Can putting 3D printers in schools lead to adoption in the consumer market? MakerBot plans to find out.
When the State University of New York at New Paltz opened the first MakerBot Innovation Center in the U.S. in February 2014—complete with 30 MakerBot Replicators—it was heralded by the university and MakerBot as a major step forward. Here was an opportunity for SUNY students to learn the intricacies of digital design and fabrication, with some of the latest desktop 3D printing technology, which would effectively give them with the tools they needed to fit into a new generation of engineers and manufacturers before they left school.
“In many ways, we’re planting a seed here, with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement, a lot of potential energy,” said MakerBot cofounder and then-CEO Bre Pettis at the time.
For MakerBot, the event was a glimpse into the company’s future. A year and a half later, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer of desktop 3D printers has a new CEO, a new factory, and a new strategy for pushing widespread consumer sales of its 3D printers: Create a direct line between the education and consumer 3D-printing markets, a move that new MakerBot CEO Jonathan Jaglom first explained to Fortune in May.
“It taps into our longer-term vision of wanting to go through the education space into the consumer space,” he said.
Consider MakerBot’s strong play this summer for the education market. Already the company had its 3D printers in 5,000 schools nationwide. In June, it released a handbook called “MakerBot in the Classroom,” a how-to guide for teachers interested in introducing 3D printing to their students, but only registered MakerBot customers got the handbook as a free digital download. At the end of August, it announced the winners of its Thingiversity Summer STEAM Challenges, a two-month contest for users of the Thingiverse 3D-design community to create 3D-printable projects that could be tried out by teachers and students. Both the handbook and the contest were components of MakerBot’s education initiative, a key component of how the company is refocusing its efforts to better serve the education market.
“We believe we’re the PCs of the ’80s,” Jaglom told Fortunein a follow-up interview in June, one month before opening up MakerBot’s new Brooklyn factory. “We believe if we address that market over time we will establish ourselves on … the consumer market.”
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