Makerbot, Lend Us a Hand

Dear Makerbot,

Your products are fantastic, really they are. I applaud your desire to make 3D printing technology accessible to the common person and ubiquitous in classrooms across the country. Looking towards the future I envision math, science, engineering, and english teachers all working to figure out how their students can get the most out of the magical machine that turns students' imagination into reality. Already, I myself have dove into the deep end and incorporated your machine into my class. How about a little backstory.

Last spring my brother told me about the work that Makerbot was doing in conjunction with Donors Choose. Apparently your goal was to bring a 3D printer to every classroom in America. I was intrigued by the technology and the product, so I posted a project and 3 months and 42 donors later had raised the money needed to get the printer. In early August our Replicator 2 arrived at the school and I got to work figuring out how I could best incorporate it into my classes. The most natural fit was my Disease and Society course. In that class I had the latitude to teach what I please and it was the perfect venue to try something new. I'd just heard about the work of e-NABLING the future and couldn't help but get excited at the thought of giving my students the opportunity to learn 3D printing while producing prosthetic hands for three children who were missing some or all of their fingers. In October my class started building on behalf of Johnny, Matthew, and Tehran. I can't express to you how excited the girls were to be learning 3D printing and to be producing projects that were going to actually make a difference in a kid's life. The class and our project even got a fair amount of media coverage.

Unfortunately, a month ago and halfway into the project things began to fall apart. First the printer started making small errors during builds, then it stopped working all together. Initially I wasn't all that concerned because we still had 6 weeks to get the hands built for the kids and my Donors Choose/Makerbot package included your top-of-the-line service plan. So, I submitted a help ticket and waited. And waited ... AND WAITED. Finally, in desperation I Tweeted at Makerbot and finally got a response. It was a canned response, but a response none the less. After trading a couple emails and getting more canned responses from Makerbot a new thermocouple was on its way to the school. Upon receipt I successfully installed the part using the wonderful instructions provided by your company, but it didn't fix the problem. So, I got back in touch and initially received another canned email that made it appear as if the customer support person had not even read my email. Another Tweet got things moving along and it was determined that a new Bar Mount Assembly was needed. Fine, send the parts. After not hearing from you guys for a couple of days I reached out and found out that the parts were out of stock and that they should be back in stock early last week. I was assured that you would be in touch as soon as they come in. It has now been 14 days since I last heard anything from anyone, despite the fact that I've sent multiple emails and Tweets in hope of a response.

Here's the thing, I understand that parts go out of stock, but communication is paramount in the world of customer service. I have no idea what is going on and when I might be receiving the needed materials. Meanwhile, my class project is stalled and unless you can pull off a miracle Johnny, Matthew, and Tehran will not be receiving their hands by Christmas as promised.

You're goal to get a 3D printer into every school is brilliant and innovative. It's the kind of thing that is needed to push American schools on into a new era of education. I've personally experienced the excitment that can be produced in a class when the students are given the opportunity to put their hands on one of these miraculous machines. Makerbot could become the Apple of 3D printing in education. Five years ago everyone wanted iPads for the classroom, and it happened. The same could be true of your 3D printers, but I fear that you are going to blow the opportunity. If your machines are going to be ubiquitous in schools, your customer support is going to have to step up its game. Weeks between instances of communication and the need to take to social media to get a response is unacceptable. Teachers pioneering your technology must be able to trust that if there is a problem with their machine they will be able to get in touch with your team and get the problem resolved quickly. My hope is that your team will quickly bring their customer service up to par so that other teachers aren't left hanging with unfinished student projects and expectant kids disappointed that they will not be receiving their life-changing hands.

Vance Kite