From the comfort of his remote, sprawling farm in southwest Washington state, inventor Erik Kettenburg has orchestrated a series of successful Kickstarters for his maker-friendly creations, but his latest project is definitely his most ambitious. With the BuildOne 3D printer, Kettenburg aims to succeed where many others have failed: delivering a reliable, feature-rich 3D printer for just $99.
Kettenburg’s first successful Kickstarter project, the Digispark, was a tiny Arduino-compatible development board for makers that cost just ten dollars. Between Kickstarter backers and pre-orders through his website, he delivered over 10,000 orders in 2013. Building on that success, he ran four more over-funded Kickstarter projects over the following three years.
His projects have been popular enough that after he left his job as CTO of Portland-based vacation rental company Vacasa, selling his inventions became his only full-time job.
Now that he has taken the design of inexpensive, fully-featured, tiny Arduino-compatible development boards as far as he can, this year Kettenburg decided that the time was finally right to step up from small to something more substantial. Originally he considered launching a project for an inexpensive maker-level pick-and-place machine, but when he watched another one fail to reach its fundraising goal at a price point similar to what he had in mind, he decided to flesh out his inexpensive 3D printer idea instead.
Although his previous Kickstarter projects have all been small development boards, Kettenburg explained in an interview with GeekWire that he has previous commercial experience with “injection molding, mechanical parts, and large deployments” that give him the expertise needed to successfully deliver a complex project like the BuildOne.
Whenever someone promises lots of features in a low-cost tech gadget, it’s reasonable to be at least a little doubtful. This is especially true with 3D printers on Kickstarter, since the path from a funded Kickstarter to the actual release of an inexpensive 3D printer is littered with the corpses of projects that couldn’t handle the pressure:
- 2013: The Buccaneer – Raised $1,438,765 from 3,520 backers. Delivered to maybe 25 percent of backers before admitting that they had run out of money, despite raising an additional $2 million from investors.
- 2013: Peachy Printer – Raised $630,000 from 4,420 backers. Zero printers were delivered, as the inventor’s business partner spent backers’ money to build a house instead of 3D printers.
- 2015: Tiko – Raised $2,950,874 from 16,538 backers. This past February they ran out of money, laid off their team, and put the project in “hibernation.”
In fact, 3D printers have had such a hard time delivering that Kickstarter’s own operations team have taken a more proactive role in policing that category of projects on the site. According to Kettenburg, Kickstarter has “really cracked down on verifying 3D printer projects,” which he sees as a good thing. He explained that in phone calls with Kickstarter representatives, “they asked a lot of questions about our finances and our costs.” With a solid plan and a proven record of past deliveries on funded projects, Kickstarter was comfortable giving the go-ahead to the BuildOne. It’s worth mentioning that none of the high-profile failures mentioned above came from a team with any experience delivering on past projects.
While he doesn’t want to divulge his exact costs, Kettenburg did reveal that he has plenty of margin built into his design thanks to a two-pronged design strategy. “We focused on two things in our mechanics: Using parts that are simple, and using parts that are readily available off the shelf.” He is confident that his experience and his simple design will enable him to successfully deliver the BuildOne 3D printers on time and with all of the features he is promising to his backers.
After delivering all of the Kickstarter orders later this year, Kettenburg hopes to get the BuildOne on Amazon Prime at a price point around $150 — considerably cheaper than the next-cheapest 3D printer currently available on Prime, the Monoprice Select Mini at $220. As for his next project, he may try to design a large-format (500mm x 500mm) 3D printer for under $300, or go back to his pick-and-place idea and see if he can reduce the cost enough to make it successful.
The BuildOne 3D printer campaign on Kickstarter lasts through 5PM on Thursday, June 22. During the campaign, you can get the printer for as little as $99 plus shipping. Delivery is slated for September and October of this year.