When Bre Pettis, the co-founder of MakerBot, began his company in 2009, the mission was clear: make 3D printing accessible. Five years later, the company has sold tens of thousands of printers and joined forces with the industry stalwart Stratasys. Now that these creation machines are (relatively) financially feasible, how are we going to use them?
Pettis thinks that is an important question. So important in fact, that he has stepped down as CEO of MakerBot to lead a new Stratasys division called Bold Machines, which officially launches today. Where MakerBot aimed to answer the question "how much," Bold Machines will explore the frontiers of "what's next."
Bold Machines is a workshop, incubator, and gallery for designers, artists, startups and companies to come test out ideas and see what new ones they can dream up. Currently, the mid-sized workspace is filled with near a dozen MakerBot Z18s and Replicator 2s but will soon join other printers from Stratasys and its subsidiary, SolidScape.
The reason for so much hardware is a matter of choice. Incubatees will be able to build at a variety of sizes, volumes, colors, and materials, making Bold Machines basically a 3D printing playground. This isn't a space for teaching CAD 101. Most participants will be affluent in the required modeling technology but maybe want to learn more and bring change to their respective fields.
We visited MakerBot's old office near Downtown Brooklyn now outfitted for its new creative venture. The outside is marked with only a one-foot-wide white sign labeled "Bold Machines." The building has a history for creation being a blacksmith shop in the 1800s, Pettis says, but instead of hot steel and billows there's filament and extruders. The space itself is a work-in-progress with the paint literally still drying on the walls. Led into a small workshop area lined with a dozen or so printers, Pettis settles in to talk about his new project.
"People talk about innovation a lot—innovation this and innovation that," Pettis says, a legion of z18s whine behind him working on their individual projects. "Innovation is really about creating things that don't exist about trying things and pushing the edges and seeing what happens. Combining things, mixing them up, and seeing what explodes."
Many times throughout our 30-minute talk, Pettis reiterated that Bold Machines' 4-person team wasn't exactly sure what was going to come from all of this, but that's pretty much the point. The team has reached out to previous partners but Pettis admits it's the new people and new ideas that he's most excited for.
Leading by example, Pettis, general manager Robert Steiner, and artist Jose Alves da Silva teamed up to create the Bold Machines' first project: an animated story driven by 3D printing titled Margo. Pettis describes the project as a film even though it's never actually been filmed. Using 3D printers, Margo adopts the "market first, create later" approach that worked so well for series like Transformers or G.I. Joe.
The idea is to create designs and characters and post weekly additions to the 3D-printing website Thingiverse. Each weekly post will come with additional character and plot details in hopes of cultivating a fan base. It's this kind of unconventional thinking, by tying together storytelling and 3D printing, that Pettis and Stratasys want to explore with all kinds of industries.
Aside from its hands-on means for existence, Bold Machines will also double as a gallery for artists and designers to display 3D-printed works. "We've got a call for submissions that we'll launch in the next couple of weeks," Pettis says. "It's a real mix of innovation space, collaborative workshop, and a showcase of what's next."
Pettis' goal is still to put a 3D printer in every household, but these machines have a long way to go before they transform from niche gizmos into common household appliances. 3D printing has long been described as the next manufacturing revolution by changing the way we think about making things, and Bold Machines wants to make sure that's not a false promise.
Top image by Bold Machines