prototypers — so portable that people bring it
to parties. The CupCake whinnies and purrs as it
prints. Watching the machine — internally illuminated with LEDs for dramatic effect — is like sitting
around a campfire.
MakerBot ships the machine as a kit that includes
motors, pulleys, circuit boards, and laser-cut plywood, which means you build it yourself. They accept
pre-orders and ship machines in batches. As owners
of previous batches build and use their machines,
they make suggestions and improvements to the
design of the machine. These improvements are
implemented in future batches, and are made available to current users as an upgrade.
While the first batches required the painstakingly
tedious task of soldering many surface-mount ICs
to the motherboard, the latest CupCakes ship with
completely assembled electronics, taking a lot of
the effort out of the assembly process. The machine
comes together like Ikea furniture; it’s assembled
with little more than an Allen wrench.
The CupCake CNC is the first of its kind in its field.
Pettis confidently compares it to early personal
computers like the Altair and Apple I, citing the
hack-it-yourself hardware and savvy user base of
enthusiastic tinkerers. Where previously having
something fabbed required the use of large
mainframe-style machines housed in restricted-access research facilities, building a CupCake CNC
moves the mainframe onto your desktop.
The types of items that the CupCake CNC can
make are similar to those of a traditional 3D printer,
but the paradigm is completely different. The level of
user engagement with the nuts and bolts of the technology is much deeper, and the cost is much lower.
MakerBot operators communicate through
groups on Google and Flickr, and rely on each other
to solve problems and help keep their machines
running smoothly. This distributed support network
means less customer support for the three founders
to maintain — although they admit to answering
many hours of support emails daily.
A parallel project, Thingiverse, is helping the
MakerBot community thrive. Launched by Smith
and Pettis in summer 2008 as a website for sharing
laser cutter source files, Thingiverse was easily
Fig. A: The CupCake design is in perpetual beta.
Fig. B: New CupCake parts can sometimes be built on
a CupCake. Fig. C: The CupCake can make parts from
a variety of 3D modeling platforms. Fig. D: Samples of
the CupCake’s output, available in cream and black.