Meet the makers behind the machines. These seven makers started their own 3D printer companies.
Diego Porqueras of Bukobot
Necessity was the mother of invention for Los Angeles-based maker Diego Porqueras. While working as a Hollywood digital imaging technician, he was drawn to 3D printing for its potential to make custom camera brackets and adapters. He started attending the “MakerBot Monthly” meetups at Crashspace, his local hackerspace. After building his first kit printer, a Prusa Mendel RepRap from MakerGear, he confesses, “My perfectionism got in the way and I ended up creating my own better 3D printer.” He launched Bukobot on Kickstarter in April of 2012, hitting 400% of his funding goal, and quit his job to focus on making printers. By July, he added notable Rich “Whosawhatsis,” the creator of the Wallace RepRap printer, to his team.
Riding the momentum, in September of 2012 Porqueras opened Deezmaker, the first physical 3D printer shop and hackerspace on the West Coast, fueled by the desire to share the joy of actually seeing 3D printers in action. Porqueras has built his business on the belief that quality high-end machines can be made without the high-end price.
Andrew Rutter of Type A Machines
Not only does Andrew Rutter care deeply about building machines that consistently deliver great result, he’s equally as concerned with making printers that are easy to fix when they do fail. He explains, “We don’t just want people to like the results, we want them to appreciate the design and engineering of the machine, and for that to be as important to them as the output.” One of the leading minds in 3D printing, it’s hard to imagine that previously, the San Francisco-based Rutter spent roughly 10 years in the entertainment industry, “mostly as a lighting technician, occasionally as a designer, and once or twice even as a performer.” He built his first printer, the ubiquitous MakerBot Cupcake, in December of 2009, a mere four years ago.
Rutter founded Type A with the desire to make a better machine, and in January 2012, the core team was born out of the Noisebridge hackerspace with the addition of Espen Silvertsen, Miloh Alexander, and Gabriel Bentley. Type A’s team is now 15 people who proudly manufacture, assemble, and test their machines in their California workshop. Rutter has been responsible for getting 3D printers in his local public library and says of the future, “Whatever happens, I want to see a 3D printer on every student’s desk.”
Steve Wygant of SeeMeCNC
Indiana-based mechanical engineer Steve Wygant had been running his own machine shop since 1996, and for three years, he machined parts for large orthopedic companies, during which he first learned about 3D printing. He was fascinated by the stereolithography machines at one of the companies but knew they were out of the reach for hobbyists. Then, in 2009, he learned about the RepRap project and was intrigued by the design and mechanical structures of the Darwin and Prusa machines. In 2011, Wygant (aka “PartDaddy”) joined forces with John Olafson (aka “Oly”), an experienced CNC woodworker and machinist, combining their large and diverse skillsets on the first SeeMeCNC printer, a derivative of the RepRap Huxley, calling it the H1.
When we asked about the latest “aha” moment he’s had, Wygant recalls working on their Rostock Max printer and accidentally inventing the “Cheapskate” linear bearing: “While holding a 608 skateboard bearing and T-slot aluminum, I accidentally fit the bearing to the side slot and realized I discovered a low-cost linear motion carriage.”
Wygant and Oly’s passions lie in empowering makers to bring their ideas to life and nurturing the vibrant 3D printing community, reveling in how many folks from different countries and backgrounds 3D printing unites. He adds, “Seeing them all interact and work together to create amazing things is just awesome.” They are proud sponsors of the Midwest RepRap Festival and support the new independent file-sharing site repables.com.
Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker
Ultimaker’s Erik de Bruijn can be called an old-timer in desktop 3D printing. Involved with the RepRap project since early 2008, he was one of the first in the community to successfully replicate functional parts, quickly followed by full machines. De Bruijn’s background with RepRap, and with the IT company he founded at age 16 (still operational 12 years later), provided invaluable when developing his own 3D printer with partners Martijn Elserman and Siert Wijnia in 2011. “When we launched Ultimaker, my business experience was put to the test,” he says. “Ultimaker turned out even more successful than we imagined, to a large part thanks to the great open source community.”
The Dutch-based de Bruijn has also helped establish key elements in 3D printing, including combining ABS and PLA, and helping develop retraction—when excess filament pulls back into the extruder to avoid stringing. He credits a meeting with another distinguished 3D printing developer as a part of this. “When I had a RepRap speaking engagement in the UK, I had the opportunity to visit the famous Nophead,” he says. “He did most of the coding, I mostly encouraged and provided ideas and suggestions, but together we showed the community how much retraction matters. After that, it became a general feature.”
With a brand-new machine and a new design-sharing site called YouMagine, de Bruijn and the Ultimaker team are keeping busy, but he remain focused on keeping their creations open. “I believe people should be able to make their tools their own. While I don’t know where other companies will take things, this is where Ultimaker is headed.”
Brook Drumm of Printrbot
Former youth pastor and coffeehouse owner Brook Drumm discovered his 3D-printing fascination in early 2011. A tireless man with a magnetic personality, Drumm set up a 3D printer meetup group in his area and helped foster the blossoming community. Quickly growing adept with existing technology through the group, he soon realized creating a low-cost machine was a realistic possibility.
“It hit me one night, very late, that ripping out all sorts of unsightly support could result in a sufficiently rigid structure that was a little more straightforward,” he says. “After enduring yet another lengthy recap of my dreams to design and sell 3D printers, my wife, Margie, gave me the best advice to date — ‘It has to be cute.’”
“I dove into a complete and total design obsession for 6 months,” he continues. “The Printrbot was a product of a young and eager community rapidly prototyping on RepRaps. A wild ride on Kickstarter sealed my fate.”
With over $830,000 in pledges, Printrbot launched into the forefront of 3D printing in December of 2011. Since then, Drumm continues to embrace openness with his company, actively engaging with customers and even freely discussing Printrbot’s future plans. When asked what he’s working on, he rattles a laundry list of projects, including Kinect-based body scanners, DLP resin 3D printers, a desktop CNC with iPad CAD/CAM software, and designing and printing arms for needy kids in the Sudan. “Its gonna be a great year!”
Rick Pollack of MakerGear
When Rick Pollack had an idea for a new product in 2003, he didn’t know how to go about manufacturing it. Having worked as a software developer since the mid-90s, he explains, “I ended up spending a lot of time and money figuring out how to get it made. That planted the seed of desktop manufacturing — I wanted to be able to take an idea and hold it in my hand in hours.”
In 2009, with the availability of low-cost electronics and open-source tools, the time was right to launch MakerGear. Originally, he identified a need for better extruders, bought a small 70s lathe for $250, and started making extruder parts, one at a time, in his unheated garage in northeast Ohio. Today, his parts and printers are owned by 3D printer enthusiasts in 75 countries.
Pollack takes pride in the fact that MakerGear manufactures in the United States, with a vast majority of their custom components made by fabricators and machinists in Ohio. Though their off-the-shelf parts come from overseas, Pollack says, “We are working to bring even more of that manufacturing to the community. We’ve worked very hard to provide a quality machine at a reasonable price. We want people to be happy with the machine and enjoy working with us.”
Maxim Lobovsky of Formlabs
Five years ago, while studying applied physics at Cornell University, Maxim Lobovsky began working on the massive, transcontinental Fab@Home open source, personal fabrication project, which sparked his interest in 3D printing. After Cornell, he went on to become a researcher at the MIT Media Lab. In 2011, upon earning his master’s at age 23, he and two fellow MIT grads, Natan Linder and David Cranor, founded Cambridge, Mass.-based company Formlabs, makers of stereolithography resin-based printers. Lobovsky says, “I realized that there was nothing standing in my way — that I could bring all my ideas for a desktop 3D printer to a finished product. It didn’t need to be a massive endeavor that only a huge company could take on, but something that a few dedicated people could bring to life.”
After raising nearly $3 million in 30 days toward their original $100, 000 goal, Lobovsky and the team knew they were onto something. He explains, “My passion is making the technology accessible to a wider range of users. There is a lot of amazing stuff possible beyond the FDM machines that people are becoming familiar with. For me, accessibility means both price point and ease of use.”