Metalab Vienna: Birthplace of the MakerBot

By November 29, 2013No Comments

We visited the Viennese hackerspace Metalab and spotted a prototype of the MakerBot, one of the most easy-to-obtain 3D printers in 2013. Metalab’s Daniel and Pepi told us about its story – they also told us about PSPDFKit and the Austrian food delivery directory Mjam. We went to see Vienna’s first 3D printing store and spoke with the 18 and 22-year-old owners Marton and Gabor about the first week’s demand and the reactions of passers-by.

When MakerBot co-founder Bre Pettis sketched the first MakerBots, he was living in Vienna. He was an artist in residence at monochrom and also regularly visited the hackerspace Metalab. While MakerBot is set to launch their next big thing, a 3D scanner for USD 1,400 the first shop for 3D printers and 3D printing jobs opened in Vienna last month.

College kids open first 3D printing store

“When we opened 3DEE last week, one person instantly came in and bought a 3D printer.” says Marton, the 18-year-old co-founder of the new printing store in Vienna-Landstraße. He and his 22-year-old co-founding brother Gabor are originally from Székesfehérvár (between Budapest and Lake Balaton). Gabor studies at BOKU Vienna and Marton plans to enroll at Vienna University of Economics and Business.
When we asked where the money for the business came from. The brothers say they took out a loan to pay the rent and buy a few printers. "Our parents did contribute, but only about 2% to 3%", they say.

3DEE can’t reach FabLabs standards

Their shop makes 3D printers more accessible to anyone in or around Vienna. There were 3D printers in Vienna before 3DEE, though – even more advanced ones. “Happylab [FabLab] can do colours. They have a bigger, more expensive printer than ours.” Marton says.

He shows us one of the most complex items they can print: a cube-shaped mount for six GoPro cameras for 360º filming. It takes 20 hours to print, Marton says, “whereas this miniature traffic cone here is done in five.”. The cone standing on the shop counter he points at is actually two different colours: Some of the printers at 3DEE can be fed with two different plastic reels for a single print.

Bring your blueprint or have item drawn

Customers can bring their .stl-files to the store or have the staff do the drawing. Ergo: A lot of work for the Klausers. “We would like to print more stuff for ourselves, but operating the store takes enough time.” On the other hand, the brothers don’t see a lot of use in spending time on public relations or advertisement: “It’ll just take two to three years until 3D printing is significantly more popular.”

MakerBot prototype sitting at Metalab, not a big deal

The Metalab is a 220 m² hackerspace in the center of Vienna – it is literally opposite the city hall, situated in a souterrain. Daniel Domberger is one of the frequent visitors, and one of three members of the board of the Verein (which is only there to feed Austrian bureaucracy, as we later learned).

While our visit to the 3DEE carried us three years into the future, our visit at Metalab brought us a few years back in time: We found an actual prototype of the MakerBot. Daniel gives us a tour of six rooms. Between the heavy machinery room and a giant Nyan Cat artwork, there stands a cubic metal construction that resembles the MakerBot. “That’s one of the prototypes,” Daniel says, "and this one even has the Metalab logo engraved". Bre Pettis’ used to frequent this place during his Vienna years.

PSPDFKit, Mjam and loads of Netzpolitik

Daniel joined Metalab in 2009. We don’t have a hard time figuring out why he still goes there: In the main work room is a giant wall of red LEDs. “This was a scoreboard in an ice hockey arena in Vienna. They didn’t need it any more and we dismounted it.” Aside from all the funky stuff, there is also a lot of useful technology, including a photo lab.

Once in a while, technologies that were crafted at Metalab spread all over the world. Peter Steinberger’s PDFKit is part of other software like the Dropbox iOS App or the Evernote App. Steinberger and Metalab belong together, just like Mjam, a food delivery directory for Austria.

“Whatever you want to do, do it. Mostly that’s Netzpolitik [a new German word for political activity related to the Internet], software and hardware. At Metalab, the morning shift begins at about 10 a.m., the late shifters go home at 7 a.m.,” Pepi tells us. Pepi is another core user of Metalab. The popularity of the space is great, he says, “so we have been thinking about expanding back there into the bike park.”

Pepi has been coming to Metalab since 2007. He is part of the CocoaHeads group (developing for OS X and iOS) and once made an app “that sold maybe 30 times. Or a bit more often, but I really didn’t care – I built it for myself, because I wanted it.” A few days ago he co-organized CryptoParty(.at) and is current organizer of Metalab’s infamous karaoke parties.

No democracy. Dictatorship!

Some (but by far not all) Metalabians are students – most at TU Wien. As for Vienna’s Technology University, Pepi says it’s “enterprisy." Metalab, in contrast, emerged on the EasterHack 2006, which is associated with Chaos Computer Club. There is no anti-enterprise attitude, though; Google once offered pizza and speakers for a metalab event.
Metalab hosts more than 600 events per year, organised by different groups of people. “All this sounds democratic,” we say, but Pepi fires back: “Not at all. There is no democracy at metalab. It’s rather a do-ocracy, a dictatorship of the people who do. Don’t ask or vote to have things done, just come and do it and then you will see it done." With 200 members, this seems to work just fine.

We have the impression that Vienna’s maker scene revolves around metalab – at least the makers know it well. The opening of the 3DEE pushes the movement; we are curious to see whether more shops will follow.

Image by Pioneers and Pepi Zawodsky