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Some links about me. Many of my 3D designs are free. I also post on Google+ and in another blog, oz4.us
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Monday, June 2, 2014

Why you should not buy Makerbot 3D printers!

Avoid Makerbot and its 3D printers, they are both wrong.

Really! And there are many reasons not to buy: cost, reliability, human values, innovation and so.

I endorse even less Makerbot business
than I already trusted their products !
But enough is enough, this time I say why.
Seriously, Makerbot Industries care more about money than 3D printers. They so badly want your money that they start using dirty business practices. As a client, their overall strategy is simple: you will increasingly pay more to get less. The quality of the product does not count as long as they keep selling it through marketing tricks.

Update (nov. 2014): eventually, well-known resellers of 3D printers like imakr even stopped selling them because of after sale burden and heavy customer negative feedback.

Update (april 2016): interestingly, this post still holds. Makerbot just moved its production to China. A few arguments may be outdated though, so read carefully.

Do not think this is a biased joke, neither only a maker's rant (as formerly). I really want to warn would-be customers that they should not buy. And I want to try and stay objective.

But beside this, Makerbot brutal business strategy makes all this clear beyond doubt. I cannot think of any other motive than greed, or may be also for the inflating ego of Bre Pettis, its director. By the way, 3D printing certainly never was invented by Makerbot -- this is pure usurpation. Please do not fall in the trap of old and dirty business practices.

You pay more but you get less : in fact it does makes sense --to them--, because it means higher margins, mostly for their shareholders since they do not seem to invent but prefer to build a patent portfolio instead (on others' ideas, we will see this in a minute!). It also means they left all ethics behind: it shows how they seem to have carefully planed for more than one year now, and each move makes it more obvious.

It suddenly started after they changed the terms of service of their 3D object repository, letting them steal our Creative Commons designs that were explicitly meant to be free for everyone. It even created a revolt appropriately named Occupy Thingiverse (be the owner of your creation). This old timeline is interesting, even though it is now quite incomplete.
Makerbot Industry founders, when it was Open Source and community-friendly.
Beware of the nasty Bre Pettis on the right side: he forced the good guy in the middle (Zach Hoeken)
out of the company - for him to get richer and for you to pay more to get less. Now he even wants
to patent the community ideas so he can sue every competitor (and become even richer).
Trying to get famous through wrongful practices is a sign of a sick soul imho.

Actually, one of Makerbot own founder itself, Zach Hoeken, wrote and predicted openly about this change in the values at Makerbot Industries. Not surprisingly he had already been forced out of the company with such an open mind (he most certainly would have been banned by greedy investors anyway).

To finish with the company policies, you may want to check the reviews from its own employees:  “The talent is leaking out.”. And I cannot say it better than “Unfortunately MakerBot has become a revenue-centric company, focused more on selling a buzz word than understanding the end user”.

Better not be a customer of Makerbot !

They do not care if their customers are satisfied or not as long as they buy the stuff.

Just google it! More than 3 million hits with "makerbot 3D printer issue". Check also the rants that happen all the time in the Makerbot forum itself, related both to hardware unreliability and to ugly customer care. Obviously, better avoid their own website to make your own opinion, as it is aggressively and commercially moderated... to the point that Daid gets driven out of their forum when he wanted to help Makerbot customers using the open source Cura (in place of the provided Makeware, proprietary, and less usable).

By the way, their 3D object format is only used by them, so it will not let their customers easily use any open tools that is available for free on all the other printers... except all the "professional" ones of course!

Actually for them, helping their own customers is no priority. They better care for the "business" in the old nasty way (i.e. how much they make, how good they sell).

How "smart" an extruder indeed, when it wears out before a year of usage!
They knowingly ship unreliable hardware to you , so you get the "real-world experience" in their place.
And when it fails, you had the incredible bargain to pay $150 for the same unreliable hardware again.
Update 2014-11-05: now you can buy three of them "in advance" for $500 (hey!?), to "minimize downtime" (sic).
One spare ought to be enough, even with planed obsolescence (that they even fail to achieve!).

Another older example: as soon as they went closed source after receiving investor money, they dropped support for older printers. A nice proof of the  usual "planed obsolescence".

They started speaking corporate bullshit immediately after the takeover: the newer stuff is better than the former (they would not fix the former by the way as they should). Hence, you must buy the new one. But... why would you trust them and buy something from their current product line and believe it will not happen again with it? And when it will fail, nobody will help you. Especially as the community of the buyers are mostly (and somehow naive) people that were tricked by the corporate bullshit in the first place.

Later is no better: hardware reliability and sloppiness

But actually "the latter the better" is not even true at Makerbot! I hear everywhere reports that the latest Makerbot Gen5 is even less reliable than their much older Replicator 2 (which was not a jewel on its own). I checked for myself and the newest MKI printers are good-looking but flimsy at best (severe slop at the print bed, incredible lengthier boot time, etc).

The latest MakerBot printer has some cheap hardware!

So it gets crappier when you get closer. Oh, and they are more expensive of course. With the latest deal you can buy a set of three unreliable extruders (!) for $500, which is the price you can pay for complete 3D printer from another brand, wow.

Now, sure, by default, they are more reliable than low-end reprap kits. But they are still less reliable than well-tuned repraps (which is hard to do indeed). And you will not be able to design and use tools to tune a Makerbot printer to the maximum unless you void your warranty. If you want some hassle-free, better invest in another "boxed" printer, like the Ultimaker or some other brands.

The truck and the gears in the printer require many
separate and tricky prints. Re-assemble and put them
back onto the printer bed to deceive lots of buyers.
BTW, only a master of CAD may design such a truck.
Contrary to their advertising lies, only a few people are really able to use a 3D printer for useful goals: besides a few bells and whistles to download (really), and even ignoring the tricky fixes and workarounds that must be mastered to get nice prints, you will mostly never find the proper design to solve your very own problem.

So you must be comfortable with computer-aided-design software (CAD) in order to design it. This is true for every single 3D printer and is comes from the fundamental and tricky limitations of the technology. 3D printing will certainly never print everything.

Makerbot is lying further when it shows complex objects on the bed of their printer, like the famous multi-color truck on their R2X: it simply cannot be printed as is. It needs multiple separate prints with carefully and specifically designed parts, tedious post-processing and re-assembly before it can be shamelessly put back onto the printer bed for the picture! They let users think it can be printed like this but this is plain false.

The price is not mini, but what
a ridiculous printing volume ratio!
By the way, forget about the Makerbot dual extruder R2X: it never worked as advertised, at least not reliably enough to make more than a few headlines in the news at the time.

And just do as everyone else, forget also about their expensive crappy 3D Makerbot Digitizer 3D scanner, which is, actually just a nice looking and slightly better Fabscan ... for almost ten time the price, and, well, OK, may be two lasers instead of one. Actually its price is consistently going down (as nobody is buying it), and up to the point we suspect that they are recycling the tons of webcams they were left with. These go into their Makerbot Replicator Mini (which is really bulky on its own, given the ridiculous 3D print volume they offer! Shall I say you would better avoid this one too? But what is left of their current product line?!)

They will not help you, but you can help them!

Still, helping them is easy as they are actively trying to patent the free ideas and designs made by the community. Really!

Immediately after the acquisition of Makerbot by Stratasys the game started, showing how nasty a profit-seeking company can become when it is ruled by selfish directors with no ethics. The first move was to release an "upgrade" of their printer... that was the obvious way to stop having open source hardware at all and keep everything in control, in order to please the investors (see the businessman and the maker). That was just a first move.

Bre Pettis, the CEO of Makerbot (who became a damaging enemy of open minded people), would tell this is not personal, this is just business. But who would trust him when we hear the same guy only two years ago advocating the open source strategy? The former link is within an open letter from Josef Prusa, a true open hero (but probably poorer than Bre and even though there are probably ten of thousands "free" Prusa 3D printers in the world).

Makerbot relies on all the stupid and well-known short-term selfish neo-liberal ideas, to a point were it is a caricature from another age. If they think they will get money in their pocket with it, you are sure they will do it, whatever the ethics... and whatever the long-term consequences for their own company! Just flee away.

This incidentally includes patenting the mostly obvious stuff that was known to exist for years, and that they did not invent (i.e. stealing intellectual property instead of creating it as would any respectable entrepreneur do).

Makerbot Industries : the child that kills its parents

So, the patents Makerbot Industries are claiming their own are almost all based on pre-existing ideas (an updated list was posted here). These are the very same free inventions that allowed them to become what they are (an early history).

If and once they are granted the patents, they will be able to sue every company since the ideas are used by all the 3D printer manufacturers. Actually even without being granted the patents, they will make life harder for would-be competitors. Business angels probably better like to wait and see before risking their money...

They already started to sue companies on stupid and basic ideas that were already used everywhere including in their own printers (see, e.g. how they sued Afina). This is the same strategy Stratasys used for the last decades!

But now, the new amazing set of patents they are applying for would let them almost kill the whole ecosystem for their very own profit... and not yours as a customer, nor the inventors of the ideas they patented. Nor anyone beyond MKI shareholders. Old harsh capitalism.

Makerbot is now even stealing ideas !

Not only they try to patent obvious stuff, but they go as far as to try and patent old ideas from very well know people who documented their work online, including from their own community. (check, e.g. the 3-way extruder from Richrap and his reaction, or the quick release extruder story here). Actually some designs may even be older than themselves!
Makerbot boss was quoted here saying "we want strong patents based on our own work" but he is not given the two examples above.

This is not only ugly but it should also be considered stealing, simply.

Bre soon stopped talking to the community (to many dollar bills to chew?). He eventually said this is normal business, and well, that the community should go and defend itself in court if it really did invent it in the first place. To quote him: "Relevant Thingiverse work is being submitted to the Patent Office. We want strong patents based on our own work, so we encourage anyone to submit prior art to the Patent Office" (reference here at techcrunch).

Oh sure, MKI can now play a big patent war with the deeply broken patent system as it has millions of dollars to spend on lawyers, while the community does it for free and for everyone.

Which maker, who is already working on his free time, would ever read such a 200 page book just to get
a clue on how to defend his own intellectual property that was patented by a company he trusted?
(the latter knows very well, which is exactly why it did patent the inventor's idea in the first place)
Just a normal business practice, according to Markerbot CEO.
As for the user, when inventors are spoiled they may soon or later want to get money and no more give "for free" (BTW check #takerbot on G+ for more on the community reaction).. Users then are stuck with hardware that becomes quickly obsolete because is it meant to become obsolete as soon as possible.

Think about how Apple aggressive strategy finally forced Samsung to innovate more than them. This was a mere consequence of Apple attempts to kill Samsung business instead of licensing their silly patents. Seriously, as a user I do not care about the reason since Apple did have enough money to keep on innovating. Greed made them stop and try to kill every competitor! The consequence is that Samsung now also has patents that Apple will not be able to use in their own products. The loser is the customer as 25% of the cost of the devices would be for these companies to fight their patent wars. And less new features by the way.

I copy/pasted this job application at Makerbot as it makes it so explicit that they want to patent whatever they can find (thanks to Ari for noticing the link).

Job application at Makerbot (archived here): who the heck did coin the expression "invention harvesting"?
Hey evil Makerbot, invention needs creativity not just stealing! Just patent your stuff, not others' ideas!
By the way, you can succeed without patents (e.g. Elon Musk's Tesla cars and space ships are two strategies)

Did you know why no-one heard about 3D printing before?

Because of former greed: extremely high prices with the least innovation (i.e. the biggest possible ROI). And this is toxic: once big companies like Stratasys had enough patents, they were able to prevent or kill competition. This is why innovation even just became useless until the patents expired. But they were so stupid that they forgot to think that they could start another huge business by preparing and predating the "3D printer at home" promising business.

No, instead they left it to individuals to start a major technological (and social) breakthrough -- which in turn start to harm their profit (hey, they much later bought Makerbot for $400M: that was not philantropy!). Indeed, the new players chose another business model: open source, free of use! Only after came "regular" companies, that sometime played so-so with the rule. Actually this is just like major companies in the music industry that did not see the MP3 coming, then they tried to fight the idea of digital music, and finally they lost it all to newcomers (instead of benefiting from being there first)!

Back to why nobody heard of 3D printing for decades... As soon as the major basic patents expired, the community resumed innovation. Amazingly enough, people like Adrian Bowyer followed by many open-minded makers did more for the 3D printing industry in three years than what the big players did in 30 years! This, in turn, means that cheaper printers are more versatile and they are even better than many of the so-called professional printers.

The former excessive patent strategy, because of greed, just sterilized the innovation for decades.
Now why would it be otherwise with Makerbot, being itself bought by one of the worst example in the industry regarding patent fair use?
How patents hinder innovation nowadays
(source: EFF here, and there for a longer explanation)

As soon as Makerbot was bought by Stratasys (for $400M!) they they started the game again, but this time they cleverly aimed at the promising entry-level market that Stratasys ignored so far (as dumb as big companies can be). For some time I though that Makerbot "just" succumbed to the huge personal profit, and at best, to the possibility money would give them to "make the world better" (as they claim!?!). But this is not true at all: Makerbot and its CEO is now as greedy and arrogant as its parent is.

Actually it is even worse because Makerbot not only stopped inventing by themselves (if ever they really invented something new beside corporate bullshit in the last years), but they started trying to steal others' own ideas and most certainly they will sue them back afterwards. This is amazingly immoral, and even worse when you hear Bre Pettis (founder and CEO of Makerbot) years ago talking about open source.

Now of course he is much richer, leaving his "morale is in the toilet" (the expression comes from a former employee who wrote about his work there, one year ago. He has it wrong at the end though: the future of this company may be brighter than was he thought as they are making money out of naive customers and bought reviews).

Technological future of Makerbot : will stay bad in my opinion!

Back to why I no more keep quiet on Makerbot 3D printers.

They are expensive without reason. As I said above, they also tend to get even less reliable with each iteration (e.g. better buy an old R2 than a new gen5). Obviously you mostly cannot tweak them yourself (but no single 3D printer is easy nor fail proof yet). Worst, this is planed so that you will not be able to fix it yourself nor with help of a sparse good willing community and will have to buy another unit.

Dilbert by Scott Adams, of course.
Their printers come with more and more expensive parts and consumables, proprietary filament and so. When on earth did a "proprietary" or "patent-pending" technology proved to be beneficial to the user? I always thought that a "patent-pending" item means that 1) you will pay more because there will be no competitor to bound margins, and 2) it will stay longer without improvements because the company just formally paused for the ROI (return of investment). So you may even have a patented broken idea that you will have to deal with.

As a side note, but you may not care as a would-be customer, obvious patents mean that 1) the owner can harm others companies who would improve or even fix the stuff, and 2) it is just immoral when the idea existed for years before they patented it (aka "prior art"). Just check this amazingly straight example. (the free design was "too good to ignore"... so they patent it!?!). By the way, some "inventions" are so stupid that they would not hold in court (at least they are usually funny), but here it is dangerous. I just hate that someone is allowed to patent something when it can be re-discovered independently in three minutes while washing the dishes or in the toilets (and even less when it can be made at home simple tools). These businessmen are just toxic.

One thing is certain for the future. If you buy a Makerbot, you will promote the same history as with the inkjet printers with absurdly expensive ink cartridges. Think twice: they even spend part of the money you give to include a chip to prevent you from re-filling the cartridge! Actually Stratasys and all the old "big players" do this already for their filament. Obviously they pay smart people to make you think it is good for you to have only what they provide and forget all the incredible good open-source 3D printers can give you, and mostly free of charge.

Oh, at least inkjet printers were sold cheaper and cheaper! But with Makerbot printers, you have to pay more and more, and significantly more than what the competition already offers. What a pity!

I wish less people were naive and would not believe in such corporate crap.

Conclusion: better be safe than sorry.

Please, do not be foolish! Makerbot know how to advertise. Do not trust nor buy because a journalist wrote it was fantastic (he may have gotten a free printer, and quite often he has no serious knowledge of 3D printing ever before).

So better double check what actual Makerbot customers are saying themselves about their printer. You may want to avoid the official forum because censorship was proven to occur there. Do not listen to newbies either, including journalists, are they will often praise or hate their printer but have no point of comparison. Try to go and check the printers by yourself and see actual prints, and if possible compared to other brands (note that MKI no more competes openly since the time they went close-source... this is just a guess they are not confident in them setting this "new standard", as they claim). Well that's a kind of a new standard actually: it was most probably the first company to claim it was the best and use heavy marketing to do so.

Check also the communities. The Ultimaker for example has a tremendously helpful community that you will miss with Makerbot, as a direct consequence of the company respective stances tower open source (update 2017: there is a significant change since Ultimaker also started patenting technology!)
Of course, makers do not want to help companies that steal their knowledge for profit and without even attribution. There are probably less and less makers with Makerbot (the name itself is being changed to Takerbot in the community!). And since makers are sharing a lot on the forums, you do get expert knowledge for any interesting issue or idea.

An open printer does not mean it will be better or worse. But it entitles you to all kind of free upgrades. A closed-source printer will come with all sorts of locks and encrypted cartridges to prevent you to do so. Obviously, you would void your warranty, which you can add to the fact that MKI does not seem to have any serious customer support. Note that I am not saying that the official support of other brands such as Ultimaker is better than that of Makerbot (the former certainly have a much smaller income... and they are bad at marketing imho!). But at least you have the community handy, and as importantly, no bullshit!

In any case better not help stupid, old school and erroneous business practices that harm the planet in the end. There are many other choices, so spend a few hours in the community, including Makerbot google group itself to know that this choice is wrong. Both technically and an ethical ground (if you care for the latter).

Makerbot used to be different: being open source
also means caring about human values and economy.
But greed totally corrupted them in the end  (ref. The New Yorker)
Makerbot really hurts the whole movement for the profit of a few very selfish short-viewed shareholders - the usual caricature made true. Such business practices will prevent major and needed innovations in 3D printing, that only the free and open community did prove to be able to discover.
Just do not help them patent these innovations that they did not contribute to, by buying their goods!

Update: Moreover, many websites propagate false truths that Makerbot invented many if not all of the innovations (just as too many journalists said 3D printing will solve everything). No, Makerbot did not invent 3D printing, they did not invent extruders either, nor they did invent "special" filaments (wood, chalk, etc). They invented consumable and expensive extruders, though! Now if you want to see more of these false claims, and the proper credits to their inventors, please check the addendum of this article, or the more recent one in this post by Gina Häußge, the author of Octoprint (a well known and re-used opensource project to remotely control your printer).

Finally, buying from Makerbot will lock you with a short-lived over-hyped hardware that you will not be allowed to fix or improve by yourself nor with the help of a non-existing community. And this is by design since they were no more open source. My own printer is many year old but still better than theirs, both due to the initial design and because it is open to improvements.

Now if/when you still buy a Makerbot printer, make sure you complain to them as soon as you get the usual troubles... and before the short term warranty and the planed end-of-life of the product!
As stated by some users, They might improve their business. At least: they do have the money to do so. But the problem is that they want it in their own pockets first, not in their 3D printers.

Update (years later, 2016): the company is broke. It ended up outsourcing to China and is it laying off more people with each announcement of "increased productivity" or "innovation speed up". Aka it failed miserably.

Update (2017): even though it is certainly NOT as bad, Ultimaker is starting to patent technology in turn. I wrote in length here: Ultimaker to file patents... with dubious reasons.

For completeness and factual evidence: explicit references of existing open designs and projects that are threatened by Makerbot claims.

The following list was initially copy/pasted from a compilation made by Rich Cameron, after he read through the patents Makerbot is trying to own. Probably every 3D printer owner once heard of him under the nickname Whosawhatsis, as an early and important contributor to the 3D printing community, and the co-designer of the Bukito and Bukobot 3D printers (at Deezmaker). Thanks for this frightening list. BTW, he would also feel stabbed in the back by Makerbot regarding to the ubiquitous quickrelease feeder lever. The list was then updated with different sources and events since my initial article.

Note also that this list is certainly incomplete. Patent trolls are known to extend the reach of already broad claims for the maximum money they can make when threatening a company or an individual.

Looking over #Takerbot's attempt to patent the open source community's work. A cursory look revealed similarities to the following projects, and those involved should take a closer look and report prior art.

+Zach Smith's BotQueue: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/8425218.htmland http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0287473.html and possibly http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0287459.html

+Gina Häußge's Octoprint: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/8562324.html andhttp://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0287259.html andhttp://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0105903.html and possibly http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0287472.html

Both BotQueue and Octoprint:
http://www.freepatentsonline.com/8414280.htmland http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2012/0113473.html

Kai Parthy's LayWoo-3D: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2013/0292881.html

+Richard Horne's color blending nozzle: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2013/0328228.html

This one sounds like it may be broad enough to encompass all parametric designs, including most repraps: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0046473.html

These sound like they might apply to every hot end that has ever been used for 3d printing: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0044823.htmland http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0044822.html

This could apply to the multi-layer fill algorithm +Alessandro Ranellucci's Slic3r:
http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0121813.html (though it sounds more like this: http://makezine.com/2014/04/24/stress-testing-injected-hot-glue-for-solid-fast-cheap-3d-prints/)

This one could also apply to Slic3r, or any other slicer that generates solid fill for islands below a threshold of area: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0039659.html

This one sounds like +Josef Prusa's ThingDoc:

nothinglabs' puzzle cut library (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:35834) and similar projects: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:35834

Of course, the auto-leveling and extruder patents that have already been discussed at length.
And the UFID project: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0117585.html

The above mentioned quick-lever extruders (i.e. almost all extruders of all existing printers!):
http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20140120196.pdf and http://traverseda.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/makerbot-blatently-steals-and-patents-a-community-design/ (full history)

Ridiculous patent related to printing exploded parts and assembling them later to make a bigger object than what the printer is able to do in a whole (think about lego and millenium-old assemblies!): http://3dprint.com/2871/makerbot-build-volume-patent/

The latter is also a nice example to show how general websites are forwarding false claims made by Makerbot, willingly (ad revenue) or naïvely (not enough fact-checking!). You will read more on the matter in this post.

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