Engineering Like a Sculptor
; Whereas 3-D printing is commonly referred to as
additive manufacturing, mills perform subtractive
manufacturing. Instead of piling up successive
layers of plastic—like MakerBot’s printer—the
process is more akin to that of a sculptor. It begins
with a block or sheet of material such as aluminum,
brass, wood, or plastic, and then bores into it to
create the final product. Above, UC Berkeley PhD
student Kevin Tian uses a Bantam Tools mill to make
this circuit board, which will power an air-pollution
monitoring device. F R O M
what we were doing because we’d taken venture capital.”
Applestone pursued would-be acquirers, but none of
them were interested in running a hardware company. Some
saw it as a potential acquihire; others just wanted her. Then
there were those who wanted to turn Other Machine into a
software company. Applestone couldn’t stand it. The mill
was about turning people into makers, not coders.
Applestone was desperate. “How can we say to our
customers”—engineers, educators, hobbyists, many of
whom Applestone had come to know personally—“you’ve
been with us for four years, and sorry, guys, but someone
bought us and they’re shutting us down?” she thought.
Sitting at her computer one evening in her Berkeley,
California, o;ce, she sent o; another round of emails.
Then, at 6: 49 p.m., she saw a green light pop up in her
Gchat window. It was Bre Pettis. She’d known Pettis in
passing for years—the maker community, at times, can seem
alarmingly small. And Pettis, with his trademark sideburns
and shock of salt-and-pepper hair, is one of its best-known
members. One of the founders of 3-D-printing company
MakerBot, Pettis had sold that company to Stratasys for
$403 million in 2013. He’d also made the controversial
decision to move MakerBot away from open source,
enraging open-source evangelists. When, in 2016, he left
the company a rich man, a large helping of ill will tagged
along with him.
Applestone wasn’t going to tell Pettis everything.
But maybe he had connections to a potential buyer, she
thought. Pettis asked her what she was specifically looking
to sell. “The whole company?” he messaged her. “Yes, the
whole thing,” she typed back.
A few days later, Pettis was on a plane to Berkeley. W hile Applestone knew from an early age that science was her call- ing, it took years for Pettis to find his. At 31, Pettis was a Seattle public school teacher and puppeteer earning $31,000 a year. He started making video
art and instructional videos for his students, publishing
them online, where they, along with the puppets, caught
the attention of Phillip Torrone, the founder of Make
magazine, the bible of the DIY set. Torrone o;ered Pettis a
job at Make, and they both moved to New York City, setting
up a Make o;ce within the headquarters of Etsy. “We
thought he’d be the Make version of Mr. Rogers,” says
Torrone. “We were sort of right for a while.”
Pettis became one of the founders of hacker space NYC
Resistor, where he met his MakerBot co-founders Zach
Cheaper, Smaller, Everywhere
; Until a few years ago, computer-controlled
mills were the size of at least one refrigerator, could
cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and were
difficult to use. Bantam Tools’ mill (above) is part of
a wave of democratized high-tech hardware that
gives engineers, educators, and hobbyists access
to smaller, easier-to-use mills at affordable prices.
Bantam’s latest is the size of a large toaster,
costs $3,199, and now competes with several other
desktop mills, including the Carvey, by Chicago-based Inventables, and the Nomad, by Torrance,
California-based Carbide 3D.
THE NEXT 3-D PRINTER?