It would be easy to mistake MakerBot, which manufactures desktop 3-D printers, for just another Brooklyn artisanal business: Based in a onetime brewery space in Boerum Hill, it is green (the bioplastic its Replicator 2 uses to “print” is compostable), whimsical (outputting little toy helicopters and dollhouse furniture), and the ultimate in DIY, enabling you and I, for around $2,200, to own a black 19-by-13-by-15-inch steel box that can materialize three-dimensional objects of our own imagining.
But with 165 employees and new offices in Downtown Brooklyn, MakerBot has grander ambitions. “Our overall goal is to fuel the next industrial revolution,” says CEO Bre Pettis, 40. He isn’t alone in his utopianism: MakerBot has raised $10 million in venture capital, including from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Wired editor Chris Anderson recently quit his job to get in on the action, saying he expects 3-D printing to be “bigger than the web.”
Pettis is sitting above the factory floor in an office where a purring Replicator 2 prints ornaments for his Christmas tree, and the usual desktop family photos get a futuristic riff as small, three-dimensional models of his young daughter’s head. “That’s what the grandparents are getting,” says Pettis. “When you have a MakerBot, you’ve solved the holidays.”
The Replicator 2 is MakerBot’s foray into the “prosumer” market. nasa, a big customer, owns several of the devices, but what really excites Pettis are less-likely users. A surgeon has used it to model brain tumors, a prosthetics designer to prototype new body parts, and a Broadway set designer to mock up furniture. “Once you make the jump, it changes you forever. We’re putting factories on your desktop. You only need a minimum order of one.”