In the world of engineering, if you haven't heard about 3D printing, you’ve been living under a rock; however, utilizing the prototyping tool is a different story. 3D printing technology, or additive manufacturing, has been around for some time now (FDM dates back to the early 90s), but it has only recently begun to reach the masses outside of engineering. Much of that exposure, and the growing impact of 3D printing in the mainstream, can be credited to makers, or physical hackers, and the MakerBot.
As the market gap between hobbyist makers and professional engineers continues to close, desktop 3D printing is emerging as the next golden nugget in prototyping and small-scale manufacturing. MakerBot has been at the cusp of this revolution, as CEO, Bre Pettis (pictured) explains, “when we started, we wanted a 3D printer, but at the time they were way too expensive [for the] average person, so we had to make one. When it worked, we started a company so everybody could have one.”
Open-Source to Money Maker
The original MakerBot was designed as an open-source 3D printer for makers to create their most imaginative creations. As the company, and 3D printing, grew in popularity, Bre Pettis adjusted their business plan. “We moved away from our purist point-of-view, and now we are just mostly open-source,” explains Pettis. Making money and open-source don’t typically go hand-in-hand, but MakerBot has stayed true to their sharing mentality. “We’re committed to sharing, and that sharing makes a better world. We share as much as we can, while still being able to have a business, so we can keep going.”
Sharing comes in with MakerBot’s strong community, MakerWare platform, and Thingiverse. The MakerWare platform is a virtually universal CAD platform. Nothing complicated, but it certainly opens the world of design up to amateurs and allows for easy printing of CAD designs. Thingiverse is a contribution driven portion of the MakerBot website that allows for free sharing of ideas, designs, CAD layouts, and concepts. Everything from the next Kickstarter iPhone case to the latest in plastic jewelry design can be found and downloaded on Thingiverse.
A powerful idea that resonates throughout the MakerBot culture is the concept of democratizing innovation. Pettis explains, “The idea is, basically: Up until when we showed up, if you wanted to manufacture things, you had to do it in the traditional way, which meant you had to interact with a factory, and in order to do that, you have to hit half-scale.” Half-scale prototyping is expensive, and interacting this way is, often, only achievable for companies or individuals with lots of capitol. “So a MakerBot can change all of that because you can manufacture things. You hold the power of manufacturing in your hands. You can have an idea, see if it works, and even go into production.”