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SXSW interactive started with a machine that feels like the future: Makerbot. Launched at SXSW in 2009 with a team led by Bre Prettis, Makerbot has made 3D printing slightly more affordable and has been making designers into creators.

Powered by passion, innovation, and iteration, Makerbot has given people the ability to make things on your desk and coffee table.

Just as the PC disrupted the mainframe and desktop 2D printers replaced print centers and offset services, 3D printing is bringing manufacturing to small businesses.

NASA, Ford, Nokia and an increasing number of businesses are looking to this 3D printing technology to bring design to users and give them more flexibility to experimenting with design.

In fact, seven out of the top ten architecture firms are using Makerbot. This is especially important as professional 3D printers are expensive and Makerbot can streamline the testing process and helps these companies expedite the product.

Makerbot sees itself as leading the next industrial revolution. It is replacing two centuries of mass production with a new localized approach to making things. This is fundamental as we start to have less access to global supply chains due to cost of fuel and shortage of staff. 

Fundamentally, this type of technology is going to change the way businesses interact with customers. 3D printing is creating companies and jobs and makes it easier to launch new companies and will be a major source of economic growth.

For instance, it has allowed companies like Peek Monitor (which makes babygros to check for sleep apnea in babies) and Robohand (it acts like a fax machine to make prosthetic hands for kids). These companies would never have been viable without Makerbot and it means it isn't held back by the limitations of tech.

Makerbot also runs Thingaverse where you can design and download things. It has more than 40,000 "things" on there with 9,000 things designed in the last 90 days. This allows anyone to get access to amazing models to act as inspiration to designers and first timers alike.

Why has Makerbot been such a success?

Pettis attributes it to a great community and great feedback. The community lets the company know what it needs to fix or what features it needs right away. Basically, Makerbot has been inspired by users so have to keep making it better. 

It helps that they have kept the manufacturing local. Engineers are around the corner from the makers as Makerbots are made in Brooklyn. This not only works for the community but it makes them more affordable as fuel and labour costs are going up. In Brooklyn - know is made with Brooklyn pride. 

Prettis left us with this thought: imagine if you had a 3D printer instead of a Lego set when you were a kid. What would life be like for you now? How would you think differently? We are in the future now and are changing the way we look at the world and it's limitations.

With the announcement of the Makerbot digitizer that can scan anything between three inches and eight inches tall with two lasers and a web cam and replicate it, we are on the edge of a new world. And where the physical products change, so will the technology we have available to us as consumers and marketers. 

Heather Taylor

Published 11 March, 2013 by Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor is the Editorial Director for Econsultancy US. You can follow her on Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

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