The Makezine blog discusses what seems to be a move of MakerBot to close-source their latest model 3D printer, the Replicator 2.
Although the article leaves much in the conditional, it points out that with a move towards closing their IP and entering the world of printer manufacture on the terms of the incumbent commercial producers, the company may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. On the one hand it risks losing the support of the community that loves open source maker tools, and on the other it will be going into direct competition with the incumbent 800 pound gorillas, the commercial printer manufacturers. Rob Giseburt puts it in these words:
“MakerBot is obviously creating, with a much more complex device, with equally more complex supply-chain issues and tech support overhead. There is no doubt a need to remain competitive and profitable. After all, they have to be able to afford to put food on the employees’ tables along with continuing R&D to stay ahead of the competition. These are very real problems that have complex solutions.
But it doesn’t appear that being closed source and using patents and licensing will free any company from competitors, but instead will only open them to a different form of competitors. A form of competitor that really, truly is only there for the profit, and doesn’t have the ethics of open and community driven innovation.
And, after all, the target market of MakerBot, along with many open source hardware companies, is the full spectrum of makers. Not just makers of competing 3D printers, but makers of all sorts: artists, industrial designers, engineers, high-school teachers, biology professors, electrical engineers, architects, etc. Makers don’t want black-box trinkets. They want something that, if they want to open it up and learn how it works, they can.”
Josef Prusa, another manufacturer of open source 3D printers in the Czech Republic, blogs about the move and he publishes an open letter to Bre Pettis, founder and current head of MakerBot, asking confirmation of this step:
we know each other for some time. I want to ask you about the Replicator 2, and if it’s closed source? If so, then why? I would also love to shoot an interview with you for my RepRap interviews show on youtube, I promise I will be neutral. But you have to explain weird behavior I wrote about in the linked article.”
Prusa, in his blog post, also discusses the philosophy of open source manufacturing, and he isn’t making any bones of being disappointed at MakerBot’s move.
Marcus Wolschon has put together a timeline of developments that let to, and events that are connected with the move towards a closed-source MakerBot product at his “Tales of a modern life” blog, pointing among other things to an event that may have been at the bottom of this change in philosophy:
“August 2011 – Makerbot Industries receives $10M venture capital funding.”
Wolschon’s article is titled Occupy Thingiverse?
Zachary Smith was, together with Adam Mayer and Bre Pettis, one of the founders of MakerBot. He was forced out after the venture capitalists arrived. Still not quite believing that the company he co-founded has turned its back on open source manufacturing, he disassociates himself from the move:
“I do not support any move that restricts the open nature of the MakerBot hardware, electronics, software, firmware, or other open projects. MakerBot was built on a foundation of open hardware projects such as RepRap and Arduino, as well as using many open software projects for development of our own software. I remain a staunch supporter of the open source movement, and I believe the ideals and goals of OSHW remain true. I have never wavered from this stance, and I hope that I never do.”
While the last word has not been said, it looks fairly certain that MakerBot is actually going closed source. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this will have on the company’s relation with its public, the makers who want a workable tool. Will they turn to others, as some predict, or is the product good enough to overcome the disappointment of having gone from open source to proprietary?