Tech entrepreneur Joseph Rueter’s latest preoccupation can be found “at the interaction between the digital and the physical,” he tells me.
Over the past 90 days, Rueter has acquired and assembled his first “Thing-O-Matic” from MakerBot Industries, a NY-based company backed, in part, by Foundry Group. The $1,299 commercial grade machine is capable of producing 3 dimensional “rapid prototypes” of various widgets, and is distinctly targeted at the DIY consumer audience.
The device takes orders from a standard a STL file (ie: Blender, Sketchup, and Art of Illusion) as fuses ABS (think LEGO) or PLA plastics on a 105mm x 120mm stage.
“I believe that we’ll look back in 20 years and 3D printers will be as ubiquitous as laser printers are today. We aren’t yet at the point that is equivalent to the first HP Laserjet in 1984, but I think we’ll see a comparable product from MakerBot within a year,” writes MakerBot investor Brad Feld.
Local company Stratasys, who sells their own models, has been consistently making big moves in the space, having launched HP’s first line of branded printers in Europe last year. Stratasys is subsequently expanding production capacity to accommodate demand as barriers to 3D printing fall, increasingly accessible to smaller firms and hobbyists like Rueter.
Similarly, custom plastic parts maker Proto Labs in Maple Plain is planning a ~$100m IPO sometime down the road. According to Wholers annual industry report, the 3D printing market grew 24% in 2010 and TheNextWeb has plenty of visual statistics to illustrate where this is all headed.
For students, Century College’s Digital Fabrication Laboratory is a “hi-tech tinkers’ workshop for inventors and people who have a need to design, prototype and build things,” and just last week, we saw doors open at the University of Minnesota’s first DigiFabFab.
“Nowadays, I wonder if this or that could be printed,” Rueter explains. “It’s changed the way I see the world and who I am as a strategist and designer. There is a magic that happens, a wonder, when a digital thing becomes a physical thing. I’m excited to be a part of what’s happening here.”
“The fact that you can think of and then rapidly make an object exist seems like something to be shared. MSP3D is a meeting monthly to wonder, think & participate in making the future of 3D together.” The inagural gathering will be held on November 2nd, 7:00pm, at 514 Studios in Minneapolis’ Warehouse district.
“There will be two MakerBots on hand and you need not have any previous experience or knowledge of 3D to attend. Check thingiverse.com for inspiration regarding what you might print someday,” says the event description.
Looking back at Minnesota’s strong manufacturing roots, it will be interesting to watch what happens when the emerging ‘maker movement’ aligns with our knack for software and engineering magic.