Maker Monday: The Printrbot $830 k Success Story

This week, I’m going to be talking about Printrbot, a DIY personal fabrication company that has a pretty amazing story.  It’s part of a new series I’m running called Maker Monday.  A series on the people (makers) who are pioneering methods and technologies needed to manufacture things locally.

However, before I start that Maker Monday post, a short pre-amble.

Personal Fabrication

Hey folks, one of the ways we’ll become resilient is by actually producing the products we use, the food we eat, and the energy we consume locally.   Until recently, opting for local production over global meant roughing it in most cases.  Fortunately, that’s not going to be the case for long.  Why?

There are lots of great technological trends underway that will make local production preferable to global production.   One of these trends is an offshoot of the personal computer industry called personal fabrication.

Personal fabrication means that, sooner than you may think (particularly if you live in a resilient community), many of the products you use in your daily life will be made near to where you live.  How will that happen?

New fabrication machines allow you to take a simple computer file of a product or part and print it locally (either in your home or in a local shop).  These new personal fabricators, based in a small part on ink-jet printer technology, will become as ubiquitous as personal computer are now within the next couple of decades with a similar increase in capability over that time.

That’s good news for our efforts to build thriving resilient communities.  This is also the context for the following post on a new entrant in the personal fabrication space called Printrbot.

Maker Monday:  The Printrbot $830 k Success Story

This week’s essay is about Printrbot, personal fabrication company built by the “maker” Brook Drumm.  This company’s product (the same name as the company) is one of the early entrants in a growing wave of personal fabricators.

What makes Printrbot interesting, isn’t the technology (which is great by the way), it is how Brook built this company from the ground up.  It’s an inspiration and it should serve as a model for anybody interested in building a business that combines:

  • resilient technology,
  • local production, and
  • online sales/community.

I’m assuming that most of you reading this haven’t ever started a business before, so here’s what Brook did right.

He started by taking control.  If you remember the post from last week on taking control, it boils down into three things:  preparation, direction, and process.  Let’s see how he did:

  1. He did his homework.  He bought the products available and used them.  He noted their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. He set a direction for his efforts.  He wanted to build a company that made personal fabricators.  This was based on his belief that there will be a fabricator in every home within the next couple of decades (this is very similar to what Bill Gates said about PCs back in the early 80’s).
  3. His process?  He chose to build a resilient business (more on this later).   What does this entail?  A low cost bootstrap venture (little financial or legal overhead).  A simple entry level product (<$500 and EASY to use).  A product philosophy that is based on the idea of self-replication (the ability to produce the parts required to build another product with the same functionality).   An open community driven design process that requires lots of communication.  A company funded by customers and well wishers.

The results?

The Printrbot project was floated on Kickstarter, and it raised $830,827 in donations and/or pre-orders of Printrbots, making it one of the most successful crowdfunding efforts to date.

What’s the take away?

This is great news for those of us interested in personal and community resilience.  How so?  I’ll tell you how in my first report.

UPDATE:  Brook Drumm added a comment below worth repeating (to make sure it doesn’t get lost):  My best advice is: do something that is bigger than yourself. The community rallying around me is amazing. I don’t deserve it, but leading something that is a “big idea” that will change the world…. people can get behind a cause like that. Keep up the good work!

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  • Chris

    I still think this is more meme than actual product.

    Show me a “Maker” easycalc or NSCA Mosaic or even Angry Birds.

    • johnrobb


      An open prototyping platform that is showing up everywhere.

      • Chris

        Not really.

        When the first Kenmore fridge/washing machine/ air conditioner ships with one, then it will be something.

        Its a hobby right now. A cool hobby, but just a hobby.

        • johnrobb

          You are totally missing the point.

          A) I started personal computing when it was still a hobby.

          B) Owning that early computer gave me a HUGE competitive advantage from the moment I bought it. Best money I ever spent.

          B) The technological trend on this is inexorable. It’s going to become central to all of our lives.

          Personally, I’d rather be ahead of the powercurve rather than a victim of it.

        • kunkmiester

          Not when it ships, but when someone starts running theirs with one.

  • Scott Supak

    Of course, this is just the dawn of a new age where production of almost everything happens locally. In one video on 3D printers, they noted how libraries were venturing into the manufacturing world using them, and how someday we will have manufacturing bots that literally have all the elements in their “print cartridges” and then they can combine them into any material needed. Just like the replicators on Star Trek.

  • Trent

    What are your thoughts on quality control and supply of raw stock?

    For example Joe makes a replacement part for his neighbour’s car which then fails while in use causing an accident. Would liability issues (I’m thinking unofficial non-Judicial) then present themselves?

    A way around this would be to specify in the part’s data sheet the grade of material to be used. An opportunity here is to supply quality plans for objects. Your brand could be based on reliability.

    My other thought is about the supply of raw stock. Would this not be open to disruption too?

    • matt heath

      In reference to quality of stock, perhaps we could consider a design that called for a certain Aluminum Alloy, 7075 for example. A design for widgets could list alternatives for 7o75 Aluminum, like 6061, etc. Depending on the application, several different alloys (3 or 4) will almost certainly meet the widget design requirements. Therefore maybe you can’t get 7075 for your home/shop builderbot, but you can get another alloy. If the designer has outlined other alloys that are usable, or if he went into detail about why he selected the original alloy a knowledgeable “shade tree metallurgist” could use his own substitutions.

      my two cents :)

  • Brook Drumm

    Thanks for the mention! My best advice is: do something that is bigger than yourself. The community rallying around me is amazing. I don’t deserve it, but leading something that is a “big idea” that will change the world…. people can get behind a cause like that. Keep up the good work!

    -Brook Drumm

  • Stan Peters

    Tweeted by Tom Gresham-Guntalk-

    Possible game changer! Pirate Bay web site now lists files for 3D printing. First ones posted include AR-15 lower receiver and magazine.

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