How 3D printing got overhyped

MakerBot's vision of a consumer market for its printers never came to pass, as alum Andrew Zaleski writes for Backchannel.

Home security company Canary uses MakerBot. But the average consumer? Not so much.

(Courtesy photo)

MakerBot has hit a few speed bumps over the last couple of years, among them layoffs and the shuttering of its Industry City factory. In its recent product launches, the company has shifted focus toward specialized uses of its 3D printers in manufacturing and education.
But once upon a time, cofounder Bre Pettis believed that 3D printers would be as ubiquitous as microwaves in the average home. So why didn’t this vision of a vast consumer market come to pass?
Former Baltimore lead reporter Andrew Zaleski, who has written extensively on MakerBot in the past, addressed that question in a story for Backchannel. The bottom line: MakerBot’s 3D printers never gained mass appeal because they were too expensive and too cumbersome for the average person.

Read the story

One big mistake MakerBot made, according to Zaleski’s story, was abandoning the open source ethos that drew in passionate hobbyists. Originally, the designs for MakerBot’s printers were made available to the public, and hobbyists helped to fix bugs and submit improvements. But after someone attempted to crowdfund a cheaper replica of MakerBot’s Replicator on Kickstarter, the company decided to keep its hardware and graphical user interface designs close to the chest. While that may have been an understandable business decision, it turned off some customers.


“When you take the early adopters and piss them off, and they’re the people who own a 3D printer, they’re not going to be saying, ‘Buy a MakerBot,’” said former employee Matt Stultz, who is now the digital fabrication editor for Make.

Our take? In retrospect, the buzz around 3D printing ended up following the Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies with amazing precision. Talk about 3D printing capabilities tends to be tempered these days. But there remains potential for ample growth. Elsewhere in the borough, two fellows from the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, Austin Robey and Francis Bitonti, are pushing the limits of what 3D printing can do, and Voodoo Manufacturing is pursuing consumer-facing services through its partnership with Lowe’s.

As our lead reporter Tyler Woods wrote a year ago, “Plenty of curve still lies ahead.”

Companies: MakerBot
People: Bre Pettis
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