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MakerCon Report Part I: Tools for Makers Pro

MakerCon is the maker pro event that happens before Maker Faire. The event has been going on since 2012 but was first named Make Hardware Innovation Workshop in the two first editions.

This year was a bigger one, with conferences, panels and workshops that focused not only on the business of making but also on the role of makers in education and the Internet of Things. I also felt that it was a way for Maker Media – organizer and editor of Make magazine – to get back to its roots, highlighting creativity and innovation rather than business opportunities only.

My report of MakerCon is in 4 parts: tools, philosophy of life, business strategies and what’s next.

Today, I’ll focus on the tools, which are keys for helping makers going pro. Almost all speakers mentioned at some point that “cheap tools” were now available for makers who want to start a business, leading to new work practices and selling opportunities. Let’s see what some of these tools are.

Smarter CAM/CAD Software

MakerCon focused a lot on software for makers pro (while Maker Faire is all about hardware). CAM/CAD software for makers pro become cheaper, easier to use, more collaborative and better integrated to the entire production chain.

Autodesk is one of the companies leading the change. It presented Fusion 360, a software launched last year to adress the needs of makers pro. Totally free to use for students and enthusiasts (commercial version is $40/mo), Fusion 360 has been conceived with manufacturing in mind. You can visualize how your design will react to various physical, chemical and environmental situations, making it easier to design for manufacturing.


Fusion 360 by Autodesk

Software giant Autodesk is definitively on its way to own the makers pro market with the launch at MakerCon of Spark, a CAD software for 3D printing announced to easy to use and let you control what your 3D print is going to look like. It’s unclear at this point if the software will be fully open source or not. Spark will be available by the end of the year and compatible with a range of 3D printers. Spark will be a direct competitor to Repetier, Cura or MatterControl and it will be interesting to see its specific approach. Autodesk also launched a DLP desktop 3D printer, directly competing with FormLabs.

Arduino announced a new version of the Arduino software coming up soon, with better usability. The new version will for example include build-in tools options with tools made by the community, and the ability to follow tutorials directly in the interface while coding and compiling. A more social and all-in-one version.

Inventables presented Easel, a CAD/CAM software that turns your 2D designs into 3D designs ready to be made. Its goal is to make it easier to go from a sketch to a fabrication-ready file. Easel works with open source CNC mill Shapeoko and some 3D printers.


Easel, 2D to 3D design CAD/CAM software by Inventables.

Faster Go-To-Market Platforms

One of the big pain point of makers pro is the “go-to-market”, in other words: how to go from a prototype to a commercially sucessful product. The manufacturing phase is still to be address. Solutions range from mentors (Dragon Innovation, Haxlr8r, Lemnos Labs) to documentation.

Once you have a product ready to be made in small batches comes the question of selling. How to find customers? Crowdfunding can be a way to spread the word about your product, but momentum is usually hard to keep going. A few online platforms exist to make it easier for makers pro to sell their products.

Tindie is a marketplace for makers pro. Open a store on the website and start selling without having to bother developing your own online shop, order management and payment system. Tindie is growing fast, with now more than 400 makers selling products and 75,000 visitors monthly. Products are mostly niche products, prototyping tools and anything using sensors, LEDs and electronics.


Tindie’s homepage

The Grommet is a launching pad for makers going pro. I didn’t realize how big it was, with the launch of products such as Makey Makey or Goldiblox. It is an online retail store for undiscovered products. It only accepts products that are already manufactured and ready to sell.


Makey Makey on the Grommet

ShopLocket is an ecommerce solution for hardware makers. It lets makers pro take payment information and charge later, which makes it easier to pre-sale on your website and manage payment.


Shoplocket ecommerce solution

Desktop Hardware for Prototyping

3D printing sparked interest and demand for desktop manufacturing. It’s now time for companies to open towards new tools, not only 3D printing but also desktop CNC mill, laser-cut and more. It’s a natural path that I expect to grow fast in the coming months, with tools that are not only affordable and compact but also smarter thanks to better software connected to online communities.

Shapeoko is a compact, low-cost and open source CNC mill developed by Inventables. Other CNCs like Handibot or Othermill are more expensive and target a professional audience (design firms, small product companies). Shapeoko is for both hobbyists and professionals. More and more hobbyists are creating side businesses using Shapeoko.


Shapeoko 2 by Inventables

Printrbot offers low-cost reliable open source 3D printers. Brook Drumm announced the coming launch of a CNC mill. Tempo Automation demoed for the first time the latest prototype of its pick-and-place machine.

From modelling to prototyping, these new tools for makers pro will inspire you to give a chance to your product ideas. Try them on and let me know what you think.


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