More On MakerBot Classroom, And The 3D Printer Controversy

 The MakerBot Classroom package [Source: MakerBot]
The MakerBot Classroom package [Source: MakerBot]

Last week we posted a couple of stories on MakerBot’s new product, MakerBot Classroom, but there seems to be some controversy brewing.

The product is designed solely for schools, and includes materials, a sophisticated cloud system for managing student print jobs, streamlined setup & onboarding, 600+ tested lesson plans and of course, two new 3D printers they call “SKETCH”. 

When I spoke with MakerBot about the product, they downplayed the 3D printer itself and wanted to focus more on the other aspects of the product. But some sharp-eyed readers quickly pointed out why that might be. 

Several individuals pointed out that the SKETCH is notably similar to the Flashforge Adventurer 3D printer. Is this the case? This is the Adventurer:

 The Flashforge Adventurer (v3) [Source: Flashforge]
The Flashforge Adventurer (v3) [Source: Flashforge]

And this is the MakerBot SKETCH:

 The MakerBot SKETCH 3D printer [Source: MakerBot]
The MakerBot SKETCH 3D printer [Source: MakerBot]

They do indeed look quite similar, and it’s entirely possible that MakerBot has struck a deal with Flashforge to relabel the device as a SKETCH, perhaps with some specific modifications. I don’t know what modifications, but I definitely did get that impression when speaking to MakerBot. 

Nevertheless, several people came down on MakerBot for selling a “cheap” 3D printer at higher cost as bundled into the US$1799 MakerBot Classroom package. They asked questions like, “Why couldn’t a classroom simply buy an Adventurer directly for less?”

They won’t. There’s a reason for this. 

The MakerBot Classroom product is NOT a 3D printer. It’s a SYSTEM. A system containing yes, a couple of 3D printers, but also materials, the vast number of lesson plans and the cloud system to link it all together.

The goal of a teacher is to teach, not to fiddle with technology. They need ALL of the elements together to succeed at teaching students the principles of design and manufacturing. You do not get these when you “just buy a 3D printer”. 

In fact, perhaps the least important element of the MakerBot Classroom package is the 3D printer. Imagine if you replaced that 3D printer with any other competent inexpensive 3D printer. Would the nature of the product change? 

No. 

That’s because the buyers — teachers in this case — are looking at the amount of work and effectiveness of the solution as a whole. 

They need the lesson plans to follow through teaching different topics, or else they’d have to invent plans themselves. 

They need the cloud system to manage dozens of student print jobs that would overwhelm the tracking capabilities of the teacher. 

They need the onboarding process to speed up establishing the virtual classroom.They need the cloud-based slicing system to ensure that all students are using the same tools and avoid difficult software debugging scenarios. 

I’m sure teachers literally don’t care at all where the SKETCH 3D printer came from. They’re interested in the other stuff, the things that make their life easy. And they can get all that for a pretty decent price that is likely within their budgetary signing authority. MakerBot Classroom is a SOLUTION, not a 3D PRINTER. 

Via MakerBot

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