MakerBot has announced an extensive and highly attractive new offering for the education market: MakerBot Classroom.
The new offering is curiously highlighted as a solution, but it does in fact include a brand new 3D printer, the MakerBot SKETCH. This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen a new 3D printer “slipped into” a product announcement. But there are very important reasons for MakerBot to do so.
MakerBot has long addressed the educational market, as it was the first area they pivoted into after their DIY market dried up around 2015. I suspect they were the first major 3D printer maker to do so. Today they operate 3D printing equipment in an astonishing 7,000 schools, mainly in the USA.
That was accomplished by marketing the various models of 3D printers from the company to schools and school divisions over the years, most recently being the Replicator+, which we reviewed a couple of years ago.
What is MakerBot Classroom?
MakerBot Classroom turns out to be a combination of equipment, materials and services to address the needs of a typical classroom. The package includes:
Access to 600+ lesson plans for exposing students to a variety of 3D printing concepts and projects, and in particular “design thinking”
Certifications in 3D printing for two teachers
Certifications in 3D printing for ten students (more can be obtained separately if required)
Six spools of MakerBot 3D printer filament
Additional print bed
Access to a new educational cloud-based 3D printer management system
Two (!) MakerBot SKETCH 3D printers
Direct cloud integration with CAD tools including TinkerCad, Autodesk Fusion 360, and Onshape
Snips and a spatula
MakerBot SKETCH Specifications
I’m sure you’re most interested in the new MakerBot SKETCH 3D printer, although after you’ve heard the entire story, you may believe it could be the least interesting aspect of the announcement.
The MakerBot SKETCH is a simplified desktop 3D printer with a slightly smaller build volume than its predecessor, the Replicator+. This is because MakerBot has determined that most 3D print jobs performed in classrooms are indeed smaller and there is little need for larger build volumes.
MakerBot SKETCH will 3D print only basic materials such as PLA, and MakerBot’s Tough PLA product. It includes a heated print surface, and is entirely enclosed, unlike the Replicator+, which is open to the air.
It has an onboard camera for remote monitoring, and will be used through MakerBot’s slick MakerBot Print utility. It also includes the usual networking connectivity.
The SKETCH is UL certified, making it able to be installed in some jurisdictions, and if you’re wondering about the potential reliability of the device, MakerBot has performed some 46,000 hours of testing.
MakerBot Classroom Background
As you can likely tell at this point, the MakerBot SKETCH sounds like a competent, but basic 3D printer, and that’s the point here: the educational market is quite different from the professional market that MakerBot has been most recently pursuing with their powerful MakerBot METHOD devices.
While the METHOD is addressing professionals’ need for the highest quality 3D prints, that is definitely not the case for the SKETCH. It’s a completely different market where the quality of 3D prints is far less important.
What is important to the education market? It turns out that MakerBot spent considerable time (three years, we’re told) investigating the issues and developing solutions. They work with a team of educators who use their products constantly, and they turned to the users themselves to identify all the “pain points” of using 3D printers in the classroom.
MakerBot found out a great deal through this exercise and realized that 3D print quality is not the issue. Instead, it is teacher time, which is usually quite constrained. Thus, the major features in MakerBot Classroom are in fact workflow-related and not hardware-related.
MakerBot Classroom Cloud
That’s the foundation for the new MakerBot Classroom cloud system, which includes a number of functions that allow the teacher to work more efficiently. They focused on things like onboarding students, and managing print queues, for example.
The teacher will set up a kind of virtual classroom with a set of students and the two SKETCH 3D printers. Students submit 3D print jobs into the queue and they can be examined by the teacher. The teacher can then schedule them for 3D printing on either SKETCH 3D printer in any desired order. For example, the teacher might choose to 3D print a number of quick jobs first to allow students to see their work in class, while scheduling larger jobs to 3D print overnight.
You may be wondering why MakerBot chose to include two 3D printers in the package. That’s because their analysis showed that in most cases two devices would be optimal to overcome delays due to machine management. While one device is being loaded or unloaded, for example, the second machine can continue printing. This significantly raises the 3D printing throughput of the classroom and simplifies workflow.
It’s also possible for a school to acquire more than one MakerBot Classroom package and link them together. It seems like there is quite a bit of flexibility in the configurations available.
All of these features combined together add up to a more seamless and efficient workflow for both students and teachers, which is going to be a strong selling point when MakerBot unleashes MakerBot Classroom to the market, which is “immediately”, I am told.
MakerBot Cloud Price
The other major selling point for this package is the price: only US$1799. And that price includes BOTH MakerBot SKETCH 3D printers! This is quite a deal from MakerBot, who previously sold single units for US$2,800. I have a suspicion many schools will find MakerBot Classroom irresistible at that price and level of function.