Thursday 27 September 2012

TCT2012 show report and Industry growing pains.

I don’t normally do wider 3D printing industry news on this Blog as it’s a technical resource, but quite a few big things have happened over the last few weeks, that have made many people look in a slightly different light on the whole 3D printing industry. (Makerbot's decision to close source is discussed below)

I visited the TCT Liveshow at the NEC in the UK this week.

Todd Grimm opened the show with his presentation of where the 3D printing and Additive manufacturing industry is in it's life-cycle in a nutshell, "we are not yet ready for consumers using 3D printers" 

I had an interesting & mixed experience at this years TCT show – Quite a different one from last year, let me explain –

So last year I visited TCT in a professional capacity with suit, shirt and tie, this year I decided to go along as a Maker – Jeans and a Woolly Jumper – general enthusiast to see what reception I would get from all these many (different sized) companies looking to sell machines for the next desktop industrial revolution to the ‘general public’

I’m calling my dress code the ‘maker test’ would I get any attention at all from these companies?, I’m sad to say generally most of the companies failed, ignoring me for people in suits that actually had very little interest in their product offerings.

Last year, only Bits from Bytes and A1 technology were representing the lower-end market sector and entry level machines.

This year was very different.

The A1 technology stand was empty; they didn’t turn up on Day 1. 

 3D Systems - Cube - 

My very first stop was on the 3D systems stand, just by accident, but the Cube was on display at the front of the stand with the Cathy Lewis guarding the Cube printer.

(Cathy lewis is the 3D systems representative in the Cnet video shown lower down in this post, in an interview with Makerbot on the Replicator at CES2012)

The Cube was trying to print, but unfortunately very badly, the drive mechanism looked like it was partially blocked resulting in terrible surface quality with lots of little holes and pips where variable extrusion was occurring. It was also printing very slowly and at one set speed (I estimate about 20mm/Sec), with only slightly faster travel speeds.

What is it doing with that bridge? and why is the surface quality so bad. And why has it wasted Raft material on sections with nothing on them! - Poor software!

I stood looking at the Cube for many minutes, many other people in suits asked the same things time and time over, how much is it “$1300” says Cathy, do you have a brochure, “no, sorry we don’t” – How much are the cartridges “$50 each, and they can print about 10 of these” – pointing to a 1.5” high chess piece.

Finally, after everyone else had gone I said to Cathy it was nice to see a big company doing a reasonably low cost machine “yes, some people think we are crazy”.
I asked if she likes the printed cases (pointing to a number of Raspberry Pi cases scattered around the Cube printer) – “yes they are wonderful, people really like them”

Do you know who designed it? I ask, no says Cathy, Well I had a hand in it’s design, really says Cathy, not really believing me. How did we get hold of it then asks Cathy...
Well, you would have got it from Thingiverse, I said. At this point Cathy’s face says it all, she looks really uncomfortable and clearly wants to stop talking to me as soon as possible. We then briefly discussed what a Raspberry Pi actually was, Cathy had no interest whatsoever, and I was left wondering how they were going to sell and support this machine to the general user and enthusiast?

In many ways it was worth going to the show just to see her face, in that moment and short conversation.

It was then that I realised the Cube had not printed any of these cases they had on display around the Cube printer, but they had been printed on a Bits from Bytes machine. BFB showed my same printed RPi case on their blog Aug 16th, with no mention of the case origin or designers. – so much for Creative commons Attribution – So I’ll do it here – the Original case was designed by HansH

I then changed it in Sketchup after using a Raspberry Pi for a little while and released my derivative to Thingiverse.

Makerbot - Replicator 1/2

Makerbot had the Replicator V1 at the show, I didn’t see it actually printing anything all day, everyone else had running machines.

If you want to be a Makerbot Distributer, the Minimum order quantity is 10 machines and for that they will give you 25% discount, Makerbot has two resellers in the UK, and they were very keen to sign up more on these terms.

I was fortunate enough to be standing on the Makerbot stand when Todd Grimm asked the Senior American Makerbot Sales representative a few interesting questions, the response coloured by recent events and the Replicator 2 launch.

Todd asked about the Replicator 2, what makes this machine a pro grade (prosumer) machine and how is it different from Version1?
Makerbot – It’s now 100micron layer resolution and we have tightly controlled PLA printing materials that deviate less than 100micron in size.
This machine is PLA only, we have removed the heated bed so users can get printing faster and we have a simple 3 point levelling system.
It’s also a single extruder system only.

I was thinking – That’s a lot to remove, why is it then so much more expensive than a Replicator V1? And can’t a Replicator V1 do 100micron? It should be able?

When pushed on the reason it was now a Pro machine, the support staff were talked up as the main reason for Makerbot being different at the lower-end machines – Thingiverse was also mentioned a lot in the conversations and is obviously very important for them -

Makerbot – “Some people will not like that we have gone closed source, but they all use Thingiverse whether they like it or not, we have the biggest community”

The discussion continued, I moved on.
Sadly, they also failed the Maker test; I was reasonably ignored every time I went on their stand. I didn’t pick up a Makerbot sticker… Where would I put it now?

Maketbot are obviously seeing a change on Thingiverse, they are trying to focus on the Terms of Service questions that also sparked up debate and fractures in the community along with the bigger issue of going closed source – They even have their Lawyer trying to explain that ‘everything will be ok’ Trust us.

Can people in the community trust a company that changes one of its most fundamental founding principal’s?

Will Makerbot’s new Pro-sumer customer appear, and will 3D Systems now be free to take the entry level sector with the Cube? Do any of us now really care?

It’s never a dull moment with 3D printing.

Remembering back - On the blog post in Jan2012 stated this about the video below –

This is a great interview that shows the development in the personal 3D printer market and the differences between the open-source product of MakerBot and the closed-source product of 3D Systems.”

I do now wonder how different 3D systems and Makerbot will look in Jan2013 at the next CES?
If it's consumers or pro-sumers they are after then maybe the closed source 3D printer war has now started, while the open source community just marches on regardless, I hope Makerbot does not regret it's decision.

Also look out for the comment about the Replicator case looking wooden, I bet they was the point Replicator V2 got a metal overcoat!

Enough of all that.

Here are some really great things I spotted at the Show - 

3D printed Mug - Bits From Bytes had a separate bigger stand (last year just a corner of 3D systems) I spotted Ian Adkins and Ed Sells (Sells Mendel) walking around; they were doing a lot of research by the looks of things.
Another one from BFB, they ignored me and so failed the 'Maker test' this time around.

There was a lot of 3D scanners at the show, this chap with the beard was being 3D scanned with a hand-held unit.

This is a Prop for a Film printed with a Voxeljet 3D printer - they can print 4m x 2m objects!
Voxeljet printers are used by Car companies to make massive prototype parts.

Propshop model-makers Ltd - Passed the 'Maker test' with flying colours, he even showed me some secret new massive 3D printed models for a new film coming out on his iPad.

Another Voxeljet print
Ultimaker - 

Yea! Ultimaker! - Always had their machines running all day! - They had the busiest stand out of almost everyone, including many of the really big names. 

Very friendly people and amazing quality things on display, thanks Ultimaker you made my Day!

I also met Paul Candler on the Ultimaker stand, he has made some of the finest profiles for Netfabb. Ultimaker users are enjoying resolutions down to 20microns!

Needless to say Ultimaker passed my Maker test.

Leapfrog - 
It's big, slow printing and looks like a BFB printer with a metal overcoat. I could not find out much more about it as they didn't talk to me :( 

Fabbster - 

Fabbster have a Closed source printer (Sintermask) that operates in a similar to most RepRaps, it has no heated bed at the moment and uses Rafts for prints. Quality is reasonable.

They have a patented stick deposit system, this is basically Injection moulded plastic sticks of material that are loaded into a magazine and snap together as they exit into a PTFE tube onto it's way to the extruder.
They have many materials including a flexible (soft PLA style) that was very nice to handle.

The machine is big and well built. They were very nice at the show and passionate about people using their printers and materials. They passed the Maker test and we chatted for some time about the machine.

MiiCraft - 
I ended up with a very bad photo of the Miicraft printer, so I'll just show some of the printed objects.
Very nice people and happy to tell and show you everything about their resin based 3D printer.
Ships from Taiwan, UV resin is quite expensive, machine is $2200 but the results were stunning! - Very good, Maker test - pass

PP3Dp - 
The PP3Dp printers are looking a little old now, but still performing well, if not a little slow to print.
Didn't talk much, they were not really communicating with the people showing interest. 

They had some free samples of screw-pots and a few different machines. Maker test - Poor (D-)

Mcor - 
Inside an Mcor 3D printer (not really a printer, it cuts models out of sheets of office paper)

They are all paper. I'm not sure it that's a good thing or not. They must be selling machines? and I expect they will do well in the movie industry, props, and animation maybe even some product design etc. but I can't quite see a good use as functional models and certainly not with consumers.

Very friendly and animated about their machines and low-cost process. Maker test - Pass

Lots of other companies were at the show, some interesting, others looking very dated. Most of the others ignored me.

Thanks for reading,


Other news - 

The open Hardware summit is going on as I type this - Follow it and check out what's being said.

We may be getting our own Mini Maker Faire down in Bristol (UK) - keep looking out and googling for further announcements.

Check out this video featured on the Discovery channel - 


  1. Love your "Maker Test" Rich! It should be a standard for all companies I think! Thanks for the report - very interesting to read. Were there many resin printers there overall?

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thanks it was fun. I must admit I have had much more feedback, messages and e-mails about this post than I ever expected. I would have done a much more deeper review and write-up if I had known.

      Lots of companies I didn't mention, but had very good or interesting discussions with. - Electrobloom, Makielab, Netfabb just a few.

      Not many new Resin printers, but the Miicraft was really stunning, they even had flexible resins - I forgot to mention that in the post.

    2. Manufacturer DWS S.r.l. - - (trading since 2008) were exhibiting their range of resin printers. It was the first time I'd seen their printers. Having had a very close, hands on look at the output, in a range of materials, I was hugely impressed with the output featuring 10 micron slice thickness. They offer a number of resins optimised for various end uses. The stand was manned by a really friendly, enthusiastic bunch of guys. Definitely worth checking out for jewellery use.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Gave me a good perspective on what I've missed. Really proud of my Ultimaker gang... I love these guys.

    Hope to meet you in person at the 3d-printing even in London later in October... any chance?

    1. Hi Florian, they really were exceptionally busy! and for me it was obvious you have a very big following of users that really love the Ultimaker.

      Looking forward to seeing the Dual extruder version, have you investigated doing dual feeds with one single nozzle, could be amazing on your machine.

      October is almost all blocked out for me, and not with 3D printing :( but I'll check and see if I can get down to the show.

    2. Hi Rich, just realized that you replied to this one (and finally found the subscribe to comments link on Blogspot ;)).

      Yep, I think there are several people looking into different concepts of dual (or even triple extrusion). For example Joris did something quite similar like your triple color experiments:
      Paul already did some very promising tests with a standard dual setup:

      Dual printing with one nozzle is definitely a valid concept, especially with the bowden tube in place. We'll see... really looking forward to match anything near the UK cup above soon.

      Time constraints... I hate them. Honestly: I would love to meet you in October. Paul will be there, too. And quite some people from Ultimaking - hopefully even Erik, Siert or Martijn.

  3. Glad you were able to take positives from the show Rich and I found your analysis really interesting. I think it's important to remember that TCT Live covers everything additive from hackerspace to aerospace — but maker-wise it's early days! Some of the bigger companies are looking to be taken seriously as machine tool makers, selling £500,000+ machines into aerospace, medical or automotive companies. In their eyes (perhaps sadly) a wooly jumper doesn't 'hack' it — I agree with you that companies selling more accessible machines should be more open-minded though!

    We have some big plans for 2013 for both the manufacturing folk, maker folk and all the people that are somewhere in between — it will still be a show with two distinct elements however, so I can't guarantee that every stand will pass the maker test even then, especially if their cheapest machine is £200k+ :)


    1. Hi Jim, Thanks. I have been going to TCT live for many years (even as an exhibitor once) so the maker test was a bit of fun with these companies that are looking at now selling business to consumer rather than B2B as they have done for the last ~30 years.

      I'm also a salesman and engineer (and I'll talk to anyone) so I do get upset when companies spend $30k on a stand only to fail to get the message across or show a general lack of interest in being there or talking to people.

      I was really stunned by Voxeljet, massive printers and they had plenty of time for everyone, very impressed.

      I can't wait to see what 2013 holds for this industry, this year was certainly a turning point - did you see how many interesting people were in the audience at the jewelry presentations!

      Interesting times!

  4. Personally as someone who does a lot of prop/armor work for costuming I would love to find the right people to work with to get an open source printer like the Mcor Matrix. It's basically the best printer I've seen out there for making large prints for prop work, between the build envelope, print speeds, ultra cheap material cost, and decent resolution. The resolution is high enough that cleanup for molding and casting would be a breeze. And being solid paper the prints would be strong enough to use, for something like vacuum forming bucks.

    Love your maker test, interesting way to get a look at how companies treat people under different circumstances.

    1. Hi Jeff, excellent! and that sounds like a good project, the prop and modelmaking industry must be crying out for these sorts of technologies.

      The Mcor is a bit slow, but I admit the results do look good.

      Maybe building with paper pulp instead of sheets could speed things along?

      We do also now have a wood based material for 3D printing, it can be sanded and finished and is strong -

  5. Hey, You absolutely misquoted MakerBot.

    Makerbot – “Some people will not like that we have gone closed source, but they all use Thingiverse whether they like it or not, we have the biggest community”.

    This was absolutely not said and you are either paraphrasing or making something up that you wish you heard. I hope you can confirm that you are paraphrasing and interpreting.

    We are an open-spirited company and we are not sharing just two parts of the Replicator 2. The steel frame because that's of little use to the community and the GUI, because we care about the user experience. With the Replicator 2 release, we are putting more than a million dollars of paid development into the open.

    We treat our users with respect and we worked hard to clear up the controversy on Thingiverse as quickly as possible. We are dedicated to bringing MakerBots to the desktops of every creative explorer in the world.

    1. I totally hope that he misquoted you or misunderstood something - on the other hand, he was there and you were not (right) so before you tell him that he "misquoted or paraphrased" you - check with your Sales guy please.

      Maybe it was in a different context which got lost.

      @RichRap are you on G+ ? Haven't found you there. Wonderful article, very good insights in where companies are failing (Community Managment and Evanglism)

    2. Yup, I talked to my guys for verification and I'm addressing this myself because it's important to me that we are not misquoted.

    3. Thanks, i hope folks will appreciate it as much as i do and stop yelling "bloody murder" first without checking the facts. You invested a lot into the community, even if people don't want to see that/are jealous about your success.

      Still I won't buy a Replicator II, because i will have a way more affordable printer real soon :)

    4. Last week, josef 'misquoted / paraphrased' makerbot staff when he said that support told him that R2 as closed source - and then shortly afterwards it was announced that it indeed was closed source.

      Why would Richrap lie? And just believing your staff over a blogger isn't really an excuse.

    5. Hello Bre,

      Firstly I'm really pleased to see you are talking an interest in this.

      I visited the Makerbot stand 5 times during the day, (as I did with almost all other stands) each time I listened to what was being said carefully.

      I could have said a lot more in this post, but my intention was to highlight some changing times in the community that's really why the 3D systems conversation with Cathy and listening to the conversation with Makerbot and Todd Grimm stood out.

      Ask you sales guy if he remembers telling one customer that the tolerance on the Filament was 10 microns. He had a short pause and looked confused, realised he was wrong and corrected the mistake telling the customer is was actually +/- 100microns.
      This was quite early on in the day, and at my first visit I was very impressed he recognised the mistake and didn't just cover it up or let it go.
      If he can't remember that, then he has a poor recollection of what he is talking to people about.

      The conversation about being a distributor was again listening on my second visit to the stand, it was not a private conversation, and I found the subject and way it was being discussed interesting.

      As I said I was there to listen, I didn't get a chance to engage with the Makerbot team, and to them I was just another random consumer standing for quite a long time on their stand. That was the whole point.

      When anyone is representing a company it's very important to be mindful of what is being discussed, every 'consumer' has the power to tweet, or write-up their interactions with individuals or the experience they get.
      Sales people should listen to the customer, much more than they talk.

      The very reason I decided to stand back and take a photo of Todd Grimm on the Makerbot stand was because of what I was hearing, and I was just standing there listening to the conversation, I actually walked off before the end, as I didn't want to hear any more. I was just disappointed in the general tone.

      I do hope you work through this period and come out stronger.

      I like Makerbot, and I really Love Thingiverse, I have lots of projects on it. But with the changes at Makerbot you have made people ask questions about what alternatives are out there?

      I have not changed the way I work. And I do not wish to be involved in any 'Makerbot bashing', but listening to these conversations at the show I now have my own feelings for Makerbot along with lots of other companies, both positive and negative.

      I have a very long experience in Engineering Sales & Marketing and I would be very happy to talk to you more if you so wish.

      Best Regards,


  6. Shame I didn't know you were there, I would have liked to have a chat!

    1. Hi MakeAlot,

      I would have liked that too. It is interesting how many people went along to the show this year, really shows a change in the market.
      I did try to drum up some interest in a meetup on some of the RepRap forums -,153578
      But should have tried a bit harder!

      Hope we can meetup next time, and I post on the blog.



  7. I follow a guy's blog that has one of those cut and glue printers. He's made some pretty impressive stuff with it and uses it in actual production for his puzzle business.

    1. Hi Billy, Cool and thanks, I'm following him too now. That must be totally perfect for puzzles especially the new version that can print 3D in full colour with an inkjet.

  8. Excellent Post. The Maker Test is a great idea. I wish you took a video of the Raspberry Pi discussion, too funny. Last year, 3D Systems had a high end printer print on their Botmill Glider's print bed at the World Makerfaire. Do they not know which prints came from which printers? The mug picture looks amazing. Was it a US flag on the inside and a UK flag on the outside?

    If Makerbot invested over $1 million in the development of the Replicator 2 (for the "Open Source" part they are releasing), they got ripped off. It's a big election year over here in the US. Lots of professional spin doctors telling us we didn't hear what we heard.

    Thank You,

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks, the Mug was great, and yes inside and outside different, I have no idea how long it would take to print something as nice as that, but it was from the BFB 3 extruder machine with obviously some very nice software!

      I had no agenda at the show, just to see how it was changing, and if suppliers were interested in listening to consumers. I didn't expect Makerbot to be there, and I didn't expect to see a Cube or meet Cathy. I formed all my opinions at the end of the show on the drive home.

  9. Hi Rich, nice post! I'm glad you liked TCT this much and that Ultimaker made your day. I'm also proud to see that Vincent, Sander and Paul were doing so well.

    1. Hi Erik, Thanks and it was a good show and I hope they all had a long rest after the show!
      I didn't check the the exhibitor list so I was delighted to see the Ultimaker's, especially printing a little robot, then using it's print head to knock it off and print yet another one - that's Automatic Printing!.
      It was great to see the dynamic's of companies from the very big to small.
      Next year will be very interesting!



  10. Rich

    The whole thing with 3D printed samples is something I've had problems with over the donkey's years I've been testing these systems and writing about them. I've seen sales reps talking about how a part (on a stand) came from a customer looking to solve a specific problem. I look at the part. Yeah, that's something i either was provided with and asked them to build a year a before or designed myself. They show up in PR photos or get distributed with press releases. No-one asks permission, no-one attributed it and many of them still show up.

    Oh and the whole thing with dress code? Makes no sense. It's about time sales people stopped judging people by what they wear. I don't wear a suit, I rarely wear matching socks. It says more about them than almost anything else. It's striking how differently I get treated when I wear my name badge the right way around.

    Al Dean
    Editor in Chief

    1. Hi Al,

      It would not take much to make the situation better, but I doubt many companies even understand the attribution rights or licenses many models and designs are distributed with. And asking a customer if you can use a model for demo purposes is not rocket science.

      As for the dress code! yes I despair sometimes. I really thought the recession would sharpen all our global business practices, we can only hope it does improve.

      Along with my normal name badge, I also wore a multicolored 3D printed badge/business card - that should have been a conversation starter for anyone at that show, few picked up on it, but the ones that did I applaud.

      I dropped some of these 3D printed cards onto various stands, it's amazing how many contact you afterwards!

  11. Great write-up Rich!

    Very interesting, and credit to you, on your wee social experiment - I'm not at all surprised by the poor reactions you received; it's (sadly) just deeply ingrained human nature. We can but hope *they* learn from it in time for next year's show. :)

    For me, it was one of, if not the best TCT Show I've attended in the last five years. The atmosphere was generally up-beat and exhibitors were very happy to discuss my various hobby-type-business/start-up projects, including those exhibitors in the TCT's sister-shows - Micro Manufacturing, etc.

    +1 vote for the Ultimaker guys, in particular Vincent and Paul - the complete epitome of awesome customer service! (Paul, as I understand isn't even on their payroll!)

    Regarding the lack of attribution on CC-BY-SA licensed works - perhaps a letter to the show organisers asking that they gently remind exhibitors of their legal obligations? As you have a concrete example by which to highlight the issue, if you care to write, I'd be happy to add a signature. Perhaps Develop3D could also help by highlighting the issue in print - the matter is only going to get worse if the general public is left uneducated in the ways of CC-BY.

    It's a shame about the current OS/CS saga.
    The real shame however, is the time being wasted by the OS community in fanning flames, rather than just getting on and being innovative. That said, the matter does need serious debate.

    BTW, If you ever need a character reference, I'd be more than happy to oblige.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Hamish,

      Thanks. I really did enjoy the show/s this year - and I would agree, the best for at least 5 years.

      I expect that if many of the bigger companies don't take licensed works and attribution seriously (or even try to understand it) then you are right, it's going to get a lot worse when developing businesses also ignore it or just refuse to see it's value. Then we all loose, designers stop releasing things for us to enjoy and developers stop or go closed.

      The use of various licenses in the software domain for many, many years has just sadly not actually helped to educate all that many people. It's not going to be any easier with physical things!


  12. is it possible to use 3D feature in plastic card printing..if so how use it.

  13. I think the post is really interesting and helpful.
    3d printing service

  14. Technology is a vital part in every aspect of an enterprise. The designs can be made far more beautiful and creative by implementing the technology in a particular manner.
    exhibition design

  15. The technology is progressing so rapidly. I need a new printer because I'm already out of date. I feel like the more I learn though, the more I realize that buying a new printer won't help me, it will be out of date in a month.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.