Bre Pettis is one of the folks behind MakerBot Industries, a company that specializes in “robots that make things”. Specifically, the eponymous MakerBot, an open-source 3-D printer that can manufacture nearly anything smaller than 4”x4”x6”. Neal Gorenflo recently blogged about 3-D printers, small personal factories that manufacture one-off items for individuals or small groups. While many members of the Shareable community expressed excitement about the potential applications of the technology, some voiced concerns about its sustainability. Do factories-for-the-home offset or instead contribute to the environmental effects of industrial mass-production? To gain insight on these questions, Shareable conducted an email interview with Bre Pettis.
Shareable: What are applications for 3-D printing that can help communities become more self-sufficient?
Bre Pettis: I think that things like the dremelfuge, which makes it super cheap to have a dremel, will be helpful. Also, for replacement parts.
[Editor’s note: Pettis provided the following links to examples on thingiverse, an online resource for 3-D printer designs:]
Shareable: How can the technology be leveraged by entire groups or communities?
Pettis: Lots of groups buy MakerBots. Schools get them, hacker spaces get them, and then sometimes groups of friends will get them to share it. It's fun to make things with friends!
Shareable: There's the question of sustainability–some members of the Shareable community expressed concerns about the environmental impact of 3-D printing. How would you respond to such environmental concerns?
Pettis: The plastic is recyclable and then you have to weigh the carbon footprint of an object that's been shipped around the world vs an object that you can download and print out without any travel costs beyond the machine. Obviously, if you can do without something, that's the best way to live, but sometimes you need something and I think a MakerBot is the best way to get something that is perfect for you because you designed it or downloaded it and you can modify it and make it suit you.
Shareable: Where do you see the industry going in the next five years? Will it go mass market in that period of time or will that take longer?
Pettis: I think we'll see more people using MakerBots to become a small localized manufacturing facility. Also, I think we'll see a blossoming of creativity in the 3D space.
Shareable: Does 3-D printing have the potential to replace industrial production in a significant and scalable way?
Pettis: Yes. I like to say that "no MakerBot Operator will ever have to buy a bottle opener again." There are 4000 things on Thingiverse.com now and every day, the library of downloadable things grows.