CES dispatches: MakerBot popularizing 3D printing

At the Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday, I met with Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot.com, one of the pioneers in bringing 3D printing technology to consumers.

MakerBot recently released two new 3D printers, the Replicator 2 and the Replicator 2X. Pettis and I spoke at length about the state of the company and that of the 3D printing industry.

Pettis’ company has shipped some 15,000 Replicators since launching the first models at CES last year and has more on backorder. Its Thingverse site, where users can share designs of 3D objects that they can print out at home, now features some 36,000 designs, 6,000 of which were uploaded to the site by users within the last 90 days.  The Brooklyn-based company now employs 160 people and has moved into real offices, Pettis said.

More importantly, the company is attracting some pretty high-profile customers. Among the designs uploaded to Thinkverse is a model of a Ford V-6 engine block posted by the car company. Another apparently enthusiastic backer: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Pettis said that at CES, JPL representatives stopped by MakerBot’s booth to meet with him. They recently had to prototype a heat shield for one of their space craft and it cost them $5,000 just to make it. To make a second one, JPL bought a MakerBot, the organization’s representatives told Pettis.

“We’re going to save NASA a lot of money this year,” he said.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (250 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.