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Matt Strong has begun a Kickstarter campaign to sell the Tangibot, another 3D Printer. Wait it’s not just any 3D printer – it’s an exact copy of the Makerbot Replicator, and a relatively cheaper one at that. $1,199 instead of $1,749 for a single extruder and $1,299 instead of $1,999 for a dual extruder. Discussion and general discord has exploded across the internet, none in part due to the irony that Matt Strong is replicating ‘The Replicator’ (let me be the first to say … BWAHAHA)

What is Open Source for?

There is nothing illegal about what Strong is doing – Makerbot posted all the documentation online. Almost all of their components are off-the-shelf and the software is free. Makerbot has been a huge supporter of Open Source – in reality, the Cupcake, the Thingomatic, the Replicator, they are all derived from the RepRap project. Thingiverse is an open community of CAD designs. But it’s not because Makerbot is a wealthy Uncle that can afford this – they state “When we say open source, we mean open source. The inside of your Replicator belongs to you just as much as the outside, and we want you to get acquainted with it.” One of the unwritten commandments of Open Source is that copying and selling a product is ‘not good karma’. Its legal, but its really not a nice thing to do. EEVBlog has a great take on it below.

You’re Doing it Wrong

Makerbot released all the specs after taking the risk, supporting their customers and creating software. It’s a risky strategy, especially when this happens. If Strong actually hits his $500,000 goal on Kickstarter, that will be $500,000 that Makerbot could have earned for all it’s persistence and hard work. And have to help extra customers it never sold products to. In other words, Matt Strong is making it so risky for them to continue to be Open Source and suppress the initiative of others to innovate. What’s the lesson to the whole 3D printing community – why try when I can copy?


Matt Strong’s argument to support his campaign is simple. 1) Its legal and 2) I’m doing a favor to Customers by offering a cheaper Replicator. First off, so what if it’s legal? It’s still wrong. Lots of things are legal yet completely wrong. So be cool and don’t do it. Matt’s second point is a fairly myopic one. Consumer are not getting a cheaper Replicator. Replicators are made by Makerbot and a great deal of cost and love and butterflies in the stomach were put into it. He is offering a 3D printer, and its not even the cheapest one out there (Hello, Solidoodle? $500!). In the long-run, he is screwing the Consumer over by killing innovation within companies and the community with the aim of making money in the short-run.

The closest thing of an annoyed Bre Pettis that I could find

The Impact

Already Matt Strong has made $15,000 in the past few days, with 25 days left to hit $500,000. Personally, I hope that he falls short of this. Usually I support any sort of 3D printer – this is an exception because….the Tangibot isn’t exceptional. The purpose of Kickstarter is to get the world to fund unique projects – I’m frankly surprised that Kickstarter allowed this. If Strong is successful, Makerbot will have to revise their Open Source policy and become closed source. This would be a real shame – they are one of the only 3D printing companies that is so gung-ho on free unfettered Open Source 3D printing.

Source: Tangibot and EEVBlog

Filed under: DESIGN NEWS

  • ion

    Well lets get this started shall we.

    “Twisted by the Dark Side young Skywalker has become.”

    “Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen. Begun the Clone War has.”

  • JF

    Hahahahah ion, thank you. That was brilliant.

  • arasbm

    I also feel that what he is doing is wrong but it is not illegal or
    against the acceptable practices of open source. This situation reminds
    me of what google has done with Android. They made a huge amount of
    profit from a fork of Linux and it seemed unfair. I was very surprised
    to hear the response from Linus Torvalds when he was asked how he feels
    about Android. I cant replicate his response here exactly but he said
    that he always encourages people to fork Linux and try to make it
    better. The Linux kernel team are confident at what they do and do not
    feel threatened by the people who distribute their own forks of Linux —
    in fact they really encourage it. The bottom line is that they are the
    best at what they do and they have the community to back them up. I
    don’t think this guy will raise the $500000. First of all, he is no
    Google. Secondly, he hasn’t improved the Replicator in any ways. But
    even if he does succeed — which I hope not — this will be beneficial
    to the Replicator project in the long run. The owners of those machines
    will realize quickly where the best source of information for Replicator
    is and become part of that community. The guys behind replicator are
    great and I don’t think this is a threat to them or the open source

    I would buy my 3D printer directly from the source, because I trust they
    are the ones who will move the 3D printing technology forward and
    continue innovating.

  • Lee Lloyd

    What a difficult quandary. On the one hand, I find every single aspect of just copying someone else’s design, and selling it, to be offensive, and distasteful. On the other hand, I am so incredibly shocked by what a ridiculously overhyped, low quality, hipster toy the Makerbot is, that I kind of feel like they are getting what they deserve, for working so hard at marketing their mediocre RepRap variant, as the bleeding edge of the ‘desktop manufacturing revolution®’

  • My question to those that say, “Oh, but they are knocking off Makerbot. It’s okay, they’re big and their stuff is overhyped”: Would you feel the same way if it was a smaller company that he’s knocking off – one that hasn’t quite made it to Makerbot level fame and success?

    I wrote down my opinion here:

    My biggest beef with all this, aside from the no-improvement, tag-along me too money grab move, is that he really isn’t doing that much work. Anyone that’s work with a CM (Contract Manufacturer) will know that the DFM is a part of the CM’s value-add; their manufacturing engineers will do all the hard work to make sure that it is manufactured efficiently. And this is information that is proprietary to the CM. I roughly estimated that the tooling for the unit will cost about $15k tops in China, and that the BOM cost per unit including labor won’t ring in above $500.00 So, toss in a top of the line Epilog laser cutter to be generous, that’s about $245k. Where do you think the rest of that quarter million dollars is going to go?

    -=- Terence

  • noko

    >There is nothing illegal about what Strong is doing
    Stopped reading right there. This is part of what Open Source means. Stopping it would be a hard blow to the promises of Open Source.

  • noko

    As I see it, he’s making an improvement in the price. Which is as good an improvement as any.

  • Lee Lloyd

    Since you asked, for me it isn’t the size, but the hype factor, that makes it emotionally complicated. If this guy were knocking off the Ultimaker, or one of the other lesser known printers, it would be an uncomplicated case of disdain for the guy doing it. However, when I see Bre Pettis on the Colbert Report, the nightly news, Wired magazine, time and time again acting like the Makerbot is the first and only option ever available for an individual to make something on their desktop (my 10-year-old Roland CNC mill would argue differently), it kind of changes the emotional equation.

    In reality, there isn’t anything particularly special about the Makerbot. It is just another extrusion printer. It isn’t the cheapest, it isn’t the first, it isn’t the best, it is just another low-end extrusion printer, with a good PR initiative. I have a hard time feeling a lot of compassion for a company who isn’t really offering anything innovative to begin with, when they are a victim of their own hype.

  • anon

    There is nothing wrong with selling copies of free software. If the
    maker of the free software does not sell it as cheap as it could be, and
    someone else gets a copy and finds a way to sell it cheaper, then he
    benefits everyone by actually going ahead and doing it. Free software
    intended for a wide enough audience will generally be available for free
    because of this possibility. The equivalent outcome for free hardware
    would be that it would be sold at a small markup over the cost of the
    cheapest known derivative design that actually works.
    The makers of
    Makerbot advanced the state of the art by planning and designing it.
    Matt Strong advances the state of the art even further by taking that
    proven design and manufacturing it cheaper. That’s what the kickstarter
    campaign is paying for, the improved process resulting in lower costs.
    makers of Makerbot are free to launch their own campaigns for further
    iterations of Makerbot, if they feel like they need the dough. They
    could also try and create a new Makerbot, derived from Tangibot,
    resulting in an even lower price or high performance.

  • I feel a lot of compassion for them – they really did kick 3D printing into the mainstream. MB has to be very smart and swift if they want to stay ahead of their competitors.

  • Great post Tam 🙂

    Yeah I don’t buy the argument that the replicator is overpriced – there are a lot of thing wrapped up with the price – software and support. So Matt comes along and offers a price that excludes those elements – and somehow thats a value proposition to the consumer….not really. Thats a ripoff.

  • I really have a hard time that lower prices mean innovation. First off, Strong’s price only include part costs and labour, not software and not support and certainly not time spent designing and innovating. Secondly, China ships cheap knockoffs yet many comment at its lack of innovation.

  • Why did the Hipster burns his hand on the Makerbot? Because he touched the finished print before it was cool.

    Actually – I don’t think its overhyped – i think MB is doing the right thing and they’ll be fine. I hope they start going with SLS and such tech soon … the problem for them is that they could get pummled by the big boys for patent infringement…. unlike the small guys….

  • But – a knock-off is a knock-off. Just because a company in your eyes is a more mainstream (or media wh*re) than others doesn’t change the fact that Tangibot a knock-off.

    I have zero plans on buying a Makerbot, BTW. I think they are overpriced and overhyped machines; a RapRep, Utilimaker, etc, all will do more for less. But that being said, I respect Makerbot for one thing: 5 years ago, I had a failed company selling 3D printed Zcorp parts. Back then, no one knew what the hell a 3D printer was. Now, at every maker faire, you see 3D printers, robot petting zoos, etc, and it’s getting an entire generation of young kids interested in electronics and 3D printing. And a lot of this traces back to Makerbot’s outreach.

    (And, by that definition, Matt isn’t knocking off the *best* printer either. He’s knocking off the most popular one – and using their hard work on marketing and name recognition to peddle his knock-off, to make him more of a douche.)

  • NE_Heights_Elitist

    Cry me a river. This is why intellectual property matters. Makerbot gave away every detail how to make a copy. They screwed themselves. No one else.

  • NE_Heights_Elitist

    If that company is dumb enough to post their entire intellectual property portfolio online, then it is hard to feel sorry for them.

  • NE_Heights_Elitist

    3D printing is not mainstream for anyone outside of the design community.

  • Trouble with this post is that it repeats various lies of the copy-monopolyists, namely

    1) the “lost sale” lie.

    Just because someone acquires something cheaper somewhere else, does not automatically mean they would have bought the expensive option offered by the monopolist if that was the only choice.

    2) the “breaking copy-monopoly kills innovation” lie

    There is absolutely no evidence for this. Sure you can argue the “logic” of it, but what we actually see, in actual reality, is that innovation happens in spite of copy-monopoly… and that the REAL danger you face as an innovator, is not someone copying your idea, but being sued yourself if you become successful. As it is, innovation has to happen “in the gaps” left by other people’s copy-monopolies… Copy-monopoly impoverishes all innovators… and what we’re seeing today is an information-version of the Land Enclosure activities in the 17th C

    The general reaction “this is a wankerish thing to do” is fair enough, and will be enough to ensure that this guy does not meet his (quite outrageous) $1/2M goal. The nature of the beast is that his reputational-capital will be irrevocably marred and he’ll go off the radar.

    From a wider POV though, Open-Source Hardware is part of an innovative process… and further up the line, corporations capable of operating economies of scale, will produce variants of their own that are massively cheaper than those created using mass-customisation technologies. This is a natural part of the process… if we want to fight it, then we need (possibly via kickstarter) to organise the funding for setting up mass-production ourselves… but why bother? Open-Source produces better variants faster.

    So the (quite natural) “economy of scale” piggy backing off other people’s innovation is what this guy’s attempting to do… albeit in a way that’s likely to backfire on him.

    As to the bigger picture of 3D printers… if they prove to be popular enough that economies of scale can be brought to bear, there is no reason why they should cost what they do. They’re a lot simpler than paper printers… that are driven by the “cheap hardware, expensive consumables” model. There is a chance that this will emerge with 3D printing… ie: companies that sell really good (proprietary) consumables, sell the printers for next to nothing… but probably not for a while, because the rate of innovation is so fast at the moment.

    Makerbot are the innovators, and will doubtless already have future iterations of their machine ready to deploy. All they have to do to wreck people selling cheaper knock-offs with higher set-up costs, is to release improved versions. The money spent setting up injection-molding (etc) will have been wasted.

  • JF

    >”1) the “lost sale” lie.
    >Just because someone acquires something cheaper somewhere else, does >not automatically mean they would have bought the expensive option offered >by the monopolist if that was the only choice.”
    Good point, but only true in a growing market. In a steady state market, this is a serious problem. For open source products with a slow rate of growth, the lost sale argument flies. Not so much with 3D printing! Still – thats not a good enough reason in my opinion to flagrantly copy someone else work. >2) the “breaking copy-monopoly kills innovation” lie
    There is absolutely no evidence for this. Sure you can argue the “logic” of it, but what we actually see, in actual reality, is that innovation happens in spite of copy-monopoly…
    Innovation always happens, regardless of the situation. Supercharging innovation is what we want to see happen – no ‘copy monopolies’ make it easier to innovate. 3D printing is an example of that – what examples do you have?

  • JF

    You’re right – its been listed in that famous Design Magazine the Economist about 6 times already.

  • Jf

    Hey now, let’s remember – this Mark Strong doesn’t look like he’s going to succeed or anything….

  • re: 1

    That’s theory again. It could just as easily be true that someone only bought the cheaper version because that’s the only one they could afford… or that the knock-off actually acts as advertising/brand-kudos for the more expensive… so increases sales. It kindof assumes that the only factor people consider when buying is price, and that is not the case.

    There is no evidence to suggest that file-sharing hurts sales. Weirdly, only the Swiss govt has acknowledged this. Whether this has an impact on open-hardware remains to be seen… I’m guessing it doesn’t, because there’s a social component to open-hardware… for reasons that I can’t quite figure, it’s a lot more social than open-source software.

    And if it has any validity at all, the “competition on price” theory only operates in completely alienated, corporatised, Nash-tastic arenas where the buyer has no human contact with the seller. Open-Source might turn out to be a little different I think.

    Examples of no copy-monopolies boosting innovation:

    – The fashion industry – very fast, very lucrative.
    – Hollywood – back when it first migrated from the east to avoid Edison’s copy-monopolies
    – Pre WWII Germany
    – Early America, free from the Brits
    – the “flooding of the Nile” waves of underground innovation that happened in the Music (and connected) spheres in the 20th C… aka, “The summer of love”, Punk, Rave. If you look at other flowerings of musical culture, I’m guessing you’ll see the same pattern – hothouses of people striking sparks of each other, rather than working in secret.
    – The “right-click; view-source” nature of web-development.

    Bit of a list here http://torrentfreak.com/history-shows-that-copyright-monopolies-prevent-creativity-and-innovation-120205/

  • JF

    I dont think the Arts and the Sciences innovate the same way – Artists and musicians and those types follow subjective rules and can afford to tear down whats popular and recreate genres. Scientific innovation is built on the shoulders of other innovations. They really are different and you can’t put one rule into a different context.

  • The evidence is, that all innovation (regardless of whether it’s art or science) is slowed down and its progress damaged by allowing people to monopolise bits of it.

    You show me a blooming/flowering of a culture, and I’ll show you a period of reduced governmental interference in the flow of ideas.

    They go hand in hand… and (funny this) tend to be rapidly followed by censorship and crackdown.

  • Lee Lloyd

    I have to beg to differ. Makerbot has popularized 3D printing, as a topic of conversation among people who find Sketchup too confusing a program to actually use. And thank god for that! I know that my job is a lot easier, now that my clients, who need to take a class to download a photo from their digital camera, are constantly explaining to me that some day I won’t be needed, since anyone will be able to download anything, and just print it on their Makerbot, because that’s what they read in Wired. Personally, I’m going to scream if I have one more database administrator or IT consultant explain to me what an amazing revolution 3D printing is, when they have never even installed a CAD program of any sort.

    Every actual designer I’ve known who got suckered into buying a Makerbot, has pretty quickly moved on to a real 3D printer, or a milling machine. Putting the very best spin possible on it, I think the best you can say, is that Makerbot popularized 3D printing, the same way LEGO Technics popularized mechanical engineering.

  • Lee Lloyd

    You are absolutely right, it is a knock-off, and the guy knocking it off is a douche. No argument there.

    However, if like Makerbot, your company’s business model is being the coolest, hippest, most recognizable brand, as opposed to the best, most innovative, or most affordable product, then you have to expect people to play off that brand equity. That’s just the way it works.

    You can’t talk the Open Source talk, to gain cool points, and then get all bent out of shape because someone is using your source to compete with you. If you have your publicist book you on every show that will have you, in a PR offensive to make your brand name synonymous with 3D printing, then you have to expect there to be “just like Makerbot” products on the market.

  • JF

    Oh god there is a lot of badly written journalism on 3D printing that misleads people. I try to avoid that hole.
    On the other hand, I don’t see why it matters to you that there are early adopters – people buy cheap stuff first and then move on to nicer machines when they need them.
    Makerbot took advantage of the desire for simple printers – good for them. you can’t stand people that have a narrow view of CAD and 3DP – maybe explain it better instead of considering a big ol fashioned scream.

  • Lee Lloyd

    Early adopters aren’t my problem. It is the three to six months those early adopters spend singing the praises of their Makerbot, and talking about “revolution this” and “disruptive technology that,” before the inevitable “so tell me about that milling machine you have again, the surface quality looks pretty sweet” conversation I know we are going to eventually have, that annoys me.

    As far as explaining the 3D design process to IT managers who read about “3D fax machines” in Popular Science, honestly, after more than 20 years of doing 3D, I’m kind of burned out on explaining it to anyone. That’s why I never went into teaching. An incoherent scream is so much easier 🙂

  • Don’t they realize Popular Science is a Kids mag? hahah I forget that too. Its too easy to be starry eyed about the future – but I say, dream big or go home. To all those people who are singing the praises of the ‘revolution’ (me included), we aren’t doing it because of what it does now, its what it can do soon. A hockey fan I am, I like the phrase ‘dont go where the puck is – go where its going’ … the technology sucks now but later its going to get better, cheaper and its going to affect how 3D designers work too…

  • Sorry to come in so late on this interesting conversation, especially since I have 3 days better view on the situation. While I despise what what Strong is doing, I think what we’re seeing is exactly what we should see. The project is not succeeding, at this point, because it doesn’t innovate on the design. The open source community is self-policing, to a certain extent, and the community backlash against the project is the reason why doing something like this is not good idea.

    The open source community doesn’t need regulation because of the self-policing element. I think we’ll see this project end without success. It’s really interesting to see it all playing out in the hardware world since most of our references for the open source model are in software.

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  • Well said. I’d like to see Adafruit and Matt Strong take those plans, come up with a way to make one far less expensive, and hit a home run. MakerBot came from the RepRaps, and other things should come of MakerBot, even if it’s just a better, cheaper, faster manufacturing process.

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  • Josh M