Shapeways interviews Bre Pettis (on the right), the Maker in Chief over at Makerbot Industries. Makerbot Industries makes an affordable desktop 3D printer and we and a lot of other people are very excited about them and their Cupcake CNC. We asked Bre about the future of Makerbot Industries and desktop 3D printing.

Joris Peels: What’s a Makerbot?

Bre Pettis: A MakerBot is an affordable, open source 3D printer.

Joris Peels: And a Cupcake is a Makerbot?

Bre Pettis: Yes, the Cupcake is our flagship personal fabrication device! It makes things that are a little bigger than a cupcake!

Joris Peels: Who is the team behind Makerbot Industries?

Bre Pettis: Adam (Adam Mayer) has his head in the software, Zach has his hands on production, I’m making waves and we all start prototyping at 6pm when we stop answering emails, packing boxes and taking care of business.

What was the first thing you 3D printed?

A shot glass. Promptly filled with a deadly Scandinavian concoction. 

Your favorite thing so far?

Everyday I wake up and check out what’s new on Thingiverse and I’m never let down. Lately there has been a trend to make tools to do other things with a MakerBot like the MicroLathe. When folks are using the tools we design to make other tools to make other things it gets me excited. We make things that make things that people use to make things that make other things that make things. Try saying that 3 times fast.
Who came up with the idea for Makerbot Industries?

Zach (Smith aka Hoeken) had been obsessed with 3D printing for a while and infected us with the personal manufacturing bug. Making things that make things is fun so it’s contagious.
How long did it take you guys to get the company going, to get the first bots out the door?

We started on Jan 17. Had the prototype done by Mar 17, and then had the first batch of MakerBots out the door on April 17th. There wasn’t a lot of sleep in those months. We actually ate 2 cases of ramen in those months so we wouldn’t have to go out and eat. That was a bad idea. Don’t do that, it’s not healthy.
What are the differences between a Cupcake and a RepRap (Open source 3D printer project)?

The main difference between a MakerBot Cupcake CNC and a Reprap is how much time it takes to make one. The Reprap project is an academic research project and it can take a few months to gather the materials and then put a reprap together and then a lot of experimentation to get it to print. The MakerBot CupCake CNC is a kit and can be printing things out after a weekend of assembly with a friend.

Are you really going to try to tackle 3D scanning too?

Yes. Having a MakerBot 3D printer and MakerBot scanner is the washer/dryer combo of replication. Who doesn’t want to print out portrait sculptures of their family and friends?
And what new materials will you introduce?

We just launched PLA, PolyLactic Acid, and it’s flying off the shelves. It’s clear and it’s made from corn. It smells a bit like butter when you print with it. We’re finishing up prototypes of the frostruder which is a syringe based extruder that can print with frosting and anything squishable like UV curable silicon. And clay! We’re in the market for a kiln so we can fire our own MakerBotted tea set.
What is a typical Makerbot customer like?

A lot of our customers are time traveling antique hunters which brings up all sorts of shipping problems. Most people think that all MakerBot customers are seriously geeky, but the truth is that even though lots of designers and architects and engineers buy them, most of our customers are just clever people who are sick of waiting on other people for their jetpack.
Will everyone have a desktop 3D printer? If so when?

When the Altair came out, people criticized it and said there wasn’t a need for more than 10 computers in the world. We’re in that same kind of place with personal manufacturing that personal computing was back then. MakerBots will be an absolutely totally common thing to see on a desktop within 10 years.

Why is Thingiverse important?

We built Thingiverse because we needed a place to share our designs so we wouldn’t lose them and so our friends could make what we had made and then modify those designs and make them better. The community is amazing and supportive, and it’s also a lot of fun. There is no other place that you can share a design for a physical thing and people around the world will make their own copies within minutes (NB: mmm we might need to do some more work in promoting our 3D parts database). It’s that kind of sharing magic that makes Thingiverse the closest thing to teleportation that we’ve got in this solar system.
What are the mayor challenges for you guys?

It can be hard to find time to eat and sleep. There is way too much stuff to do in this world right now. If you’re bored in this day and age, you’re doing it wrong. Turn off the TV, pick a ambition and start spending your free time working on it. Besides 3d printing, there are all sorts of open source collaborative hardware projects to work on.

A while back you had an experiment in crowd sourced manufacturing with having people produce parts for Makerbots for you. How did that work out? Will you be doing this more often?

We were the first company to ever do crowd sourced manufacturing and it worked out great. It was so cool to have MakerBots in the wild making parts for unbuilt MakerBots. We’ve got some ideas to do this again that we’re going to announce later this year.
How important is your community to you? What do they do for the company?

The MakerBot community is awesome. Because we’re open source and the community is so smart, we’ve seen a lot of participation in the research and development sector. For example, MakerBot Operator Tim Myrtle ripped the guts out of our temperature control code and replaced that section of code with some serious PID math which made the temperature of the nozzle much more stable. Because we’re open source, our users know that the code and designs are theirs to hack on. They also know that if they improve their machine, they can share their improvement and everyone in the community benefits.

Can I download a Makerbot and print it out using Shapeways?

Go for it! There was talk a while back on the MakerBot Operator google group to replace all the lasercut parts with printable parts. Progress is being made and already there is a printable extruder!

Are Makerbots going to be able to self replicate?

One step at a time. Self replication is cool, but our first step is actually to get the machine so that it can be an autonomous manufacturing factory. I want to be able to go to sleep and wake up to a pile of MakerBotted things next to my MakerBot!
Why did you guys start Makerbot Industries?

We felt compelled. We decided to live the dream. We followed our hearts.

Shouldn’t you guys be making the next YouTube or
something (Bre used to work for Rocketboom, Etsy & MakeZine as their video producer)?
Why 3D printing?

We love the internet, but web apps are very
Personal Manufacturing the new black. We see the future and it’s
full of flying cars, replicators, and moon colonies. You can watch
videos of the MakerBot Operators popping our collars from the moon
colony on youtube when we get there.

You used to be a teacher, is that still kind of your job? To ‘teach’ 3D printing?

My mission in life is to be able to develop infrastructure that lets humans be creative. I feel that very tangibly inside my self. When I taught school that’s what I did. When I made tutorial videos that’s what I did. Adam, Zach and I are taking creative infrastructure to a new level by putting the tools of manufacturing into the hands of creative people. Everyday, even the long days packing boxes, we get excited about empowering people around to world create amazing things with our machines.