|Credit: Louis Seigal|
NEW YORK — MakerBot, a global leader in the desktop 3D printing industry, can now create more replicators after moving to a new factory in Brooklyn that has 10 times more space.
"What do you do if you could make anything? You make something that can make anything," MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis said.
A 3D printer lays down thin layers of material much like regular printers, except it deposits layers on top of layers to create 3D objects. Increasingly, they are being used to make items out of plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, and even sugar, chocolate, mashed potatoes and living cells.
With 3D printing, prototypes of machines become much easier and cheaper to produce.
"Instead of taking months to prototype a thing, you can make several prototypes in a day," Pettis said.
By enabling researchers to make more prototypes faster than ever before, manufacturing pitfalls can be caught earlier and the time it takes to create a finished product is reduced, Pettis said.
"We think we're at the start of the next Industrial Revolution," he told TechNewsDaily. "We're leading the charge for people to innovate."
MakerBot's series of Replicator 3D printers are each comprised of three main components: an extruder, an XY gantry and a Z stage. The extruder is the printer's nozzle, and the XY gantry shuttles it back and forth and left and right so it can print a layer of molten plastic onto the Z stage. Once a layer of plastic hardens, the Z stage moves down so the extruder can lay down the next layer.
A strip of lights on the interior of the Replicators illuminates objects within as they are manufactured, giving the printing process a theatrical experience.
[Read also: 'How 3D Printing May Shape the Future of Food']
"It's sort of meditative, trancelike, to see it go," said James Guinpero, MakerBot's quality manager.
MakerBot's 3D printers can print moving parts, such as chain mail. In addition, printed items can get snapped together to create complex objects such as robotic hands.
Nearly 100,000 3D designs are downloadable for printing off MakerBot's Thingiverse site, so that owners who are not engineers can still tinker and experiment with the machines.
"The MakerBot factory is really a factory that makes small factories," Pettis said. "Every box we ship is a bundle of potential energy that can shift the world to be more creative."
The company's new factory has 55,000 square feet of space, compared with the 5,000 square feet it had before in Brooklyn. The building was an armory during World War II, Gunipero said.
MakerBot currently has 267 employees, more than 100 of whom are "productors" who assemble its machines.
"The whole process to put together a machine from scratch to finish takes about 45 minutes," Steven McGriff, production foreman, said. Productors in the factory made Replicators by hand using hammers, screwdrivers and power drills as they wore T-shirts proclaiming "I Can Make Anything."
MakerBot considered opening its factory in Asia, but the company decided to stay in Brooklyn to help save time and money, Pettis said. The design of the 3D printers is advancing rapidly, and moving the factory to the other side of the world would slow that pace down; moreover, the cost of labor and shipping is going up.
"On top of that, Brooklyn is just the best place in the world," Pettis said. "When we send our machines out in the world, we say they're made with Brooklyn pride."
And a little bit of that Brooklyn pride showed through in the pair of scissors used to cut the ribbon at the ceremony marking the official opening of MakerBot's new factory on June 7: The black plastic handles were printed by MakerBot's machines.