The past few years have seen 3D printing go from a niche hobby to a mainstream manufacturing solution, and Bre Pettis deserves much of the credit. Bre co-founded MakerBot Industries, a pioneering force in bringing simple and affordable 3D printers to the masses.
Recently, Bre stepped down as CEO of MakerBot Industries to pursue new innovations under its parent company, Stratasys, which acquired MakerBot in 2013. Now at Bold Machines, Bre is exploring the new possibilities of what 3D printers are capable of. We caught up with Bre to learn about his favourite tools, frequently used software, and how he works.
Above photo: Bre Pettis at the launch of Bold Machines: The Innovation Workshop at Stratasys with one of the characters from the possible feature film Margo, which Bold Machines is working on.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Current Gig: Co-Founder, MakerBot; Innovator, Bold Machines: The Innovation Workshop at Stratasys
One word that best describes how you work: Creativity would be the word that describes my work. I’ve dedicated my life to building tools that empower creative explorers to innovate. I did that as a teacher teaching art, and I’m excited to do that in my new role at Stratasys creating Bold Machines, the innovation workshop at Stratasys. At Bold Machines, we’re pioneering the frontiers of 3D printing technology and partnering with innovators to show the world what’s possible with Stratasys, MakerBot, and Solidscape 3D printers.
Current mobile device: I’m actually between devices right now. My iPhone doesn’t really charge reliably anymore. I need something new but what I want doesn’t actually exist right now because what I really want is the smallest device possible that will work as a phone and run the Fitbit or RunKeeper. Nobody has optimised a mobile phone to be minimal and elegant yet so I’m in the process of digging out an off-brand mobile phone watch from my technology archive to hold me over until someone is willing to create my minimal phone or I give in to getting a new iPhone or Android.
Current computer: Big iMac for work, small MacBook for home and a Windows netbook for running the software that allows me to monitor, send, and log messages using PSK31 via my Elecraft KX3 ham radio. PSK31 is a method of communicating digitally that uses phase shifting to communicate directly over radio waves. I’m on a mission to communicate with stations in 100 countries with just the 10 watts that comes standard on the Elecraft. PSK31 is a wonderfully simple and lightweight and I’ve been able to communicate with Europe and the Caribbean using less power than a light bulb. Find me on the air under the call sign K2BRE.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
For sketching ideas in 2D I still use QCAD, which might be the most basic CAD tool available. I design things in 3D mostly in SketchUp, which is an easy way for anyone to get started with 3D modelling. I use the MakerBot PrintShop App on my tablet whenever I need to 3D print something quick and show people how easy it is to be a designer. I also use the MakerBot Mobile and Desktop Apps to control a legion of MakerBot 3D Printers and cruise Thingiverse.com to explore the coolest things that the amazing 3D design community is sharing. For personal fitness I use RunKeeper and Fitbit to track how much I walk and run. I recently converted from using a Canon 5D into the cult of the Leica Monochrom, which is a digital camera that takes digital black and white photos. I grew up shooting with a Nikon 35mm camera and developing all my own film so the Leica Monochrom takes me back to those days when a click of the camera meant you were actually burning film.
What’s your workspace setup like?
We are starting Bold Machines in the old MakerBot garage/office space. It feels good to be back where so much raw innovation occurred in the early days of MakerBot. My office is elevated in the workshop space so it has more in common with a treehouse than an office.Behind me is a huge model of a 3D-printed “Big Boy” Locomotive that is about 6 feet long, took about 2000 hours to 3D print and assemble, and was created by Paul Fischer, who makes 3D sketches of big, complicated machines for fun.
I’ve also got a collection of art in my office that ranges from the sculptural work of Cosmo Wenman who goes around the world scanning classical sculptures, to a 2D painting and photography work of Micah Ganske, an amazing artist and futurist that was also the artist-in-residence at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, as well as Lori Nix, a Brooklyn-based photographer who does photos of dioramas. There are MakerBot Replicator 3D Printers all around my office including the MakerBot Replicator Mini, the MakerBot Replicator, and the MakerBot Replicator Z18, with its massive build volume. I’ve also got some MakerBot 3D Printer prototype archeology kicking around that I need to see if the MOMA or the Smithsonian wants to take off my hands. I’m currently printing characters on various Stratasys, MakerBot and SolidScape 3D printers for an unreleased feature film project, so there are arms, hands and heads rolling around on most available flat surfaces.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
25 years ago I read a book by David Spangler called the Laws of Manifestation. David lived at Findhorn, an intentional community in Scotland. Basically, the thing that stuck with me is write down the ideas I have in broad terms and do work every day to make them happen. I surrender the exact outcomes and embrace the adventure and connections that move things forward. Interesting things proceed to happen. That’s really the only way I can explain my path from puppeteer to teacher to innovator.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I can only really do one thing at a time and I’m just trying to get that thing that I’m working on done so that I can do the next thing. After spending two years creating a project every week for my weekly internet video tutorial, I’d gotten into a rhythm of pushing through boundaries and accepting the outcomes and I created the Cult of Done Manifesto in 2009 with Kio Stark. That’s probably a good document for explaining how I approach getting things done. Go check it out here.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?
Do still find the time to tinker around with 3D modelling? What software do you like to use?
My current favourite recreational 3D modelling tool is 123D Catch, which is a photogrammetry program that allows you to take a lot of photos of an object and turn those photos into a 3D model. I recently travelled to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland to visit megalithic stone circles and I scanned a lot of rocks and have made smaller copies for my desk. You can download them on my Thingiverse page. I think that 3D scanning is rapidly becoming an option for people who want to capture their adventures and vacations in the world in new ways.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I think that for many folks in startups, there is too much to do and not enough time and resources to do it. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to work on films in Prague with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in the 1990s. We would put in 16 hour days, six days a week and at the end of the day, I’d get to go out with the crew and I’d watch the directors and the producers have the classic money vs. art battle negotiating how many explosions we could afford the next day. It really stuck with me that eating with the people I work with is often the most productive work time where things get figured out and challenges get negotiated.
What do you listen to while you work?
I spend most of my days in conversation, but when I’m jamming to get a project done, I will listen to a mix of The Replacements, Sea and Cake, and old school Daft Punk. To relax, I play old timey music on the banjo in the clawhammer style.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Napoleon’s Buttons and the Violinist’s Thumb, which are about the impact of specific molecules and DNA research on our contemporary lives. I just finished The Boys in the Boat, which is a must read if you have an interest in developing a culture of teamwork in your business.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m an extrovert. I get a lot of energy by interacting with people and sharing ideas and stories.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I am not very good at sleep. I have sleep apnea, which means that I basically forget to breathe when I’m asleep and I wake up 30 times an hour in the night, so I’m never properly rested. I’m jealous of majority of the population that wakes up rested. I’m currently on a workout routine to improve my breathing. The only upside of sleep apnea is that I’m highly capable of functioning on very little sleep which proved helpful when my daughter was a baby.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
I’d love to see Yves Behar and Jony Ive answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A number of people gave me advice in the early days of MakerBot to hire people smarter than me in what they do. I’m a jack of all trades and I’m really happiest when I’m learning and so it’s been great advice that I’ve followed and the result is that I get to work and learn with the folks that I consider the best and smartest team in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
I believe that very wonderful things are achievable and that we are at the beginning of the Next Industrial Revolution in which individuals now have the power of the last generation’s industry. It will probably sound a little corny, but I truly believe in the power of individuals to take on any challenge. I’ve dedicated my life to empowering individuals to unleash their creative power. I did that as a teacher, videographer, and now at MakerBot. I believe that if I can go from being a schoolteacher to running a company with 500+ employees, then anyone really can do anything. It has never been a better time to be a creative explorer in the world.
We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.