3D printing feels a bit stuck. At the dawn of the 2010s, the device seemed destined to reimagine the creative process, putting the power of additive manufacturing within anyone's grasp. But trend has gone cold since reaching its popular zenith in 2013. While people continue to create amazing things with 3D printing, the "one in every household" promise has been put on temporary—or possibly permanent—hold.
But the leader of the once great 3D printing revolution hasn't gone away quietly. In fact, it's done the opposite. Makerbot, the Brooklyn-based startup that sold its first printers back in 2009, is launching a brand new platform, , to help turn its 3D printing community into super-users, able to access parts of the printer that were otherwise inaccessible. Makerbot describes this new platform as a place, built for creators, who want to experiment with 3D printing but still have the bedrock of the platform to fall back on if need be.
One big step in the right direction is a return to open source. The original Makerbot printers were born from RepRap, an open source project that allowed anyone to build on and tinker with a 3D printing platform. Eventually, Makerbot decided to close the hardware doors to make something that anyone could use. Now, after years of streamlining printing for schools and professionals, Makerbot is turning to its dedicated community of makers.
Is it a full return to the Makerbot's early days as an open source hardware maker? Well, yes and no. "We're taking a step towards openness by offering an experimental platform that allows developers and engineers to interact with our technology," says Makerbot CEO Nadav Goshen. "It's definitely in the spirit of...a collaborative platform that allows the community to improve on."
Makerbot is also backing up its new pseudo-open source philosophy with new hardware—the Experimental Extruder. With removable nozzles, makers can adapt printers for specific needs, whether faster print times or different materials. The extruder comes with four removable nozzles of varying diameters to meet specific creative needs. This new hardware along with the new Makerbot Labs community on Thingiverse, a huge site for the 3D printing devout, will hopefully create a place where advanced users can explore 3D printing beyond a printer's out-of-the-box limitations.
After all, artists grow over time. Shouldn't their tools grow with them?