May 142011
Example of replication of a real object by mea...

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As it turns out, there really is a great future in plastics.

“There’s nothing like working with plastic!” Marius Watz announced to an appreciative crowd at the start of a talk in Brooklyn recently. Mr. Watz, a Norwegian-born artist, was describing his work with MakerBot, a new consumer-grade, desktop-size 3-D printer. With some assembly and do-it-yourself tinkering, the MakerBot makes, or “prints,” three-dimensional objects from molten plastic, creating a piggy bank, say, or a Darth Vader head from a computer design at the touch of a button.

“I’d heard about 3-D printing in the ’90s, but at that time it sounded like some sci-fi technology, like laser guns,” Mr. Watz said. “Basically, it sounded totally awesome.”

“Awesome” was sort of the buzzword at MakerBot’s inaugural open house, held at its warehouselike offices in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where Mr. Watz, its first artist in residence, showed off his sculptural forms (“We just started doing some blobby objects — vaguely disturbing but also awesome”) to a few dozen admirers and MakerBot owners, mostly guys in various stages of nerdy bliss. (“Aaawwwe-some.”)

After a burst of invention by three friends, the companywas formed two years ago — “built on caffeine,” said a founder, Bre Pettis — and has since expanded to 32 employees and thousands of MakerBot kits sold. Three-D printing has existed for years, but the machines were cumbersome and expensive, relegated to art and engineering schools, often monopolized by specialists. The MakerBot, which tops out at about $1,300, gives anybody with a computer and an idea the same creative horsepower, and artists are beginning to take notice.

On Saturday 3rd Ward, the Brooklyn arts and design collective, will host a Make-a-Thon, where those interested can play with the Bots and receive miniature 3-D busts of themselves printed by Kyle McDonald, MakerBot’s current artist in residence and an expert in digital scanning.

“It’s definitely baked into the DNA of MakerBot that this is a tool for creative people,” said Mr. Pettis, 38, who worked as a middle school art teacher in Seattle before starting the company with Zach Hoeken Smith, 28, and Adam Mayer, 35, hardware and Web developers. (They met at a Brooklyn hacker space.) As part of their mission, MakerBot’s founders also embrace sharing: users are encouraged to post their designs for the machine on a company blog, Thingiverse, where anyone can have access to them, to print or modify.

“We’re obsessively open-source,” said Mr. Pettis, who, like many people in the MakerBot universe, speaks with the zeal of the technologically converted. “In this age of the Internet, the sharers are the people who will come out ahead — the people who make progress and then share it so that other people can stand on their shoulders.”

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