An interesting couple of posts. The more recent of the posts incited me to
chime in differently than I originally intended to Specifically, I was
intending on simply putting out some quick thoughts on Make versus Buy. The
linked article regarding DRM on printable items got me a bit more fired up
on 3d printing from more of a philosophical standpoint.
For the simple answer of make versus buy, I do think that the price and
availability of assembled, ready to go 3d printers on the market today
really drive the need to ask the make versus buy question. At one end of
the spectrum, you have the SolidDoodle and some of the PrintRBot offerings
available in a ready to go configuration for under $500. On the other end
(of the consumer targeted machines) you have Makerbot Replicator, MakerGear
M2 and others in the $1800-$2500 range ready to go. It appears that the
higher end of the spectrum will get you dual head extrusion and speed over
the lower end machines. The higher end machines also seem to be comparable
to commercial machines with resolution and print quality.
Compare these machines to kit and diy options that are currently out there,
and it is no longer as simple as a dollar to dollar comparison. For
example, one can easily spend over $500 in parts for a Reprap Mendel and
still need to spend significant time assembling, adjusting, breaking and
fixing before an acceptable print comes out. Why not just fork over the
cash for a SolidDoodle which runs out of the box. Without getting into a
discussion of pros and cons of each machine, I think that a big part of the
question is whether you are more interested in the journey or the
For myself, the time spent getting the CT Hackerspace Mcwire repstrap up
and going was invaluable in teaching me about 3D printing. In the end the
speed of the machine made it practically useless however I know far more
than I would have learned just following along on the internet.
Incidentally, I really want to belt drive the X&Y axes on the CT
Hackerspace machine and make the thing worthwhile.
Flash forward to about 2 weeks ago when I purchased a fully assembled
Printrbot Jr at the Maker Faire. This machine was $399 (Special price for
MakerFaire) fully assembled. The fully assembled part was a bit of
mis-information as I still needed to instal the control board after
unpacking the machine. After some simple set-up and calibration, I am
printing some fairly decent objects. Overall, I am very happy to be able to
go from a need or idea to physical item very quickly with this machine. It
is, in my mind, a utilitarian machine. It is not an art piece machine.
Could I tweak and tweak to get better resolution and speed? I sure could.
For now however, I intend to take it for what it is and put it to work
making functional pieces upon need or whim. If I print something that I
absolutely need to be of higher quality, I can always send it off to
somebody else with a higher quality machine or a printing service. The
truth is that most of what I am interested in is more functional than
aesthetic. Don't get me wrong, I am happy with the quality of the prints,
they are just not currently on par with commercial machines or the upper
end of the consumer machine world.
If you are still reading, I will delve briefly into the philosophical end
of things. Amidst all of the discussion that ensued after it became clear
that Makerbot was going closed source with aspects of the Replicator 2, I
thought a lot about Open Source and what it meant to 3D printing becoming
accessible to the hobbyist and consumer.
My conclusion is that the community behind the reprap project, coupled with
an open source mentality did something really incredible with 3D printing.
The community collaboratively engineered a low cost version of a
device/technology that was otherwise quite expensive and very "closed". I
also believe that it still the open source community that is driving the
state of the art for low cost 3d printing forward; Not the producers of
ready to print machines. With that in mind, I sincerely do hope that the
availability of ready to print, closed technology, solutions does not, too
severely, dilute the pool of talent and the wealth of innovation that has
allowed low cost 3d printing to evolve so quickly.
On the other hand, perhaps what has happened with 3d printing represents a
new evolutionary model for innovation and the breaking down of the barriers
previously imposed by the capital based model for development of new
technologies. Perhaps the consumer grade 3D printer has passed the point of
diminishing returns for community development. Perhaps it is time to look
for the Next Big Closed Technology to make Open via community based open
If that is the case, then what is to become of low cost 3d printing? Will
the technology state of the art migrate back to corporate interests and
become more closed? I do believe that will be the case however I also
believe that if it does swing too far in the closed direction, there will
be a community that will open it back up. The most important thing is that
an open source community continues to thrive by pushing the boundaries of
technology through leveraging the collaboration and horsepower that can
only be practically achieved in an open model.
So, Make vs Buy? I believe that the time has come where if you are most
interested in printing objects to support your artistic or intellectual
pursuits, you should buy. If you are interested in becoming a 3d printing
expert and/or furthering the technology, at some point you must be building
a printer or improving upon a purchased printer.