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MakerBot Prepares to Lay off More Workers

New York based 3D printing company MakerBot is going to reduce its staff by 30%. The company was emblematic of indie development, coming out of Brooklyn in 2009. A peak year for hipsters. MakerBot was acquired by a globally focussed enterprise called Stratasys in 2013, a year after one of the co-founders Zachary Smith was pushed out. 100 of the then 500 employees were made redundant in 2015, to integrate better with their new owners Stratasys. Even the retail outlets were cut.

MakerBot rode the novel wave of 3D printing, the technology phase where consumers were allowed to play is now inevitably swept along by the industrial phase. Start ups need to prove their energetic rise is sustainable, continuously starting up becomes too appealling, too easy to retrace. Taking off from a runway for a start up means co-optation or some actually serious disruption has occurred. MakerBot’s home-based, do-it-your-self 3D printing ideal is a money killer in the long run. Their first products required a bit of soldering and assembly similar to IKEA furniture. Their last open source MakerBot printer was the Replicator, launched in 2012. Recent models are closed-box and ready to go.

In mid-2016 the manufacturing aspect of MakerBot was stripped and outsource to Jabil Circuit, a global manufacturer with presence in 23 countries and a workforce of 175,000. A big change from Brooklyn. Closing off hardware to open source principles caused controversy, 3D printers are a general purpose technological trend, which might sound boring but is really a high compliment. They’re able to re-define aspects of our lives we think unchangable. In the development of the computer there were competing ideas on how many there would be per person. Do we share a big one or everyone have a little one? You can see how this worked out on a hardware scale, its your phone isn’t it.

What the benefit of a 3D printer is really comes down to economics for you, the one who does all the buying. You probably will, if you can’t already, be able to pirate a car. For the moment 3D printers are confined to making household tat. A study from Michigan Technological University has assessed the economic benefit of 3D printing at home on small items. In the study a student with no prior experience of 3D printing was given a $1,250 FDM printer, the Lulzbot Mini 3D. Quick-start settings were used to illustrate the ease of printing. 26 items were printed over the course of 6 months, using 737.8g of filament. This is equivalent to $17.71 on materials and $0.92 in electricity. Analysis of the results suggest consumers who use in-house desktop 3D printers are able to earn an estimated 1,000% return on their investment over five years. This is however one study, more research with larger samples (just do it) would be excellent. We examine the potential of 3D printing for individuals more in this article.

MakerBot may be dissolving into a corporate solution, but the desktop 3D printing market is filled with options.



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Mathew Sayer

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