He was a software guy, not a machinist. Not yet, anyway.
But one afternoon at auction, he got into a spirited bidding war on a machine. $250 later he had his very own vintage micro-lathe. It was exactly what he needed to enable him to begin making a real difference in the dawning desktop 3D printer movement.
It was 2009, and Rick Pollack owned one of the first commercially available desktop 3D printers. The machines were built with laser cut plywood and though they were a lot of fun to build, they did not work very well. At that time, the extruder components on the machines were unreliable at best. Pollack recalls that if someone actually managed to successfully 3D print an object, it was cause to break out the champagne. The online community that had sprung up around this new technology was filled with conversations about how to get the problematic extruders to successfully melt and evenly dispense the plastic filament. This fledgling technology, brimming with possibility, but lacking in consistency, had him wondering how he could do this better.
He began using his “new” micro-lathe to prototype extruders and after numerous attempts and variations, found a design that worked. Pollack’s print quality greatly improved and his extruders were consistent. Successful prints were now an expectation on his desktop 3D printer and no longer an exception.
Pollack leveraged his knowledge of online communities to communicate with other 3D printer users who were desperately in need of reliable extruders and ready to try Pollack’s design. For the first several months, Pollack made parts by hand during the day and then provided technical support and took orders online by night. And so MakerGear began – with Pollack at his lathe, helping other 3D printer users get their machines up and extruding smoothly. As MakerGear took hold, it developed a reputation for providing high-quality precision parts backed up by excellent customer service. From the beginning, MakerGear’s solid reputation for quality and support was paving its way forward into this growing industry.
It didn’t take long for Pollack to begin designing and constructing his own desktop 3D printers to sell to his ever-growing, loyal MakerGear customers. His first offering was a MakerGear RepRap kit, but always on the pursuit for better, he soon set up shop laser-cutting frames and assembling plywood frame printers from his home. In 2011 he launched the MakerGear Mosaic (also known as the M1), which received great reviews. This desire to constantly improve created a culture of perpetual innovation within MakerGear, raising the bar for what was possible in the realm of 3D printing.
While continuing to run MakerGear, Pollack enrolled in a daily CNC machining class. After a couple of months, he had developed the confidence he needed to bid on an industrial CNC machine at an online auction. As if buying an expensive CNC machine sight unseen from across the country wasn’t stressful enough, Pollack also realized that it was too big to fit through the shop doors. Six weeks later, it arrived during a downpour on a flatbed truck. After removing a few parts, it fit through the doors. This marked a pivotal moment when MakerGear evolved from Maker to Manufacturer. This CNC equipment provided the opportunity to produce 3D printers on MakerGear’s timeline and to MakerGear specifications. MakerGear’s mission was to create a durable product that could offer as much utility in a machine shop as it did in an office, studio, or classroom.
In April 2012, MakerGear released its third 3D printer – the MakerGear M2. Unlike its plywood predecessors, the M2 was constructed from fabricated steel and machined aluminum. Rock solid and built to last for the long haul, customers were delighted with the machine, both for its construction and consistency. This feedback further emboldened MakerGear’s commitment to using stainless steel frames and precision machined components.
MakerGear’s original workhorse, the M2, has become a worldwide success over the last five years. Now in its fifth generation, it has received numerous user awards around the globe for its product quality and reliability. It has taken top-honors in 3D Hubs annual 3D Printer Guide for three consecutive years, most recently being rated as the #1 Desktop 3D Printer in the world for 2017.
Though MakerGear products can be found in all 50 States and over 75 countries, Pollack’s commitment to local manufacturing has kept MakerGear’s global headquarters and manufacturing centers near Cleveland, Ohio. Most of the custom M2 components are manufactured within a 30 minute drive of their Beachwood, OH headquarters. Other components, primarily off-the-shelf units including motors and power supplies, are sourced through MakerGear’s China supply chain.
While much has changed since that initial investment in a vintage lathe in 2009, MakerGear continues to embody Rick Pollack’s vision as a company that never lets anything stand in its way of creating machines that set the precedent for precision and durability. A company built on thoughtfully responding to the changing needs of its customers, MakerGear continues to push the boundaries of innovation and craft rock-solid machines. Amidst the numerous advances and seismic shifts that have occurred in desktop 3D printing, MakerGear printers remain as ready-to-run and built-to-last as ever.
Rick Pollack is a serial entrepreneur. Trained in computer science, and with over twenty years experience in software development, Rick’s ventures include a CRM-software company, which was acquired in 2000; a gaming device company dedicated to connecting families at long distances; as well as a crowdsourcing venture, where he pioneered the use of open source technologies to spur innovation. He is founder and CEO of MakerGear, since 2009. He lives in Northeast Ohio with his wife, Karen, and two daughters.