by Andre Tiemann | Oct.4, 2012

My Maker Faire NYC story begins with me stepping onto an overnight Greyhound bus from Toronto. Knowing I would have to get all my sleep done in the sitting position, I shut my eyes and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep a wink. After an always uncomfortable border crossing and scheduled stops in Buffalo and Syracuse, I arrived in Manhattan around 8:30.

I bought a coffee and was off to Queens. Sort of. The 7 train wasn't running from Manhattan so I took a connecting train until an electrical outage shut forced me to come up with another plan. Hoping the transit map I looked at was to scale, I decided on walking thirty blocks, half asleep, along Roosevolt Ave.

And then finally, I was at Maker Faire.

Pretty much right away I wondered if the trip was going to be worthwhile. Was the MTA card guy and his robotic companion worth the weekend trip? Does that basketball playing droid have any practical applications? Why is that gorilla holding a man in a cage?

I intentionally held off on the 3D printers at until walking by the Trimble Sketchup table. They had a few Replicator printed classic SEARS homes on display.

When I asked one of the booth attendants why he wore a Google shirt he shrugged, "They called me in last minute so I put on one of the old shirts."

I showed off a recent print and the Makerbot personality overseeing the printers seemed impressed. Although, being on the clock as he was, he probably would have reacted the same if I showed him a Mr. Alligator print.

Finally, on the way to the 3D Printer Village, I saw Josef Prusa and his brand new Prusa i3. As someone that spent much of last year building a Prusa Mendel with my friend Paulo, it was great talking to a RepRap legend. That's right, I said it.

And while the printer itself didn't blow me away, an improved build size, z-axis rods, stability and fewer total parts justified the upgrade claim. Unfortunately, the cone shaped print sample he had on display left a noticeable vertical line every time a layer raised. I suggested it was a Slic3r configuration issue but he didn't seem to think so.

That said, the Prusa i3 remains completely open source and this must be noted.

I asked about the recent back and forth he had with Makerbot's Bre Petis and he stood steadfast. I admire his perseverance. Stick it to the man; that sort of thing.

From there, I went on to see just about every printer I've been reading about all these months. The Fablicator looked like a fine printer and its makers had nice prints on display. When someone from Philadelphia Hackerspace Hive76 asked if they were interested in taking part of a 3D printer speed-run at noon, they politely declined.

I saw the largest Home Brew 3D printer but no sign of any big print. There was Ultimachine's new all-in-one RAMbo board. I had a good chat with Jordan Ross from filament distributor Printbl, and witnessed the coolest high-end prints I have ever seen.

I chatted with John Abella from the MAKE Magazine booth about another print that I left with him for possible inclusion in next month's 3D Printer issue. He showed me something he printed at 90 microns on an original Replicator. "Did you have to tinker around to get it to print at that resolution?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders no.

This got me wondering about the Replicator 2. Was Makerbot even at the fair with its highly anticipated machine? "Yeah," John pointed, "they're on the far end of the fair." Oh.

Maybe I should pay more attention to things. Maybe I should just learn how to sleep on a bus.

Makerbot. Ultimaker. Formlabs. Printrbot. Up!3D. I forgot about the bigger names.

So I got back to the walking.

Why is that unicorn dripping glitter and shooting fire? How come I never had a giant butterfly bike growing up? That really is a giant Mouse Trap.

I made it to the 3D Printer Pavilion.

Hey, it's Annelise Jeske from MakerbotTV. Cool, Tony Buser, I recognize you too! My weekend pilgrimage had finally landed me directly into the Mecca of all things 3D printing ... or something characteristic of that.

I'm going to pause here and share my thoughts on the Replicator 2. It is a nice looking machine, don't get me wrong. The large prints they had on display were impressive and the crowds speak volumes about the Makerbot brand. However, aside from the larger build platform, everything they advertise as new could quite easily be produced on the original Replicator. I have been using PLA all along. And as mentioned earlier, 100 microns or lower is already possible.


When I suggested this to a Makerbot representative, he said that it had a 270 micron layer height default setting, and that the new Replicator comes out of the box at 100 microns.

I thought back to this when Josef Prusa was giving a talk later in the day.

Asked what the best machine available was, he replied, "basically all the machines you can see out there, the limitations aren't hardware but it's mostly software."

It seems Makerbot is focusing a lot on marketing and style these days.

During his presentation, Makerbot CEO Bre Petis told that "this machine was supposed to have launched in November, and then this guy comes along," pointing to Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson, "and he says what would it look like if we put you on the cover for WIRED for the October issue, and I was like, "yeah no problem" and then on the inside we had to compress. We started working on this machine in May."


I chatted with the folks at Ultimaker a bit. They were really nice guys and had an impressive machine to showcase. When I asked if they were working on something new I was told yes. That's all I got.

Then there's Brook Drumm from Printrbot. Although I didn't back the Kickstarter, I followed along with it and was happy to see him at Maker Faire. He seems like a really straightforward and genuine guy, and sold a good number of units (the Printrbot jr was already sold out when I got there).

In the short few minutes I talked to him, he mentioned how exciting it was to meet Josef Prusa because it was his machine that got him started. While talking about our RepRap days (as if already behind us both) he mentioned how the Wallace was based on designs he provided. He suggested no credit was originally given to him.

And then there is Formlabs, the new champion Kickstarter campaign. Their prints were beautiful and detailed as advertised. The development team was all present and excited about how well they were being received by the community. Besides Makerbot, they had the busiest booth from what I could tell. After mentioning to Ara Knaian - lead engineer on the project - that Formlabs had a slide in a recent presentation I gave at York University back in Toronto, he was genuinely excited about the minor detail. He went on about the number of times they've hit the refresh button since the campaign went live.

I returned to the world of RepRap when Josef Prusa gave a talk inside the Make: Live tent. He introduced himself along with some friends, Jordan Miller and Johnny Russell before getting into how his involvement in the community started. Ultimately, it was a self-proclaimed laziness that inspired him to design his own Mendel.

And then, of course, the Open vs. Closed hardware debate resurfaced.

At first when Jordan Miller talked about his frustrations trying to attain research information from the big printer companies. He said, "they have no ability to talk to you about that. They won't release the schematics, they won't explain to you how to make it sterile. They won't tell you about the materials they use to make things, and it's really, it's bad for science. They're seeing it as an appliance and a single state machine. Where really what you want is an open technology platform."

I pushed the topic by asking Josef his opinions on what Makerbot has been doing as of late. Even though they have already been made clear. He didn't want to speak too much about it but confirmed that he was unhappy with the thought of them closing source, and that success could still be had using an open model.

The rest of the panel agreed.

After the presentation concluded, MAKE magazine's Brookelynn Morris came over to mention how she was happy I asked the question and suggested it was good to have the debate out in public. She referred to a video interview she had with Bre Petis at the Open Hardware Summit a few days prior. In it, Bre gingerly talks about Open Source while running a business, but later confided to her that he probably should have worded things differently. The interview can be seen below.

I'm going to close this story of mine with some seemingly contradictory words. I personally like Makerbot. The Replicator has been great to me these last few months and their support staff has been next to none.

I find that neoteric's comment on Bre's original blog post pertaining to the controversy sums things up nicely:

Bre. Here is what you wish you could say out loud:

I built a business that included utilizing open source hardware and software.
I did that very well, probably better than anyone else.
I had a great philosophy of open source in my business model.
I built a brand.
I now have a brand, employees, responsibilities, and shareholders.
I am now between a rock and a hard place, as being an icon of open source might be dichotomous to protecting my brand, employees, responsibilities and shareholders.
Nothing I say today is going to make anyone happy, least of all me.

After the talk "Going Big: From Maker Movement to New Industrial Revolution", I showed Bre the Velvet Underground & Nico 3D print I did and asked him what he thought would happen if I uploaded it to Thingiverse. He replied, "I'm not a lawyer, but that thing is awesome!"

The real maker in him reappeared.

Old banana is now up on Thingiverse.

Watch my Maker Faire NYC 2012 video below.


Posted in 3D Printing Events



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Brook Drumm wrote at 10/5/2012 7:28:16 AM:

Great clips in that video. For the record, Printrbot will always be an open source company. Only time will tell if that's a good idea or not. It may help distinguish us from the competition, or we may die trying. We have already played a small part in pushing the 3D printing forward, and there is much more to do. I'd rather die with a legacy behind us that stretched as far and wide as the open sourced information can spread than to be driven by fear and hold tightly to every last dollar we can squeeze from the market with closed hardware. -Brook Drumm Printrbot

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