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He looks like a geek – and is a bit of one.

That’s the only thing about Zach ‘Hoeken’ Smith that runs true to expectations. On every other front, he’s the original lone ranger, going in a direction opposite from the herd.

While others, especially from the West, see China as competitive to their interests, Zach sees incredible opportunity – he even moved to Shenzhen to be in the hub of the world’s manufacturing zone.

While young tech inventors are often looking to maximise gains, Zach has been a vocal, public proponent of the open-source movement, putting all designs for his invention – and quite an invention it is – out in the public domain.

As one of the early movers in the 3D printing space – set to revolutionise manufacturing and the way we consume things – Zach is, incredibly, not an engineer by education, despite the fact that he today makes 3D printers from scratch. “It’s something I have picked up through years of designing, building and playing with mechatronics,” he laughed in an interview to EEWeb recently. “Aside from a childhood spent taking everything in sight apart (and occasionally getting it back together again, my real start in engineering was when I got involved with the RepRap project in 2006. I had absolutely no clue about anything but I was very motivated and spent as much time as I could learning, experimenting and playing.”

That’s a modest description of what Zach has been doing since. Along with two college friends he founded MakerBot Industries, a startup dreaming of changing the 3D printing paradigm. Into a scenario where 3D printers were imagined as expensive, inaccessible and specialised came Zach’s MakerBot – a shape-shifting entrant into a universe dominated by big boys. “We’re going to make 3D printing easy, affordable and ubiquitous. Every engineer will be able to have a high-resolution 3D printer onhis/her desk and every engineering student will be able to use digital fabrication technology in the classroom. The difficulty and cost of 3D printing will drop until people like my mom will have a MakerBot at home to print out cool things from Thingiverse.”

If this sounds like a pipe dream, consider this: MakerBot already makes 3D printers that cost between US $1,000 – 1,500.

And consider this: earlier this year, MakerBot was acquired for USD 403 million.

But Zach, throwing another curve, is no longer part of MakerBot – he left a year or so ago when the company wanted to steer off the open-source path. His commitment to open-source is unshakeable, enough for him to walk out of a company he founded that’s now worth a few hundred million.

He’s unpeturbed. He has, he said in an interview, “a bazillion ideas” and, in Shenzhen, the means to turn them into reality.

It’s evident the world of ideas has met its match in Zach Smith.

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