MakerBot 3D Printer makes TIME Magazine's list of most influential tech gadgets of all time

Posted by Jacqui Adams on

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By Kira

TIME Magazine is one of the most influential news publications of, well, all time, and so when its team of editors puts together a list of what they consider to be the most influential technological gadgets ever, it is certainly worth taking a closer look. That list has been carefully assembled, deliberated on, and finally published, and we’re happy to report that 3D printing technology made the cut.

But even this requires a closer look, for TIME doesn’t refer to 3D printing technology per se, but rather a specific—and specifically provocative—3D printer: the MakerBot Replicator. It ranked number 49 out of 50 on the list of most influential gadgets of all time, ordered by influence.

This distinction between broader technologies and a particular machine is an important one, and in the context of 3D printing, I believe that TIME selecting the MakerBot reveals a lot about the state of the industry from a consumer perspective.

The thing is, as a 3D printing news source, we are constantly researching and covering the latest trends, tech, and applications related to 3D tech, yet a great majority of this news falls into the ‘industrial’ or ‘professional’ categories. It can be extremely important to companies already invested in 3D printing, but average consumers aren’t particularly concerned with whether a car part—or rocket engine for that matter—was injection molded or additively manufactured.

At the same time, 3D printing has captivated consumer interest precisely because it has promised a real revolution in the way we produce and consume. The idea of every household owning a 3D printer, of individuals designing and manufacturing personalized goods right on their kitchen tables, is a powerful one. And it is precisely companies like MakerBot that have, and continued to, fuel that idea into being.

While there is a lot to be said about MakerBot, let’s just take a quick look at its history: MakerBot (which also owns the popular 3D content site Thingiverse) burst onto the scene around 2010 as one of the first mainstream manufacturers of consumer 3D printers and an advocate of the Open Source Hardware Movement, and within just a few years it was acquired by industry giant Stratasys. The company, with its vision to put a 3D printer into every home, seemed unstoppable…that is, until its popular line of Replicator FDM 3D printers proved to be entirely faulty.

Rather than owning up to its shortcomings, MakerBot made a series of...let’s call them 'missteps':undercutting resellers, patenting ideas it should never have patented, knowingly selling a malfunctioning extruder, and essentially turning its back on the Open Source movement.

Flash forward a few years, and MakerBot has shut down retail locations, laid off 20 percent of its staff (not once, but twice), downsized its Brooklyn manufacturing space, and finally, outsourced its manufacturing once and for all.

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