Can Bre Pettis Replicate Himself?

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Uber-maker Bre Pettis his colleagues Zach Smith and Adam Mayer are hard at work on a open source 3D printer for the masses. Great idea: it's one thing to come up with an idea on paper (or CAD file), and quite another to turn that idea into a tangible thing. It's even another thing to sell a 3D printer kit that's about as cheap as a regular-old mass produced laser printer.

maker bot and bre.jpg
photo by rstevens

I interviewed Bre at NYC Resistor last month, after we went on a fruitless search for restaurants in Brooklyn that serve saltfish and ackee.

Bill Gurstelle (pointing to squarish object on desk): What's that?
Bre Pettis: That? It's the MakerBot Cupcake CNC. It's an open source 3D printer, that turns your table top into your own little factory.

Bill Gurstelle: So, how does it work?
Pre Pettis: The machine works like a super accurate automated hot glue gun robot. It takes a filament of plastic and melts it down and extrudes it through a tiny hole to make a tiny string of molten plastic. Layer by layer it builds up material until your object is complete!

BG: Um, what's with all the cans of cake frosting?
BP: We created a frosting attachment that you can use by switching out the plastic extruder. The Frostruder means it can frost a cupcake too! Right now, we're getting set up to make a world record attempt for the fastest cupcake decorated by a robot.

BG: (points to more stuff on a different table) What's all this other junk for?
BP: We're prototyping up a scanner which together with a MakerBot would be a replicator. We are also in the process of having an eco-friendly plastic manufactured called Polylactic Acid (PLA) manufactured. PLA is a material made out of corn in Nebraska. PLA is clear and we may be able to get it in a medical grade to do things like replace bones with it. Also we're getting the electronics for the machine assembled.

BG: Replicator? Hey, Could a Maker Bot make a Maker Bot?
BP: We're getting there one part at a time. With every batch we manufacture a new part to ship with the machine. Already we've got idler pulleys that snap over a skate bearing that are made on a MakerBot. MakerBot Operators who got a first batch MakerBot can get a hardware upgrade just by downloading the design file and printing it out on their machine. Printable Upgrades!


  1. Printable upgrades? Fantastic.

    Gosh this is the perfect solution for a Open Source world. Order one standard 3D printer and then just download the designs straight to the box that allow it to make the UberModel 3D printer, then mix and match what parts you want/need.
    Completely Geeking out at the possibilities that haven’t until now really registered with me about this 3D printing craze.

    I love the age we live in.


  2. What’s the relationship (if any) between the MakerBot and the RepRap? It seems silly to have two competing hopefully-eventually-self-replicating Open Source 3D printers.

  3. Crown Heights is the neighborhood in Brooklyn for killer West Indian/Trinidadian food. If it’s nice out walk down Rogers or Nostrand and there will be guys out on the street with grills made from 55 gallon drums. It’s the real deal. You can get fresh, homemade ackee all over the place.

    D Ital Shak on Nostrand is my favorite of all the spots though, ultra veg friendly to boot.

  4. MakerBot is a fun little machine, useful in untold ways. I made a plastic coin from concept in Google SketchUp to finished product in about an hour. Here’s a video I shot of Bre demoing MakerBot at this year’s Maker Faire. Includes Darth Vader heads!

  5. I suppose I already know the answer to this, but you really should have asked him why they didn’t contribute to RepRap or Fab@Home instead of starting a new project…

    That said, thanks for keeping me informed of yet another way I can welcome the 21st Century into my home!

  6. @wurp: if you read up on the Cupcake, it’s actually a direct descendent of the RepRap, and I’m pretty sure they are contributing patches upstream :)

  7. Wurp: the makerbot includes several parts from the RepRap project, and Zach is a big RepRap contributor as well (IIRC, he designed the RepRap motherboard and extruder controller, both of which are included in the makerbot kit).

  8. Would someone be so kind as to keep written records of these developments in a safe, non-computer location? When the machine wars begin we meat -beings will likely need them.

    I’d do it, but now that I’ve posted, my actions are significantly traceable.

  9. Also cool is Bre’s site

    Here, MakerBotters can upload/download objects they’ve made/want to make. It’s like a BurdaStyle for 3-D stuff. There’s also things to make with lazzzor cutters, or other DIY stuff.

  10. As someone who has been following the project cloely I think I can answer some questions.

    The Cupcake is part of the RepRap opensource ecosystem. The RepRap project is split into roughly three components.
    1) The XYZ movement mechanism. (Cartesian Robot)
    2) The Extruder that you attach to the XYZ playform of your choice
    3) The Electronics/Software that runs the whole thing.

    By and large, you can swap out any of the three components with the equivalent from any other of the RepRap spin-offs. So in this case, Cupcake uses a uniquely designed XYZ Cartesian Robot. However, their extruder is a version of the main RepRap extruder and their hardware/software is the same thing that runs many other RepRap machines.

    The improvements they make to their extruder or software or control electronics are directly portable to any other RepRap derivative. To my knowledge, there are three major branches of Cartesian Robot. A couple generations of different electronics and a half dozen extruder concepts (some far more successful than others). Any of these can be mixed and matched with the smallest of adaptation.

  11. @11, CAPNSOGGY,

    The “correct” pejorative term for organic beings is “meat sack.”

    Of course, some people will apply a sexual connotation to the phrase, but just ignore those sex-maniacs.

  12. Regarding reprap…

    Zach is one of the key contributors to the reprap foundations and the Makerbot shares the CNC control board that zach designed for the reprap foundation.

    The fundamental difference between the two is that the cupcake cnc is an all in one design for which kits and instructions / support are available for.

    In reprap land the designs are very much homebrew and very much a product of their own individual designers.


  13. For future reference any of the Golden Krust stores serve ackee and saltfish. They also serve up a good Jamaican beef patty. Ackee is hard to find, but is sold in some stores in the Bronx and around Jamaica Ave in Eastern Brooklyn. The saltfish is (of course) trivial to implement.

  14. @Hypatia, Antifuchs, Ryanh, Matt Joyce: Thanks much for being so well informed and so willing to share!

  15. 1) I’m surprised that you didn’t put a link to the NYC Resistor site.

    2) “I interviewed Bre at NYC Resistor last month, after we went on a fruitless search for restaurants in Brooklyn that serve saltfish and ackee.” I hope that you were being ironic. I used to work in that neighborhood, and let me tell you, just around the corner from NYC Resistor, there’s a place. If you walk around for a good 5 minutes, you’ll run into a bunch.

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