MakerBot Is Go!

Every self-respecting hackerspace needs a MakerBot, so Crash Space got a MakerBot! (The other thing every self-respecting hackerspace needs is a laser cutter. Bre Pettis calls it the best hackerspace upgrade ever. That’s next.)

The MakerBot arrived about a month ago. We spent two Sundays building it. And then… it sat.

Everyone is excited about the MakerBot. But it’s a tinkerer’s toy and you can’t expect it to print out of the box. Or even after you build it. There were issues with getting the software installed at first. Then there were some hardware issues. We’ve gotten past most of the big issues and got the thing printing this week!

The Crash Space MakerBot printing its first object…
Extruding

…the Crash Space logo!
Printed Crash Space Logo

The cool thing about the MakerBot is that it’s an open source design so you can download the “source” – all the information you need to build one from scratch (and without purchasing a kit from MakerBot). Break a body panel? Crack a Plastruder piece (like I did)? You can download the DXF files and cut a new one. Have a bent Z axis rod (like I thought we did)? There’s a link to the exact parts they source for the kits.

Once you’ve replaced a couple parts, you start to feel like you know the thing pretty well. I’m sure that feeling just grows with time.

MakerBot Industries used to offer an assembled MakerBot in their store, but have stopped. The MakerBot seems to need constant tweaking and tuning, and when they send out a built unit, they kind of need to offer support, which they don’t really have the resources to do properly. Once you’ve spent the equivalent of a work week of your spare time building a MakerBot, you know how it works and should feel embarrassed to not be able to fix or tweak something.

With a personal MakerBot, the owner is naturally responsible for the support. But what happens when a group owns it? This is going to be a challenge at Crash Space, since we’re a fairly anarchistic group. No one “owns” the MakerBot, so it didn’t get up and running as fast as it might have in a different environment.

So how does a group like ours manage a “project” like a MakerBot? It still needs some work and tuning. There will be software settings to set. There will be things to remember – like what temperature does it work best at? And occasionally, things will need to be fixed or re-tuned.

This is primarily a communication issue. Ideally, everyone who uses the MakerBot has the ability to fix it. But this is not realistic. Only a few of us put it together. Hopefully many Crash Space members will use it. How will they let someone know when it stops working optimally? Or if someone does fix something, how does everyone know?

Anarchistic systems do not really facilitate experts very well.

I’ve been trying to contribute as much as I can, but this is my first MakerBot experience. There are other members who own MakerBots, so they’re a good resource. But even with experts, there is still a need for coordination.

Every self-respecting hackerspace needs a wiki, so Crash Space has one. I set up a MakerBot page on the wiki to help track these issues. It’s a little free-form but an anarchistic system needs free-form tools, no?

We’ll see how it goes.

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