MakerBot digitizerLooking for something that will be remembered as a major feature of South By Southwest 2013? You could do worse than point to 3D printing. MakerBot founder and CEO Bre Pettis kicked off SXSW Interactive today, taking the biggest stage at the conference to urge people to “join the next industrial revolution.” He also unveiled a new MakerBot machine that makes digitizing 3D images dead easy.

While 3D printing has had a presence for several years – in his keynote, Pettis recalled a story of printing shot glasses at an Austin bar during SXSW 2009 – 2013 is set to be its breakout year. Not only are makers producing more complicated and useful 3D-printed materials (3D guns notwithstanding), from fashion to food, but the technologies are becoming decidedly more user-friendly.

MakerBot’s Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner is a case in point. Showing off a prototype, Pettis showed how the scanner uses a webcam, lasers, and electronics to scan an object of up to eight inches in height, producing a 3D rendering of the object in real-time. The scanning process takes less than three minutes. Once you have your 3D model, you take it into MakerBot’s Maker software, scale it, and print it out right away. In the past, such a process necessitated numerous lasers, cameras, and lots of post-processing.

You can use the scanner to make as many copies as you need. Pettis used a garden gnome as his example. “You can fill the world with garden gnomes if you want, because you’ve got the power of replication,” he told the audience. The scanner goes on sale in Fall.

Pettis said the new machine means MakerBot is no longer just a 3D printing company; it is now focused on the “3D ecosytem.” “This,” said Pettis, “is kind of like the washer-dryer combo of 3D printing.”

Earlier, Pettis showed off some of his favorite examples of 3D printing in action, including a robotic hand for a child in South Africa, 3D printed portraits by Cosmo Wenman, and doll’s house furniture at Pretty Small Things. “There’s a renaissance going on,” said Pettis. “It’s never been easier to make and share actual designs.”

Before taking questions from the audience, Pettis concluded his remarks by imploring the audience to experiment with 3D printing. While hype at previous SXSW festivals has centered on social media and software, Pettis had a different message for this year’s attendees, which echoed Erin Griffith’s take from this morning: “It is the best time to get into hardware.”