The edge of technology is when it enables you to do something that you couldn’t do before. It’s one thing to put your imagination down onto a piece of paper, or into a computer program, but what if you could hold it in your hands? This is the vision of 3D printing. Digital designs can be turned into real objects using various kinds of plastic. This technology is not new, but bringing the machine home with you is — the people behind MakerBot started the company with a goal of making 3D printing more accessible.

Along with an affordable 3D printing solution has come a community of makers. They’re able to share designs, so if you see a picture of something you like, there’s a chance you can just make it yourself — by printing it out. For industrial designers, this can speed up prototyping, but for everyone, it’s a tangible expression of the imagination — which should, in turn, bring about more innovation.

MakerBot considers itself to be part of the next industrial revolution. It enables everyone from hobbyists to doctors to professional industrial designers to turn virtual designs into tangible products with MakerBot’s line of 3D printers. Founder Bre Pettis tells us more about the capabilities of his products and the MakerBot community.

Q&A with Bre Pettis, Founder of MakerBot

What first inspired MakerBot?

At Makerbot we’re out to change the world, to fuel the next industrial revolution. The company started because we wanted a 3D printer, but they were too expensive and we couldn’t afford one, so we played around with one as a hobby for a few years. When it almost worked, we quit our jobs and started MakerBot. Our first printer was a hobbyist printer, and we just launched the Replicator 2, which is a desktop 3D printer that is targeted at professionals who want a 3D printer on their desk or at home. It’s also great for amateurs and entrepreneurs, and we’ve got a third layer, which is parents and educators.

How is MakerBot making 3D printing approachable?

With professionals, we’ve got industrial designers, engineers and architects, and they use it to make prototyping go a lot faster. Before MakerBot, when you wanted to have something prototyped you either had to be at an elitist institution, or it took a lot of time — maybe up to a month. When you have a MakerBot on your desk, it can take just minutes or hours, and instead of doing one iteration in a month, you can do multiple iterations in a day. It totally changes the acceleration of innovation, in a good way.

Then we’ve got entrepreneurs — so many times on Kickstarter, there’s between five and 10 things using MakerBot to show the prototype. They’ll do low number runs, less than 1,000, or just be using it to show the what the final product looks like.

Then there’s folks in the medical world — doctors who are using it to take a CAT scan can literally print out what a tumor looks like before they do surgery, so they can hold it in their hands — it’s exciting, and there’s a lot of interesting work being done in the prosthetics world. People are using 3D printing and MakerBot to create prosthetics to replace things that used to cost $1,000, they can now cost just a few dollars. It might not last as long because it’s plastic instead of metal, but you can make a new one on demand whenever you want. If you grow and want to adjust it, it’s that much easier. We’re at the beginning of this really special time where people have access to the technology, so for us, it’s our mission to empower creative people everywhere and we’re giving them this superpower to make the things that they need.




November 20, 2012