An interesting open source discussion – The TangiBot 3D printer

About two weeks ago, Matt Strong launched a new 3D printer on Kickstarter. The Tangibot. What makes this 3D printer so different from other kickstarter 3D printers? It is an exact replica of the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer, only a lot cheaper. You might ask yourself if this is legal. Well.. it is. The MakerBot Replicator is an open source 3D printer so no patents protect the design or parts. The big question here is: Is this one-on-one copy a right or wrong move?

On the Kickstarter page you will find that every part on the Tangibot is 100% compatible and seemingly 100% identical with the Makerbot Replicator. At the bottom of his page you can see Matt’s reasoning for cloning the MakerBot Replicator. He says everything is open source and “MakerBot used other open source designs when designing and producing their 3D printers.”


The discussion

After the launch of the Tangibot on Kickstarter, an interesting discussion started in the comments section. The big issue here is the way Matt Strong promotes his printer and the printer he choose to replicate, the MakerBot Replicator. Why should you copy the flagship printer of one of the biggest chearleaders for the open source 3D printer community and sell it for a cheaper price?

This comment on Matt’s Kickstarter page by Matthew Simons is a good example of the thoughts against this idea:

“The reason why you’re catching flak here is because you didn’t bother to try and learn anything about the community before trying to take its money.

Kickstarter values original ideas and innovative solutions. This is a community of inventors, dreamers, and creators–passionate individuals who are hobbyists, artisans, and masters of their craft. You haven’t created anything.

You’ve just spit on the idea of open-source development by trying to take a cut of someone else’s idea. You have offended the community, which values creative contribution over (dated) business strategies that chase the bottom line by sending production overseas and scaling a product beyond its current niche demand through low costs and pathetically transparent social marketing strategies.

You have never backed a Kickstarter project. That gives the impression that you woke up one day and said “Hang on, people are making money on Kickstarter? I better get on that.” The real spirit of Kickstarter is to contribute in new, meaningful, and innovative ways to the community of enthusiasts that support these projects. You are the man who just walked into a Michelin Star restaurant and both loudly and obnoxiously complained to the waiter that there isn’t any real food on the menu and that you’ll have a steak. Now everyone in the restaurant is sneaking looks at you between snippets of hushed conversation–looks filled with a mixture of contempt and disbelief.

This would be a completely different situation if you had made significant improvements to the design of the product. Instead, this is a brazen cash grab that flies in the face of everything that this community values. For someone who has supposedly spent a considerable amount of time marketing successful products, not getting to know your target market is a rookie mistake.”

But isn’t the launch of the Tangibot a great example of what the open source idea is all about? Bob Cunningham commented in favor of this idea and he said the following:

“I think your project represents a turning point in this industry, which may perhaps be more aptly called an ecosystem to this point. You are finishing the first complete round of the process the earliest hobby 3D printers started. Now the playhing field has to jump to a higher level, since you are squeezing the “easy” profit out of this particular technology (soft plastic thermal extrusion printing) in this particular market segment (home/hobby).

That’s capitalism and industrialization in a nutshell. It is how open induistrial economies are SUPPOSED to work. The Open Software/Hardware/Cores movement merely accelertes the process, removing the delay previously needed to legally reverse-engineer or clone a competitor’s product.

There are many examples of this throughout the past centruy. Perhaps IBM is a good example: George Amdahl started by creating plug-compatible peripherals for IBM mainframe systems, then expanded to create entire computers that were software-compatible (though with different hardware). Then there’s Compaq, the first successful manufacturer to combine cioned IBM PC hardware with a reverse-engineered work-alike BIOS. Both Amdahl and Compaq were aggressively sued by IBM, with massive costs to all involved.

The various Open movements, the Freeing of intellectual property, remove these risks and costs. They actually, literally INVITE actions such as yours. Just look at the Arduino market for abundant examples of both innovation and cloned mass-production.”

So, there are definitely two sides to this story. If you are interested, you can read the entire comment thread here. Matt’s Kickstarter project has only 10 days left and is still in need of a lot of funding.

Please let us know where you stand in this new and seemingly unavoidable development in the open source market.

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