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The RRRF is broken

Posted by Lawrence Kincheloe 
The RRRF is broken
March 07, 2010 04:32PM
The RepRap Research Foundation has a single purpose:

To promote research in self-replicating manufacturing systems
and to distribute the results of that research freely to everybody using
open-source licensing.

I don't think is doing this. For one, the resources listed and contact points are out of date. And furthermore, the sole provider of those resources is Makerbot Industries, which has been pointed out is not a philanthropic enterprise, but a business.

I find myself in need of those services, and they aren't there.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 07, 2010 04:54PM
On further reflection this post needs to be moved to Library Administration, Announcements, and Policy
The RRRF is broken
March 07, 2010 08:01PM
-- moved topic --
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 08, 2010 01:15AM
Yeah, As near as I can tell, this is what has happened:

The RRRF was formed to fulfill all of those roles. Zach was the lead in doing all of this, and as he moved on to makerbot, he has simply dedicated less and less time to RRRF. RRRF sort of morphed into Makerbot. I think Makerbot is the result of Zach giving up on RepRap for something more practical and with a more controlled development cycle. These are all observations from an outside viewpoint though, so I don't really know what has happened.

One thing that is important to make clear: RRRF is not the RepRap project. It's a separate entity that had goals in assisting the project. The fact that it's fallen behind in terms of updates is not great, but I don't think it's bad either. As it stands, those services are offered by other groups (mostly commercial) and the end result is not fundamentally different than what you'd get with the RRRF.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 08, 2010 03:33AM
That's a fairly accurate assesment, sircastor.

I'd be much happier if Zach had gone commercial and high-personal profit with his store while keeping his development at RepRap.org, but he's decided to do otherwise. I'd rather not dwell on this.

Right now exisiting RRRF funds will just about cover a hotel room or two or Maker Faire Bay Area 2010 and funds for me to do an Eiffel or two, so we're not talking about a large existing pile of money to distribute.

If we did have a large pile of money, I could say to you "Lawrence, your space-frame RepRap looks great! Go hit up Adrian for some RRRF funding to make it happen."

As it is, that will not happen for a year or two, after you're on gen 2 or so.

It looks like you're getting some help from NopHead makding stuff, so that part of RepRap works. smiling smiley

I don't know if there is merit in rebooting RRRF as a kit-building store, because it would compete in a marketplace with multiple existing stores, the For Sale forum, and so on, and be designed to run at a loss, or run while making money, but not much or it starts gouging, and so on.

As Zach discovered, kit building is hard work, and eventually you want to pay for your food and housing, which means making a profit.

I do see merit in RepRap/RRRF running an efficient and low-cost-to-dealer marketplace using a tender-type system.

I think that we can do some good there.

-Sebastien, RepRap.org library gnome.

Remember, you're all RepRap developers (once you've joined the super-secret developer mailing list), and the wiki, RepRap.org, [reprap.org] is for everyone and everything! grinning smiley
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 01:08AM
I think its a good start, but it has some problems with motivation of individuals. Plus while the project development is mostly open source at the moment, we need to find ways of keeping it that way. A lot of people look at the Mendel market and see dollars. Case in point, we now have a vibrant plastic sellers market thanks to Makerbot selling their plastic at a 100% markup. There is a guy on the forums selling it for $8 dollars per lbs in bulk while Makerbot is selling it for $16 per lbs. Both of these sellers are making a profit that makes the transaction worth their time, however as a buyer you have no real information or control over how these systems work besides voting with your dollar.

Thats part of the reason I feel like we need something like the RRRF. Because we need to be able to maintain a free and open source alternative for hardware parts that are very difficult to make on our own.

Quick question, hypothetical:
What would it do to the RepRap community if Makerbot went completely closed source with its next version release? Is the RepRap community robust enough to handle that?

I really need to write an essay that clearly outlines these thoughts...
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 06:00AM
I think it may be easiest to just have RepRap be an honest middleman with that auction/tender software and a 2% cut.

I have not run numbers, but if RRRF runs a store with zero price margins or profit, who pays the guy who runs it to build the kits?

Makerbot would never go closed source, all the pissed off users and FLOSS fans would instantly poison the thingiverse and makerbot communities. Makerbot is very good at gently influencing user and media fanbase, and they're not stupid.

The one thing makerbot might do is accidentally fork its contributions to the commons, habitually placing them on a non-RepRap server and defining them as being other-than-reprap, making it more attractive and sexy for users to help contribute to said forklike projects while systematically being too busy to upload any code, photos, circuit diagrams, stl files, etc, to RepRap.org for the next decade or so.

Further discussion:
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 08:23AM
there is profit and then there is the cost of manufacturing. I'm suggesting being up front about the cost of labor in the price as opposed to taking the price of materials and then adding 30%-50% or whatever the market will bare.

In this case it would be (cost of materials + cost of labor + organizational costs + inflation)

It is true that unless RRRF and RepRap want to get involved with the economics of the devices they are building, that the auction /tender system is the safest and easiest.

However, I'm going to be kind of sad when five-ten years from now I'm buying a Microsoft RepRap so I can print off some widgets I purchased from Amazon.com. However, that might not be a bad thing. I'll have to think about this.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 02:23PM
That sounds like a very noble idea, but it's a lot of effort for very little return, which is probably why we're not already seeing that kind of thing.

I ran the numbers for MakerBot's v2.3 stepper board, and found the cost of producing 50 or so to be about $800 in materials alone. Makerbot has not been making a reasonable profit on their electronics by any means. I'd estimate 15% profit at best. I think they provide them simply because other options are not suitable.

It'd be nice to have an organization to produce these things at cost, or provide a method of managing the sale of such things, but on all sides of the equation, there's not a significant incentive for anyone to do it. Hence the reason RRRF has floundered in the first place. Zach found more opportunity in Makerbot and so they got started there. Few people have the time or resources to put into a charity situation so instead we get businesses, which is the way capitalism works. The only reason it's struggling right now is that the community and the project are still young. As they prove themselves, more options will become available and competition will take hold, and we'll see more options.

As for community development, it'll happen (as it is), just at a slower pace. Right now the current electronics design functions well enough. When something goes wrong, or we need more functionality, someone will come up with a design and will probably share it.

Sebastian's motto is that we're all user/developers, so we should all contribute. If you're interested in the RRRF, I nominate you to start pushing it forward smiling smiley

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/09/2010 04:01PM by sircastor.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 02:56PM
Sircastor, well put. I was trying to say just that, but couldn't do it as eloquently. Thank you.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 09, 2010 11:07PM
Actually, what if the auction/tender system also applied to research?

For example, Alice wants a printable x/y plaform. Alice is willing to plop down $2000 dollars in research money and reward to see it happen.

Bob is a bright engineering student in college. He has no money, but he has lots of great ideas. He presents a well thought out model and use case for the printable x/y platform.

Casey tries out the platform and shares some of the development costs, so the cost of the bid goes down to around $1000 per person because he is now sharing development costs with Bob.

This way, Bob can participate and make worthwhile contributions, Casey can make use of his building expertise and unused capacity and Alice can solicit for someone to solve her problem for her.

There are some interesting IP rights and payment issues here, but something similar has already happened on the forums and I can see this being a partial solution to the problem of the RepRap project needing lots of Blue Sky research money to really see its potential.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 11, 2010 12:54PM
Your auction/tender system for research is interesting. It'd be a neat way to inject money into the community.

My biggest concern comes from how the money is distributed. In your example Bob has virtually no money, and Casey has some money. When the time comes for Alice to send out the money, it's easy for her to decide who gets how much, but on the other end, it may not be. Bob came up with the idea, he feels that he should get the majority. Casey feels like he's the one who laid out some actual development cost, and his time and materials ought to be paid for.

Jim, someone who frequently works in the community has offered up a few ideas which Casey implemented and found to be useful. Or maybe Casey didn't implement the ideas, but Jim is certain that they'll work, and he's frustrated because he's not getting a cut of the research money to try out his concepts.

These are probably the payment issues you were thinking of, so maybe my laying this out is moot. I think in the case of IP, you kind of have to throw that out the window in our community. The community (I don't think) is terribly interested in things they can't construct themselves because of the law or rules, rather than ability or materials. Not too long ago, Adafruit had someone selling their work on ebay... just instructions. It was a little frustrating, but because the designs were open-hardware, they shrugged, and got back to what they were doing. They didn't need to get into a rage over the idea, because they already decided that anyone could have it for free.

I think the other issue being faced largely has to do with the nature of research itself. Bob may present a very good idea, but he may find a month into the project that he's spent Alice's $2000 and not completed the research that Alice hired him to do. Alice (I'm guessing) isn't an engineer, so what seemed like a really valid idea has resulted in an incomplete project. Bob is embarrassed, Alice is out $2000. Maybe someone else wants to step in and help, but is that person willing to work without any financial backing.

In many ways, we're already seeing the beginnings of this idea in the Gada prize project. Incentive has been created and people are exploring the possibilities.

I tend to think the current research process in the forums works fairly well. You come up with an idea and share it. If you can't implement it because of time or money, someone else may probably will. I think your concept for a research auction makes sense in a post-development payment system. That is, "I'll pay $1000 for a printable xy platform to the first person that gives me a working solution" and a few people start working. It would function a bit like a miniature Gada prize, perhaps requiring development to be open (in your other post, you lamented closed-development). Maybe the buyer doesn't care if development is closed or not and doesn't require that. It may be interesting to see how that plays out.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 11, 2010 08:39PM
Most of my personal frustration is spending the time to develop new ideas and having no way to test them in a feasible manner.

For example, if I wanted to pay Shapeways for a complete set of the parts I want, (assuming they are perfect the first time!) it would cost somewhere around $200+.

If I wanted to do it myself and build a Mendel, it would cost roughly $500-$650 to pool parts together. If I wanted to order a Makerbot, the only one in stock is the $950 delux model.

Now to add up time.
We're looking at a lot of it. Advertised mendel construction times are 50ish hours + waiting for parts. Makerbot is probably the quickest if it is in stock, and my experimental design is a black hole of time and effort.

I think the solution is continually finding ways of making RepRap cheaper and easier to build, so that it is even in the budget of starving college students.
Re: The RRRF is broken
March 12, 2010 04:58AM
Lawrence, try a WolfStrap? Also, how's your local RUG doing?

sircastor, the first step to getting RepRap to host user-developer research is to start building in the social networking.

This way Alice can start writing up her ideas on wiki pages, and blog about them in wiki pages, and upload models that people can print and cheer her on for, and so on.
The forum does some of that well, and some of that poorly.

-Sebastien, RepRap.org library gnome.

Remember, you're all RepRap developers (once you've joined the super-secret developer mailing list), and the wiki, RepRap.org, [reprap.org] is for everyone and everything! grinning smiley
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