME doesn’t refer to 3D printing technology per se, but rather a specific—and specifically provocative—3D printer: the MakerBot Replicator. It ranked number 49 out of 50 on the list of most influential gadgets of all time, ordered by influence.

This distinction between broader technologies and a particular machine is an important one, and in the context of 3D printing, I believe that TIME selecting the MakerBot reveals a lot about the state of the industry from a consumer perspective.

The thing is, as a 3D printing news source, we are constantly researching and covering the latest trends, tech, and applications related to 3D tech, yet a great majority of this news falls into the ‘industrial’ or ‘professional’ categories. It can be extremely important to companies already invested in 3D printing, but average consumers aren’t particularly concerned with whether a car part—or rocket engine for that matter—was injection molded or additively manufactured.

At the same time, 3D printing has captivated consumer interest precisely because it has promised a real revolution in the way we produce and consume. The idea of every household owning a 3D printer, of individuals designing and manufacturing personalized goods right on their kitchen tables, is a powerful one. And it is precisely companies like MakerBot that have, and continued to, fuel that idea into being.

While there is a lot to be said about MakerBot, let’s just take a quick look at its history: MakerBot (which also owns the popular 3D content site Thingiverse) burst onto the scene around 2010 as one of the first mainstream manufacturers of consumer 3D printers and an advocate of the Open Source Hardware Movement, and within just a few years it was acquired by industry giant Stratasys. The company, with its vision to put a 3D printer into every home, seemed unstoppable…that is, until its popular line of Replicator FDM 3D printers proved to be entirely faulty.

Rather than owning up to its shortcomings, MakerBot made a series of...let’s call them 'missteps': undercutting resellers, patenting ideas it should never have patented, knowingly selling a malfunctioning extruder, and essentially turning its back on the Open Source movement.

Flash forward a few years, and MakerBot has shut down retail locations, laid off 20 percent of its staff (not once, but twice), downsized its Brooklyn manufacturing space, and finally, outsourced its manufacturing once and for all.

While there have been some promising moments along the way—MakerBot celebrated 100,000 3D printers sold worldwide last month—the fact that the company is inspiring headlines about its imminent ‘Obituary’ is far from promising.

And yet, how can all of this explain or justify the Replicator making TIME’s list, placed alongside such prestigious and/or historic gadgets as the Raspberry Pi, Sony Discman, HP DeskJet, Polaroid Camera, and of course, the Apple iPhone?

The answer, it seems, comes down to its symbolic position within the consumer 3D printing scene. “The MakerBot Replicator was neither the first nor the best consumer-level 3D printer,” writes TIME. “But it was the model that made the technology widely accessible for the first time.”

Indeed, it’s not so much about what the MakerBot Replicator is as what it could have been. At its peak, MakerBot helped make 3D printing a more or less household name. Furthermore, it has had a significant presence in high schools and universities across the country, introducing the next generation of engineers and scientists to the maker movement and propelling further research, development, and consumer interest.

Most importantly, while MakerBot’s future is unsure, the 3D printing industry’s is much less so.

Global research institutes and market reports continue to reveal that 3D printing is one the rise, both at the industrial and consumer levels. For the former, Gartner has revealed that 65% of supply chain professionals will invest in 3D printing, 10% of the developed world will soon be living in 3D printed goods, and in the oil and gas sectors, 3D printing is set to bring in new profits.

Over on the consumer side, the image is even clearer, with desktop 3D printer sales up 22% and leading the entire global market.

Source: Wohlers Report 2016

TIME’s list isn’t about the best, coolest, or most original gadgets. It’s about the ones that we, as consumers, interacted with the most, the ones that made us see and understand how broader technologies could change our lives, and that “let the future creep into [our] present.” In that regard, the MakerBot Replicator has arguably earned its spot at #49.

By the next such list, however, we can only hope that 3D printing tech, be it from MakerBot or any other worthy company, will have made its way a little further down the rankings.



Posted in 3D Printer



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AllAmericanOriginal wrote at 5/11/2016 4:27:28 PM:

Sorry that America makes everything great... oh wait, no I'm not! Let us know when the rest of the world does something worth promoting.

NoMoreDisneyDeusions wrote at 5/8/2016 4:05:46 AM:

Can't think why, oh yeah, Americans promoting Americans and ignoring the rest of the world and anything they didn't think off first.

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