On March 28th, Solidoodle closed its doors and released a note on their blog about why and how this came to be. They attributed it to lots of different factors, including bad timing and a recent worker’s strike in China. For the most part, I agree with them. However, there are a few points that Solidoodle neglected to mention in their letter that would further explain their reasons for shutting down.
Sam Cervantes with a Solidoodle Press. Image courtesy of 3DPrint.com
On paper, it looks like the perfect 3D printer. As far as printers go, the Press runs on the very cheap side at only around $600 dollars at retail. It has a respectable build area of 8in x 8in x 8in, works with PLA and ABS, and has an auto leveling, heated build plate. It really seems like the all around, no hassle 3D printer. However, that illusion breaks when you see that it has around two out of five stars on almost every site you can buy it on. After working with the printer a few months ago, I can see a few areas where they fell short.
The Press seems like it was built entirely for the purpose of sounding good on paper, with little effort expended on successfully implementing the listed features. The components are cheap; I never could get the stepper motors to perform at the advertised “0.1mm resolution” and I had far more print failures than successes. The build plate glass was so cheap that the original plate shattered on just the first few prints, and the owner of the printer had developed a habit of taking the glass out of the picture frames in his office in order to complete new prints. The driver software had some irritating missteps, such as poor controls and confusing calibration. It was a classic case of “You get what you pay for”.
Even the Solidoodle in this unboxing video has some malfunctions
But what could Solidoodle have done to help the chances of their latest product? The solution can be summed up in one phrase: open source. Building an open source community around 3D printing is the most natural way to tackle the problem. This isn’t in any way a new idea; the RepRap community has been creating 3D printers as a group since 2007, and the collaborative effort has been reliably producing quality printers. The open source community was also the birthplace of companies like Makerbot and Ultimaker; there are plenty of successful companies that have used open source as a starting point for their products. Solidoodle failed to utilize this resource, and as a result, they became out of touch with their customer base.
What is it that separates the open source community from a company full of experts? The difference is a source of motivation. Companies are motivated by making money, and producing a quality product often takes a backseat to that primary goal. The Solidoodle Press is a perfect example of another way to make money: making your product sound good on paper while cutting corners to reduce the price. The Solidoodle Press fell in a gap with its consumers. It had all the labels of a novice friendly printer, but none of the features worked well enough to appeal to that market. On the other side of the spectrum, even though it needed a veteran’s experience to work, the quality was too low to interest any experienced makers. By focusing too hard on profits, Solidoodle rendered their printer virtually unusable.
The sleek design belies a subpar quality
By contrast, the open source community is motivated by one thing: a desire for a 3D printer that satisfies their needs. Contributors need a printer that is reliable. Some need a printer with dual extrusion. Some need a printer with a heated build plate. Some may even need a printer that can print in chocolate! Whatever the case is; people who are motivated by a common goal come together to design a printer that fits their needs.
What the industry needs to learn is that the open source community is its biggest asset. Leaving that asset out can alienate consumers, and at the end of the day (As Solidoodle has illustrated), consumers will return to the printers that fulfill their needs best. As long as the consumers are makers, they will return to the printers made by the open source community.