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Monthly Archives: September 2012


MakerBot vs. Open Source – A Founder Perspective

My name is Zachary Smith aka Hoeken. I have been building 3D printers since 2007 as part of the RepRap project. I created a non-profit foundation (the RRRF) dedicated to pushing open source 3D printing forward. In 2009, I invited my friends Adam Mayer and Bre Pettis to go into business with me building 3D printers. Thus, MakerBot Industries was born. Fast forward to April, 2012 when I was forced out of the very same company. As a result, I have zero transparency into the internal workings of the company that I founded. See this article by Chris Thompson for more infomation.

I do not support any move that restricts the open nature of the MakerBot hardware, electronics, software, firmware, or other open projects. MakerBot was built on a foundation of open hardware projects such as RepRap and Arduino, as well as using many open software projects for development of our own software. I remain a staunch supporter of the open source movement, and I believe the ideals and goals of OSHW remain true.  I have never wavered from this stance, and I hope that I never do.  Future me, beware.

I have been withholding judgement until hearing official word regarding the open source nature of the latest MakerBot printer. I’m trying to contact people to find out what the real scoop is but so far nobody is talking, and my ex-partners are not returning phone calls or emails. It certainly doesn’t look good.  The best information I have found is a load of corporate double-speak bullshit that has come to characterize my interactions with MakerBot in recent memory.

If these allegations do prove true, it would be a sad day indeed for the open hardware movement. Not only would it be a loss of a large Open Hardware manufacturer, but it would also be a loss of a poster child for the movement. Many people have pointed at MakerBot and said “Yes, OSHW is viable as a business model, look at how successful MakerBot is.” If they close those doors, then it would give people who would say OSHW is not sustainable ammunition for their arguments. It would also discourage new OSHW companies from forming. That is a sad thing indeed.

For me, personally, I look at a move to closed source as the ultimate betrayal. When I was forced out, it was a normal, if unfortunate, clash of wills where one person must stay and one person must go. I swallowed my ego and left, because I knew that the company I founded would carry my ideals further into the world. Regardless of our differences, I had assumed that Bre would continue to follow the principles that we founded the company on, and the same principles that played a major part in the success of our company. Moving from an open model to a closed model is contrary to everything that I stand for, and as a co-founder of MakerBot Industries, it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with it.

Bre Pettis, please prove me wrong by clarifying exactly what license MakerBot will be releasing the design files and software under.  That is all we (the community) wants.

In closing, I would like to point out the Open Source Hardware Definition, which MakerBot has endorsed. This document spells out in very clear terms what it means to be an open hardware company. I’ll leave this here for you to ponder:

Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it. Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.


Introducing BotQueue: Open Distributed Manufacturing

With the advent of cheap, low-cost 3D printing there are now fleets of 3D printers in operation.  In my previous life as co-founder of MakerBot Industries, I have dealt with running one of those fleets.  I can attest to the fact that it can be a pain in the butt.  You are basically forced to use software that is designed to control a single machine, and you end up with control windows everywhere.  Close one of them accidentally and you just hosed a build.  Not cool.

I believe that low cost 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize not just prototyping, but small-scale manufacturing of parts: from 10 to 1000 units.  With a small fleet of 3D printers it is possible to run them around the clock and produce enough parts to run a small business.  While this has been possible before today, there has never been software designed with this task in mind.

Thus, BotQueue was born.

BotQueue is an online platform for distributing print jobs to multiple 3D printers for production.  As the name suggests, it allows you to create a print queue which contains jobs.  Your connected bots will grab jobs and produce them.  As each job is competed, the operator is prompted to remove and verify the output.  Upon successful completion, the bot will grab the next job and start producing it.  This continues until the queue is empty.  If a bot fails, it is taken offline for repairs.

Another huge benefit of BotQueue is online access to your bots.  The main interface to control your machines is through the BotQueue website.  This means you can access your bots from anywhere in the world.  You could queue up a print while on the road, and come home to a finished object on your 3D printer.  Future support is planned for webcams, so you will even be able to check up on the printing progress remotely.

The best part of all this?  It’s 100% completely open source.  Both the web server and client software are licensed under GPLv3.  An instance of the BotQueue server is being hosted on, but you are free to run your own local server for private production, a public server for hosted printing, or whatever you want.  The code is located at

BotQueue is designed for running machines as close to 100% capacity as possible.  However, it would work just fine for everyday single-machine, sporadic use.  It would also work well for putting development machines through life testing as it tracks failures, printing time, and general usage statistics.

This is the v1.0 release of BotQueue, so it may be a little bit rough around the edges.  Currently it only supports RepRap machines running gcode-parsing firmwares such as GRBL, Sprinter, Marlin, etc.  Future support is planned for MakerBot machines.  The client has a driver-based architecture and is written in Python, so it is straightforward to add support for new machines or firmwares.

To get started, visit the apps page for information on how to download and install the BotQueue client aka Bumblebee.

Oh, and one more thing.  BotQueue has an API for most operations such as adding jobs, grabbing jobs, etc.  Want to integrate your distributed manufacturing center with your sales system?  Have at it!