MakerBot Industries Prints a New Dimension in Product Creation at CES

Three-year old MakerBot Industries in Brooklyn unveiled its new Replicator 3D printers at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, demonstrating how its technology can be used to create most anything users want to design—within a certain size, that is.

A wide range of objects can be produced through 3D printing, which uses thermoplastic material to fabricate products from the ground up. “We make machines that make things,” says Bre Pettis, CEO and co-founder of MakerBot.

The company sells its software and 3D printers to consumers who want to make their own objects such as spaceships, business card holders, and kittens. Pettis says MakerBot raised $75,000 in a seed round in 2009 shortly after the company was founded. A $1 million angel round followed in 2010, and last August the company raised $10 million in a Series B round that included Foundry Group, RRE, Bezos Expeditions, True Ventures, and angel investors. “That’s letting us hire the people we need,” Pettis says.

MakerBot wants to add some 30 new employees to its ranks in the next month, he says. The company currently has a staff of 75, and it occupies some 5,000 square feet for production and assembly and another 5,000 square feet for offices and workshops. Pettis says the company is looking for more space as it grows. “We’re on the hunt,” he says. “Whenever anything comes up for rent on our block, we rent it.”

MakerBot’s printers offer a novel way of letting people produce items they want—and Pettis says the process is getting easier. He says the company’s newest printer, the Replicator, lets users create larger objects up to the size of a loaf of bread. “Up until now it’s been things like the size of an apple,” Pettis says. MakerBot’s Replicator can also print objects with two different colors compared with the earlier monochromatic printers.

Prior to Replicator, Pettis says his company’s printers required some sweat equity by users to assemble. “You got a kit and had to put it together bolt-by-bolt,” he says. “It was like more than 1,000 pieces.” The Replicator printer, Pettis says, assembles much faster.

The company’s website lets users share their 3D product designs with each other. Pettis says MakerBot printers give customers the opportunity to fabricate items that may not be available through stores or other sources. “When you want things instead of shopping for them, you check online to see if someone has made them before,” he says.

The 3D printing industry is brimming with players that include New York’s Quirky, which creates consumer products selected from ideas posted on its website, and Shapeways, which plans to open a production facility in February in New York. In addition to its New York headquarters, Shapeways has offices in Seattle as well as Eindhoven in The Netherlands.

Pettis says a focus for his company in 2012 will be a push into the education market with pilot programs that bring MakerBot printers to schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We’ll branch out to other cities,” he says. “My goal is to get one MakerBot per child.”

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