3D Printing Experiment

Mr. Makerbot, the Replicator at Oddyssea in Half Moon Bay.

When we were in the concept phase for the shop, one capability Mike desperately wanted to provide was the ability to print objects. The thinking? That printing objects will over time become as common as printing paper is today – but in the meantime, the cost of the object printer and the expertise necessary to use it successfully will be scarce.

Thus we believed there was a business opportunity to provide a shared object printer with access to expertise so that interested parties could print the objects of their dreams. We acquired a Makerbot Replicator, dual-extruder 3D printer for the shop in July. Mike still believes the business opportunity exists, but that we’re too early in the cycle. The results of the experiment of providing object printing services at the shop have been a complete failure.

In the six months we’ve been open, the only person to EVER print ANYTHING on the printer is Mike and fewer than a dozen objects printed have been purchased by our visitors.

Now, what are the reasons for this? One is we can tell you that these printers are not yet “bullet proof” – each printing session needs to be attended and tweaked in order to get a successful outcome. As a consequence, the printer has been unavailable a fair amount of time due to extruder gastrointestinal tract jams or lack of Mike in the shop to mind it and tweak it.

That’s the tangible bit about this experiment. The intangible is harder to measure, we have had countless discussions and interactions with our visitors and undoubtably, the presence of the machine has been a net positive to the shop. It ups our geek appeal a bit on the technology side. That part, is definitely valuable, but still doesn’t justify the capital the machine ties up nor the floor space it occupies.

So, we’re going to retire Mr. Makerbot in the near future and hope to find him a loving home. If you are interested in adopting him, please contact us and perhaps we can find common ground.

So long Mr. Makerbot, it’s been fun! We will miss you and perhaps we’ll try again when the market and technology progress a bit further.

Update: January 18, 2013 – We had a kind reference of our 3D Printing capability on the Nokia developer site as a place to print a Lumia 840 case. Depending on what response we see from this, we may re-evaluate our decision about Mr. Makerbot. Meanwhile, he’s in the shop ready to rock-n-roll and he’s still available for sale ($1,899 including nearly 6kg of ABS in 6 different colors.)

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