By Thomas Scott
On Monday, Oct. 6, CEO of MakerBot Industries Jennifer Lawton ’85 came to campus.
Based in Brooklyn, Lawton’s company is on the cutting edge of 3D printing.
3D printing, which has provided unprecedented ease in prototype-production for companies small and large, has become increasingly present in the consumer space, allowing individuals to design and print their own objects using their own 3D printer.
3D printers work by inputting a three-dimensional design, which the printer than constructs layer by layer. The printer automatically stacks the layers to eventually produce the three-dimensional object. 3D printers, at least the consumer-scale ones, usually print using a composite plastic substance.
Progress in the field of 3D printing has proceeded at a breakneck pace and has produced new developments in even the past calendar year.
With economic estimates predicting the 3D printing industry to rise to a value north of $10 billion by 2020, expectations for this growing industry seem to indicate a high level of faith in the industry’s future.
Lawton has also stepped into some big shoes. Her predecessor, Bre Pettis, founded the company in 2009 with the vision of putting cheap, reliable 3D printing in the hands of the general public.
Over the past five years, Makerbot has expanded a great deal. The company’s 3D printers, of which Union has several, sell for about $1,400-$6,500.
What’s more, Pettis’ corporate brain-child now boasts more than 500 employees.
The company is also highly profitable.
In the first two quarters of this year alone, MakerBot made over $54.2 million in sales. Divide that per capita for each of Makerbot’s estimated 500 employees and you get $108,400.
Let’s compare this to a large business like McDonald’s, which makes $27.5 billion in revenue annually and employs 1.7 million people worldwide.
Compared to a small, high-tech company like MakerBot, McDonald’s revenue per employee is only about $16,176.
What this number tells us is that MakerBot is a small and innovative company that is producing a high-value product.
Seeing this potential, Minnesota-based Stratasys acquired MakerBot for an impressive $403 million.
Stratasys, founded in 1989, is a maker of 3D printers and 3D-printing software, with a focus on providing prototype-creation abilities to various industries including the automotive, electronic and aerospace sectors.
For Stratasys, the acquisition helps them consolidate their gains in the field of rapid prototyping and direct manufacturing.
It also meant that Pettis’ days at the helm were numbered. In September, news of Pettis’ replacement was leaked to the press. Though Pettis was a talented technologist who provided the creative and innovative impetus behind MakerBot’s meteoric rise, he allegedly ruffled some feathers, according to unverified accounts from the company’s Glassdoor page. Glassdoor is a job finder and corporation review website.
However, Pettis is not out of the picture. He is now doing what he does best: innovating.
Pettis will now head Bold Machines, which has been described as Stratasys’ equivalent to Skunk Works, the advanced research and development arm of defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
Among other projects, Bold Machines is currently working on a film called “Margo” which will feature 3D-printed characters. Bold Machines will also reportedly be working with Solidscape wax printers. The model for the film’s main character is even available for download from Bold Machines’ website.
Makerbot, Stratasys and Pettis are all making strides in the 3D-printing field, an industry that keeps growing in size and advancing its technology.
The 3D-printing industry will be interesting to follow as it grows itself over the next decade.