An Interview With Bre Pettis, Founder Of MakerBot Industries

For those of you that don’t know, the Makerbot is a 3D printer created by Bre Pettis. It is probably the best-known 3D printer that you can buy at a price point meant for the hobbyist. Although this article doesn’t go into how the MakerBot is made, it focuses instead about the business itself and the man behind it. Bre was a hobbyist maker just like many of our readers, but decided to turn his passion into a successful business.

Although not all businesses are a success, Bre has made quite a start at becoming one. His company now employs 50 people and is currently hiring (like this posting for a “Web Warrior”) and has just secured $10 million in venture capital funding! Check out the full interview for all the details. It may inspire others to go from “hobby maker” to “professional.”

For other 3D printing-related posts, check out this one about the RepRap printer which is capable of replicating itself. For other ways to make your own parts, this rotomold machine may be of interest or this semi-DIY CNC router.

16 thoughts on “An Interview With Bre Pettis, Founder Of MakerBot Industries

  1. 3D printing represent!
    Proud owner of a Cupcake, Prusa-Mendel, RepStrap of my design, and a Thing-O-Matic (my very own farm!) here. Bre is an amazing guy, I had the pleasure of meeting him at MakerFaire NY.
    I’ve had ups and downs with all my printers, but I must say, the ToM is my favorite, if only for reliability.

    1. How would you compare your ToM to your Cupcake? I have one of the last Cupcakes made. I’ve had a few issues with it.

      I had to build a MOSFET board to drive the DC motor since it kept tripping out the motor controller. Once I did that, the DC motor problem went away. I’ve just recently replaced my MK5 heated end with the MK6. The safety cutoff switch isn’t designed to work with Gen 3, but I’ve found a way to work around it. I’ve also replaced the HBP foil with an 1/8″ thick aluminum plate so I could countersink the screw heads to expand the print area. (Basically, countersinking gets rid of the problem of the extruder head running into the bolt heads for the HBP).

      All that said, I love my Cupcake….mainly because I’ve been able to hack around these problems. I’ve had that thinking pumping out plastic left and right. Sword of omens, repairs to my screens on my windows, building the z-axis rider to get rid of the 4 rods, models of industrial equipment I’ve designed, etc.

      Beyond switching to a stepper motor for the extruder, is there that much of a difference between them? I know the microstepping can help, but I’d rather just do that to the electronics on the Cupcake myself than step up to the ToM.

      1. Haha, you described two things the ToM did as improvements to the Cupcake. Good on you hacking those together. I built my cupcake from scraps, so it’s not “official” or anything, but it prints just as well (albeit slower and smaller) as a stock ToM after I replaced the entire XY system with the “lowrider” system by thingiverse user twotimes. At some point I stopped upgrading the cupcake and reprap and bought a ToM, because the cupcake was too slow and the reprap was down to a 60/40 duty cycle, and was being painful to fix.
        My next printer is going to be a large custom repstrap again, that was ultimately the most fun, building from scraps and junk.

      2. Having used one of the mid-production cupcakes and having just assembled a new thingomatic (#5634!), a few comments:

        1) The build process is still a bit rough. They need to polish their documentation more. The thingomatic is easier than I remember the cupcake being though.

        2) In general, this one just appears to be about 1000X more reliable. The mechanical endstops to let it auto-home are really convenient, and I barely had to calibrate anything to get near-perfect prints. The mk7 stepper also heats up in like 3 minutes, which is great. After printing a test-cube, I just printed an ipod touch dock without any issues!

        The only people calling these over-priced are people who 1) don’t want to own a 3D printer, or 2) who don’t know how much commercial machines from places like stratasys cost.

    1. I’m not sure why you say that… Some of these printers produce prints of equal or better quality to $20,000 commercial 3D printers.

      Compare this professional print:

      to this print done on an Ultimaker, which is a diy printer like the maker bot, but a little more expensive and with a much larger build volume and better quality:

      But seriously, these DIY 3D printers are 1/10th the cost of commercial models and in many cases can match their print quality, so I seriously don’t understand what’s overpriced about them.

      Unless you’re just upset because you don’t have any money. But unfortunately they have to cost *something*.


    2. No they are not.

      Yes, they cost 1500$ or something. And you can build a RepRap for 400$. However, there is a difference.

      I got an Ultimaker, which I build and I got the first print in 8 hours.
      Build time of a RepRap, I’ve seen as much as 31 days before the first print. And require a lot more tweaking for quality prints. I printed this after only a few uses on my Ultimaker. Without ever having seen or used a 3D printer before.

      You pay for spending less time on the building and tweaking.

    3. If these printers are way over priced, then please tell us where we can either get a) better quality 3D printers for the same price or b) the same quality for less money.

      Please be sure to include any tradeoffs. For example, a ToM may be more expensive than a RepRap, but at least you don’t have to find someone to print the parts for you or source them from numerous vendors.

      I’d love to hear of a cheaper, better quality 3D printer that comes as a kit. I’m always on the look out for new suppliers.

      Please, enlighten us.

  2. I think the biggest problem with these 3D printers is the cost of the PLA/ABS filament. It’s something like $50/kg. If you compare this to a CNC mill you can get cheap materials like wood or scrap metal much cheaper. Of course a 3D printer is better than a CNC for 3D parts but theres nothing stopping you from just putting an extruder head on a CNC.

    1. I’ve sourced material for a little over $11/lb (including shipping). Yeah, if you want a special color, it can be expensive. However, if you shop around and buy in larger quantities, you can find it cheaper than $50/kg.

      Plus, remember that this stuff goes a long way unless you print nothing but completely solid objects.

  3. if you haven’t seen the ~$1k printers assembled and ready to print from china you haven’t been paying enough attention. no, they’re not strasys machines, but neither is anything that makerbot is turning out.

    bre has publicly stated +/- that he likes the open source community because he can sell under developed kits that someone else will do the dev work on which he can incorporate and sell as a new model. personally, i’m not entirely certain that’s not exploiting the community ethos.

    makerbots *can* produce decent quality prints, however once you add in the tuning time at a reasonable rate for an entry level cnc operator, you’re getting close to the no-name commercial grade knockoffs instead of a desktop hobbyist model.

    that said, if they’ve done wonderful things for the availability of extrusion based 3d printing,and gotten great exposure that the field would otherwise not have had.

    imho, if you can deal with an adruino, you can get more utility/cost effectiveness out of choosing the right microcontroller for the job (or (heresy) an analogue circuit) and if you can get a decent print out of a makerbot, you will get better prints, and have more fun with assembling a reprap.

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