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October 3, 2013

CEO Bre Pettis on MakerBot and Windows 8.1

MakerBot is a great example of the “American story”. Founder and CEO Bre Pettis took MakerBot from garage concept to a $400M+ company in just about four years. This story is amazing, inspiring, and hard to fathom. I’ve been curious to find out more about how MakerBot achieved such success, how they approach product development, and how Windows 8.1 fits into the whole picture.

During my recent trip to Maker Faire 2013 in NYC I had the opportunity to visit the nearby MakerBot retail store and headquarters. During these visits I got to talk with CEO Bre Pettis and learn about MakerBot. We discussed MakerBot’s history, the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, the new MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, and how MakerBot has worked with Microsoft as a partner for native 3D printing support in Windows 8.1. You’ll find a summary of all this in the video included in the post below.

The MakerBot Story

MakerBot started out as a grass-roots “project” for a group of makers at NYC Resistor, a hardware workshop founded by Bre Pettis. The MakerBot 3D printer came out of necessity: this small club had just about every tool you could imagine, but couldn’t afford a $100,000+ 3D printer, so they built their own. In the video below Bre and I talk about how MakerBot got started, MakerBot’s current lineup of products, and Bre’s perspective on the 3D Printing experience in Windows 8.1:

Note: Since filming this interview I completed my GoPro HERO3 Manfrotto cage/adapter which you can find on Thingiverse here.

The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer

The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer is the latest 3D printer from MakerBot, and has been on the market for a year now. The MakerBot Replicator 2 is a fused-filament 3D printer, kind of like a computer controlled hot glue gun that can print plastic 3D objects that are both light-weight and strong. This printer has helped to bring 3D printing to a more wide audience, and has a large community of owners and enthusiasts who make things using the MakerBot Replicator 2 (including parts and upgrades for the MakerBot Replicator 2).

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MakerBot Replicator 2 printing 3D object (click/tap to enlarge)

I’ve been using a MakerBot Replicator 2 for a while now in my studio at work, and have found numerous uses for it. With Windows 8.1, printing to the MakerBot Replicator 2 is even more flexible and powerful. 3D printing alone is great, but MakerBot’s latest product release takes things “to the next level.”

The MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner

So it’s great to be able to print objects that you download or design in CAD software, but what if you could turn everyday things into your environment into 3D printable 3D models? MakerBot’s latest product is called the MakerBot Digitizer, and it allows you to do exactly that!

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Bre Pettis shows me the MakerBot Digitizer at a press event (click/tap to enlarge)

I’ll have to say I really want one of these! Ever since I got to see the MakerBot Digitizer in action at MakerBot’s Brooklyn headquarters, I’ve been thinking up projects that necessitate a 3D laser scanner. In about 12 minutes, you can place an object on the turntable, hit the “go” button, and end up with a water-tight 3D model that you can send to Thingiverse, your 3D printer, or both.


Left: MakerBot Digitizer scanning shell, Right: 3D Shell model from scan (click/tap to enlarge)

I’m thinking this would be a great device to scan parts that go into a CAD model assembly (small circuit boards and related parts) for electronics projects. That’s just one thing I’ve been thinking about. This is an exciting time for makers!

3D Printing in Windows 8.1

During my discussion with Bre he said a couple things that I wanted to point out and expand on a bit here.

“The support for 3D printing in Windows 8.1 is very deep and very powerful”

In Windows 8.1, 3D printing is supported comprehensively, much in the same way that 2D printing is supported, but with some differences based on how 3D models differ from 2D documents.

In short Microsoft did the following to support 3D Printing in Windows 8.1:

  • Developed a new and more powerful 3D manufacturing file and data format (3MF, which you can read more about HERE and HERE).
  • Extended the 2D print pipeline to support 3D printing.
  • Implemented printer driver support and an application programming interface (API) for 3D printing aware apps (including app samples and a sample driver).
  • Close collaboration with partners in industry (including MakerBot).

Instead of talking in-depth about all of these “under the hood” specifics, Bre got straight to the point by saying:

“If we’ve done our job right, you’re not going to notice it at all, it’s just going to be easy”

I think that’s about the best summary I can think of. If printing a “thing” from apps on Windows 8.1 to your MakerBot is like printing a spreadsheet from Excel, this partnership has succeeded. I hope you’ll try 3D printing in Windows 8.1 when you get a chance, it really is that easy!

Now, if I could just get my hands on a MakerBot Digitizer…

Find me on Twitter HERE.