MakerBot API edges 3D printing closer to the mainstream

9 Jan 2013

3D printing firm wants more people to get creative with their designs, and share them with others

MakerBot has unveiled an API to make 3D printing easier, and added a new 3D printer to its lineup.

MakerBot makes "prosumer" 3D printers - its Replicators, as they're called, are small enough to sit on a desk, but still cost $2,200.

At CES 2013 today, CEO Bre Pettis unveiled a new API for MakerBot's Thingiverse website that allows digital objects to be uploaded for others to configure.

"It's going to give people the ability to make things that are customisable by other people," he told PC Pro. "We built a platform so that people could change digital designs... now people can make things that other people could customise."

For example, MakerBot has released a customisable iPhone case app via the system. That means anyone with a Replicator can use the app to create their own case, customising it however they choose without having to go through the work of drawing out the base case.

Thingiverse

That gives competition to 3D printers like Sculpteo, which essentially sells that ability as a service, letting users customise their own bespoke case to be printed for $25.

In raw material costs, making one with your own MakerBot printer would cost pennies - but that doesn't count the initial investment in the device, which remains high.

Other designs already uploaded to MakerBot's Thingiverse include plastic rings, signs and snowflake ornaments.

"There's a huge blossoming... of things you can make just by using sliders or making choices," Pettis said, adding it was an easy first step into manufacturing that would let people feel "the rush when you design something".

"It's like going to digital design school on the first day," he said of the configurable API system. "It's what gets you started."

Replicator upgrades

The company also announced another version of its 3D printer. The previous version used a plastic called PLA; the new MakerBot Replicator 2X works with ABS, which allows two colours to be used in the printing process.

"The thing that's exciting is dual extrusion," he said. "We launched this experimentally with the original Replicator, but now we've optimised this so we can continue to explore this frontier."

Asked about the future of 3D printers, Pettis said he expected them to become mainstream here on earth, and enthusiastically said that in time "we'll be building the moon base with them".

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