3D Printing Puts the Means of Production in Your Hands

How MakerBot provides functionality for individual consumers.

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Bre Pettis, founder and CEO of MakerBot, sums up the company’s mission as “creating tools for creative explorers to change the world.” The Brooklyn-based 3D printer manufacturer, founded in 2009, has quickly made a name for itself in five short years. Along with drumming up press coverage in high-profile publications such as Fast Company, it was also recently acquired by industry peer Stratasys for $400 million.

So, what exactly does MakerBot bring to the table? 3D printing capabilities have been around in some form for years with, e.g., laser cutters. What Pettis saw was a real need for a machine that not only produced physical objects from strands of melted plastic filament, but also provided a functionality that’s attainable for individual consumers – a major challenge as 3D printers have largely been the size of refrigerators and used for commercial purposes only.

Pettis took this obstacle in stride. A self-described “tinkerer,” he developed a passion for technology and problem solving at a young age. In a PJA Radio interview, Pettis says, “Because I was around programmers and hackers who were my heroes as a kid, when I was playing Wizardry, I learned [how to change the game]. I feel like I got a real leg up by having access to that technology. It’s a similar thing with the kids of today who grow up with MakerBots – [they] are just going to be able to manifest ideas that other kids won’t be able to.” Armed with an unconventional approach, Pettis, alongside some of the brightest engineers in the space, set about to bring to market a unique printer that prioritizes affordability and accessibility. Able to fit on a standard office desk and with a price point beginning at roughly $1400, MakerBot’s “Replicator” was a hit among engineers, researchers and designers. With over 13,000 MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers sold through to date, the company’s market share has steadily grown since 2009, from 16% to 21.6%.

Despite how both the company and the nascent 3D printing industry have evolved in the last few years, MakerBot continues to emphasize the community-driven approach it was founded on. In 2008, even before debuting their first Replicator prototype, Pettis and colleague Zach Hoeken launched Thingiverse.com, a hub specifically created to crowd source and share digital designs for hardware and software. In doing so, MakerBot preserves and celebrates openness of the industry, allowing entry to all innovative minds.

The cloud site now houses nearly 100,000 designs, ranging from simple toys and models to truly game-changing technology. In fact, MakerBot’s technology earlier this year enabled a South African man who lost several fingers in an accident to co-develop a 3-D printed prosthesis with a prop designer in Bellingham, Washington. News of the project spread and resulted in the pair developing a prosthesis for children with amniotic band syndrome (a condition in which they are born without hands) – at a fraction of the typical $10,000 price tag. Pettis points to this as what he predicts will be many real-world, transformative applications for 3D printing. “Literally, by owning the means of production, you are making some impossible things possible.”

Visit PJA Radio’s “The Unconventionals” to learn more about how Bre Pettis is innovating the 3D printing industry.

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