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tech_inventor.jpgBre Pettis (and other items) printed in 3-D. photographed by Ryan Kobane

"Be very careful if you make a great slingshot for your hovercraft," advises Bre Pettis, DIY guru and a founder of the first affordable 3-D printer company. "My experience with that was what inspired me to get health insurance."

Wild ideas like these are a dime a dozen from Pettis, the self-proclaimed "tinkerer" and how-to video podcaster, whose 3-D printing innovations have won him attention from an audience far wider than the open-source geek crowd he attracted with his hacker collective, NYC Resistor. In 2009, Pettis, who studied mythology, psychology and performing arts at Evergreen State College, co-founded MakerBot, a Brooklyn-based company focused on making affordable 3-D printers that are changing how we think about DIY or "personal manufacturing," as Pettis -- looking every bit the Williamsburg resident with thick-rimmed glasses and shaggy, prematurely gray hair -- calls it. MakerBot's printers, which construct plastic products based off of digital blueprints, bring new dimensions to manufacturing within the medical, home-building and even fashion industries.

Much like the Internet in the mid-'90s, 3-D printing (and the "maker" culture that surrounds it) is still finding its role in society. But in 10 years' time, last-minute Home Depot runs or fruitless shopping trips searching for the perfect pair of shoes could be a thing of the past. For its part, MakerBot now employs 200 people and even has a demo and retail store in Manhattan. But before you start thinking that you're going to put the sex toy industry out of business or become the next Steve Jobs of home manufacturing, take a look at Thingiverse, MakerBot's website where users share designs for 3-D printing.

"My favorite part of the day is looking at Thingiverse," muses Pettis, finding constant inspiration in the idea that visitors are able to share and download more than 70,000 3-D designs ranging from brass knuckles to robotic hands for children born without fingers.

"My life's mission is to create tools that creative explorers can use to make wonderful things," says Pettis. "What will you make?"

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