MakerBot grew from a fun project by three friends in a hackerspace in Brooklyn, to being THE name in desktop 3D printing. Over the last few years, though, that name has been drug through the mud; from the community backlash when they decided to go closed source after building their reputation on open source projects, to a series of problem-ridden products (Digitizer and Replicator Gen 5). Now, the Federal court system is getting involved, as a class action lawsuit is being filed against MakerBot and their parent company, Stratasys.
The suit claims that MakerBot and Stratasys knowingly sold customers products with issues that would cause performance problems, while using these sales to show market growth to investors. By the time the truth of these issues had come to light, shareholders had lost millions of dollars.
At the heart of these issues is the MakerBot Smart Extruder. The Smart Extruder is a device that was touted as a way to simplify 3D printing by automatically leveling the build plate and pausing the print if the filament jams or runs out. In reality, the smart extruder has been known for jamming and clogging easily and causing degradation of print quality over time.
MakerBot’s initial solution to the problem was to take advantage of the hot swappable nature of the Smart Extruder and offer customers three packs of replacement extruders for the “low, low” price of $495 (a savings of $10 per extruder over buying them one at a time). To go along with this, MakerBot also started offering a $50 credit towards your next extruder purchase when you return your “worn” Smart Extruder.
Over the past few months, MakerBot has claimed that they have greatly improved the reliability of their Smart Extruder and have fixed issues with customer support to help those still having problems. Their overall return numbers are starting to look like this might actually be the case also. The question now for the courts is, “were the actions taken by MakerBot a ‘fraudulent scheme’ committed against their customers and shareholders?” The full filing document can be downloaded as a PDF if you would like to dive into all the details, thanks to Adafruit for making it available.