1 // MakerBot's Thing-O-Matic is a user-friendly descendant of the rapid-prototyping machines utilized by industrial designers for years. Such machines can produce three-dimensional "rough drafts" of products prior to their mass-manufacture. The Thing-O-Matic is smaller (and cheaper) than industrial-grade machines. It stands 16 inches high and has an area of 1 square foot.
2 // To use the Thing-O-Matic, you need a computer model of what you'd like to print. The design can be your own creation or can be downloaded from thingiverse.com, a MakerBot-related website where designs are posted and made available free to users. In either case, the design needs to be loaded into MakerBot's modeling software, ReplicatorG. Through a USB connection--no Bluetooth yet--ReplicatorG will translate the design from your computer to the Thing-O-Matic.
3 // After hitting print, a spool of plastic thread begins feeding into the Thing-O-Matic; the thread is heated as it is directed to a 5-inch platform at the bottom of the printer. One thin layer at a time, the hot plastic thread--often called the filament--forms the desired object according to the specs of the ReplicatorG program. CEO Bre Pettis describes this as "drawing with a hot glue gun."
4 // On average, the printing process takes about 10 minutes per cubic centimeter; the printer simply stops moving once the model is complete. And then voila! The printed object is a small plastic figurine that should replicate your computer model.
A version of this article appears in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company.
Meet Your Maker