Faculty & Leadership Blog / Research and Practice

The Marvels of 3D Printing – Makerbot Case Study

The Marvels of 3D Printing – MakerBot Case Study

Ruth Gilleran, Lecturer of Information Technology
Erik Noyes, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship

MakerBot is an industry leader in the production of affordable 3D printers.  3D printing is an emerging technology that promises to disrupt manufacturing as we know it. The MakerBot story explores the intersection of venture strategy and IT ecosystems, namely open technology and crowdsourcing, all in the context of an exciting new industry.  Our case study begins with a discussion of MakerBot’s founders, self-proclaimed hackers who shared a deep passion for robotics. Open-source zealots, they were determined to bring affordable 3D printing to the masses. They did this by keeping every aspect of their printer’s hardware and software open and adaptable.

Their first product emerged out of a research collaboration. Instead of taking the conventional path of first crafting a business plan, they started MakerBot by demonstrating proof-of-concept, creating and promoting their first printer to the open-source community in 2009. Next, we discuss the history of 3D printing and provide several fascinating examples of 3D innovations in the medical, automotive, music, and fashion industries. It’s important to note that the majority of MakerBot sales to date have come from hobbyists or members of the do-it-yourself or maker movement. Products most commonly printed on MakerBot printers include toys, gadgets, and household items—we have really yet to see where the greatest growth will come from, and it requires foresight to understand all the creative possibilities.  We conclude the case by looking at MakerBot’s competition with a particular focus on the large 3D printing companies who initially targeted corporations but are now turning their attention to the consumer market. These companies include 3D Systems Corp, Stratasys, and Hewlett-Packard.   After a discussion of the competition, we pose the following questions:

  1. How can MakerBot lead the growth of the personal manufacturing industry, which is arguably a new industry?
  2. Long-term, how potent is MakerBot’s open innovation strategy, focused on crowdsourcing, in the face of rising competition?
  3. To what degree are larger, established players from the industrial/professional markets a competitive threat?
  4. Finally, are makersor do-it-yourselfers a big enough market to fuel future growth and potential with the technology?

The MakerBot case study entitled MakerBot: Challenges in Building a New Industry, is intended for use in graduate or upper-level undergraduate strategy, entrepreneurship, operations, or information technology courses.  It may be obtained either from Harvard Business Publishing or the Case Centre website.   The case study is accompanied by both a written teaching note and a video teaching note.