The 3D printing industry

by Mark Bailey

MakerBot CEO and co-founder Bre Pettis recently found some time and was kind enough to have a few words regarding a couple of topics about the 3D printing industry. Back in January of 2009, Bre Pettis along with co-founders Adam Mayer and Zach Smith founded MakerBot Industries.

The company has really taken off since then and this led to the acquisition for more than $403 million in stock by Stratasys Inc. At the moment, they are the number one “at-home” manufacturer for 3D printers, and their latest model of printers called the 5th generation Replicators are the company’s benchmark for fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers.

Thingiverse is also operated and owned by MakerBot and on the Internet it is the biggest free depository of 3D printable designs. Moreover, they recently launched their MakerBot Digital Store, which sells printable collections’ designs, varying from desktop planters to toys.

Back in January of 2014, when the Makerbot Digital Store launched a couple of media companies asked the question of “For digital designs is this iTunes?” Thus far just MakerBot releases designs to the digital store, therefore the comparisons to an “iTunes for digital designs” isn’t very accurate. On the other hand, Thingiverse enables designers to upload their 3D files, but they don’t have the permission to charge a fee for downloads.

There have been a lot of 3D printers recently hitting Kickstarter. There are printers which cost as low as $99.00. Recently, the most significant one has been the $299 M3D Micro 3D Printer that has earned more than $3 million. It utilizes the same printing technology that the MakerBot Replicator line does (fused deposition modeling). However in comparison to the 5th generation MakerBot Replicator Mini, which has a similar size, it is priced at $1,000 less.

Back in June of 2013 MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys Inc. and many people started to wonder if that would have effect on the company. However, in reality there aren’t many changes. Bre Pettis is still the CEO of the MakerBot subsidiary, and has decent amount of control regarding the everyday decisions.

I questioned Pettis about the patents which the parent company has in its name and whether they plan to benefit from some of the patents. He told me that there’s a good chance that they might make use of the patents. However, he wasn’t quite sure about which of those patents they might be using. He clarified that MakerBot doesn’t search and find patents that they can legitimately use, just because they have the ability to do it. Instead, they come up with new innovations and new ideas and after that based on current patent laws and holdings, they decide whether those ideas can be done or not.

The question I love to ask all industry leaders is that how quickly should we expect the 3D printers’ quality to improve. I asked Bre Pettis if he thinks that we can soon see in homes 3D printers that have the same quality of professional 3D printers. He replied that we have already seen that with the launch of the latest model of MakerBot.

When asked, I’m pretty sure that this question makes the CEOs of the major 3D printing companies cringe. Even if their companies are the market leaders, there is always something that makes them worry. When I asked the question to Pettis he replied that MakerBot is an innovation company which is manufacturing 3D printing for 5 years and currently they are part of bigger company called Stratasys Inc. which have been doing exactly the same for over 25 years. In both companies, there is plenty of deep knowledge and expertise. Their goal is to empower people and allow them to be super innovative by developing the right tools.

Before meeting Pettis, I had utter respect for his enthusiasm and drive in what he has achieved with MakerBot. After having a chat with him, I now understand what his goal is, and honestly expect MakerBot to remain at the top-tier of 3D printer companies for a long time. MakerBot is an innovation 3D printing company. When it comes to building easy-to-use 3D printers, not only do they innovate but they also enable their customers to innovate while using their 3D printers in order to print out anything their imagination thinks of.

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