MakerBot CEO Pettis talks up 3D printing

In the world of 3D printing, Bre Pettis is a superstar.

Pettis is the founder of MakerBot, one of the first 3D printers made for consumers. Since starting the company, he’s been something of a spokesman for the technology, appearing in numerous articles and magazine cover stories.

For the first time, MakerBot was one of the companies featured in the Press Day activities at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. The annual event, which comes on the eve of the official opening of the show, typically showcases announcements from some of the biggest consumer electronics companies — and from those looking to make a splash. MakerBot fell into the latter category, announcing three new printers, new apps for PCs and handheld devices, and a new store where consumers can purchase virtual models that they can print on their MakerBot devices.

As expected 3D printing was one of the big themes of CES this year. While the show had a special area for 3D printing companies last year, at this year’s conference, that area was three times larger and features some 27 companies, including MakerBot. Among the products on display were low-cost printers that came in kits that consumers could assemble themselves, and 3D scanners that could be used to incorporate a person’s face into a 3D printed sculpture of an action figure.

I ran into Pettis in the 3D printing area at the show and talked with him about the 3D printing market and how his company’s products compare with those of his rivals. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Q: Some of the printers available from your rivals are able to print in multiple colors. But you don’t think that feature is terribly important at this point?

A:Well, what we’ve found is that if you really want lots of color, you can paint it, or you can make it in multiple pieces and then put those pieces together.

Some of the designs available from MakerBot through its new online store. The models on top have been painted. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

We do have the MakerBot Replicator 2X, which is an experimental 3D printer. We’re going to continue to sell that as well as the three new machines, the MakerBot Replicator Mini, the MakerBot Replicator and the MakerBot Replicator Z18.

But the most exciting thing about the dual extruder machine (the 2X) is it can do multiple materials. That’s pretty cool.

Q: And you think that’s more important than being able to print in multiple colors. Why is that?

A: For us, it’s an experimental machine. It’s for people who like to experiment. It’s a frontier.

Q: I think 3D printing is a cool technology. I can see its importance for small businesses that are looking for an inexpensive way to prototype particular items. But what’s the killer app for consumers? Why should a consumer want a 3D printer?

A: You know, it really depends on your passion. I think that’s kind of like asking what’s the best song that will make you want to listen to music. It’s different for everyone. What’s your passion? What are you obsessed about? What do you like to do?

Q: Lately, running.

A: You like to run. So, there might be interesting ways of making clips so you can bring things when you run — maybe your water bottle, maybe your phone, whatever. Maybe it’s that you want to prototype new shoes. You can do that now.

So when you start exploring what you’re passionate about, then that’s when it gets really relevant. That’s when you find the killer app for you.

Q: What do you view as the potential market for 3D printers? Do you think that eventually everybody’s going to have a 3D printer?

A: Yes. We’ve got the small one, for consumers; the medium one, for prosumers; and then we’ve got the large one for industry and manufacturing, for people who want to think big.

Q: Although even the small one is $1,300, is that right?

A: $1,375.

Q: Which is still a pretty penny for a consumer to shell out.

A: About the cost of a laptop.

Q: Well, of some laptops.

A: A laptop you want to use.

Q: So you’re in this 3D printing section this year. You’ve got a nice number of firms that are here. Have you seen anything from your competitors that you think is particularly interesting?

A: You know, we spent the first couple of years — this is our fifth year — spent the first couple years being the first and only 3D printer company here. And now you can really see it’s blown up.

And I can say it was nice being the only one, but seeing all the different technologies here, just lets you know it’s really — we’re on to something.


Photo of Bre Pettis courtesy of MakerBot.


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