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I currently own the domain name femtoprint.com which I registered a few years ago. As the universe of suppliers of micro machining and nanoscale manufacturing begins to emerge I’m thinking about selling it. I’m very interested in micro manufacturing myself and love the idea of direct write creation of microsystems, accurate laser machine of stents, watch parts, lab on a chip and other exciting applications of the technology. Can’t wait to see what happens! Email joris.peels (at) gmail.com should you be interested in the domain.

Image is from the pioneering Yves Bellouard‘s site.

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Richemont and GE to 3D print watch cases?

While doing some work stuff I had a perchance encounter with a patent. I found out that Richemont, the $8 billion luxury group behind brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Jaeger le Coultre & IWC has a 3D printing patent. ”Method for producing a watch case middle of reduced weight.” The patent specifies that it uses DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) to make a reduced weight watch and that  the design will have powder evacuation holes so that unsintered powder can be removed from the part. Its great to see luxury groups take such an interest in 3D printing and the filing points to them being quite deeply involved in the process. I’m not sure if this is a way for them to protect their new watch production process or rather a patent land grab to keep Swatch and LVMH from 3D printing watches. The patent might prohibit anyone else from making a 3D printed watch.

Interestingly one of the inventors listed on the patent is Lawrent Cataldo who works for a company called Best In Class SA. This company has developed the Micro Machining Process which polishes precious metals in a tank in order to obtain smoother surface finishes. Could MMP be the solution to smoother 3D printed metals? And who owns Best in Class? Well, none other than Richemont.

The video below shows how MMP can deliver smooth surfaces to precious metals for the watch industry.

Another inventor is Greg M. Morris. There just happens to be a Greg M. Morris working for GE’s Additive Manufacturing unit in Business Development. You know,the same Greg Morris who sold his company Morris Technologies to GE a while back. And the third inventor? Well he’s Eli Lichty the site leader Additive Development Center at GE. So is GE going to be 3D printing watches for Richemont? Or are GE and Richemont jointly working on smoother surface finishes for both jewelry and aircraft parts? My bet is on the latter. Both companies will need to develop the complete 3D printing tool chain including the hardening, smoothing and post processing of parts. Whereas EOS, SLM Solutions, Arcam and other machines have been for years active in making metal parts in industry the process is very much “lab” and not “fab.” A lot of manual operations have to be done, parts have to be depowdered manually sometimes metal supports have to be sawn off by hand. There is no closed loop control on the machines and no automated processes for checking part accuracy after production. Often parts have to be hardened, smoothed and post processed sometimes with as many as five different steps on five or more machines. This entire process will have to be automated in order for 3D printing to really work as a metal manufacturing technology. This is the challenge that both GE and Richemont have.  It looks like they’re cooperating on this and trying to bring 3D printing to manufacturing together.  Currently surface finish of 3D printed parts is a huge issue and if Richemont & GE could solve that it would be very beneficial for the entire industry. What do you think? Also, anyone have a guess as to which watch they will 3D print first based on the drawings? Cartier maybe?

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Filamaker Recycle your old 3D prints and turn waste into things

Marek Senický has shown off his Filamaker creation at Maker Faire Rome. I asked Marek some questions about the device and its reception in Rome. He reported that people were wowed by the product and that he’s gotten a high level of interest in people wanting to buy the Filamaker.

The device is a grinder and filament extruder that turns unwanted 3D prints or plastic packaging that would be thrown away into 3D printing filament. With filament fetching prices between $13 and $48 this device will significantly reduce the costs to 3D print. People will be able to make more things more cheaply and more things will be shared and given away. More things will also be viable to 3D print with cheaper material prices. Especially if packaging waste is used the effective cost of 3D printing if you have a Filamaker is reduced to zero.

On the downside this will probably put quite a dent into some 3D printing manufacturers business model. They were hereto selling investors a “Gilette” or HP dream of high margin consumables coupled with devices, this for ABS will not be possible any longer. Could this be part of the reason why many manufacturers have switched to PLA?

Interestingly PLA is touted as a “green” material but even though it is made from plants it can not currently be recycled. As Jez Pullin reminded us at TCT, PLA has to be composted in order to degrade and this can only be done at two specialist sites. He also said that it may take hundreds of years for PLA to degrade. This means that rather than be a green and ecologically sound material it may increase landfill. Counter intuitively, with the Filamaker the oil based ABS now looks like the true greenest 3D printing material.  The  Filamaker greatly reduces the environmental impact of 3D printing and may even let 3D printing have a net positive impact on the environment by letting people closed loop recycle in the home.

An important thing to note is that when recycling ABS filament in the home fumes may be released and these could be harmful to your health. I would advise every home 3D printer operator to always use both their 3D printer and Filamaker under a fume hood to reduce possible adverse health effects from substances such as Hydrogen Cyanide which may be released when melting or burning ABS. More on the adverse health effects of 3D printing here.

The Filamaker is a kit that will be offered for sale for approximately 500 Euro. Marek has currently produced the first working prototype and move on to developing the kit soon.

The Filamaker currently extrudes 1 meter per minute. The dimensional tolerance of the diameter  of the filament being produced is within 0.05mm. The speed and the dimensional tolerance are very good and I hope that the production device will be able to equal or exceed them. Dimensional tolerance is especially important since  too much deviation in the filament diameter can cause your extruder to become clogged and this is far far far from fun. Also important is the fact that the filament has no air bubbles.

Marek is currently extruding 3mm filament and will test different sizes as well as different extrusion profiles. He asked me to “not forget this extruder can extrude any kind of profile with any kind of thermoplastic.” So many more wasted packaging products or things that would be thrown away could potentially be turned into 3D printing filament. He hopes that the final machine gets a “stronger motor that can extrude at more than 2 meter per minute at 3 mm diameter” and wants to make the Filamaker Arduino powered. Marek wants to start crowdfunding soon on Indiegogo so he can manufacture the final device for 3D printer users the world over.

I love this development and applaud Marek’s hard work in making this device in his spare time. Can’t wait to see what this does for 3D printing! See the Filamaker in action below.

I’ve written previously about filament recyclers here.

Filamaker is on Facebook. There are lots of pictures including some of Marek making machines in Kenya.





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The 3D printing lottery

Andy Warhol has famously said that “in the future…everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.”  What are you doing to make this happen for you? And how can you benefit once this happens? There are today some stars with international standing and true world fame. But there are many smaller stars known only to a certain country, city or subculture. There are Dutch bluegrass musicians only famous the sliver Dutch people who like bluegrass. There are Dutch Djs know to people who like house music around the world but to no one outside the dance world. There are people who make 3D printed puzzles, like Oscar van Deventer who are famous in the puzzling world. Ten thousands of people worldwide have reality TV fame of some sort.

With filter bubbles being drawn ever tighter worldwide fame within a particular clan of people with a shared interest will become more common. The most famous people in your world will be unrecognizable to me even if I am your neighbor. Tastes are ever evolving and fragmenting with global emo, goth, hipster and other movements making certain segments of the global population show a great resemblance to each other’s international brethren whilst looking very disparate to the other locals indeed. Movies, books, games and websites have followings the world over and unite people who are very different in many other ways. In this shattered ideascape there are opportunities for designers of 3D printed products.

  • These disparate peoples are searching for items that give of signaling effects and mark them as members of a certain clan.
  • Through the internet memes can spread worldwide instantly. So can you.
  • A brand is a circle in the sand: are you in or out? With niche brands draw the circle as tightly as you can round a passionate core. Through 3D printing you can make lots of different products cheaply. Through 3D printing you can have lots of unique designs.
  • So simply put: become a star for one particular clan no matter who spread out they are.
  • Design the perfect things for them, pay no one else any heed.

The 3D printing lottery is the idea that by designing the perfect product for the perfect niche and marketing in a very direct fashion to them on can within this niche attain global stardom. One can have lots of success with them by catering perfectly to them and making objects that do not exist for this clan. One wins the 3D printing lottery once a product of yours immediately becomes a huge success for this niche. This to me is the most scalable business model for a 3D printing designer. Using services you can ramp up production and keep up with demand once your product does become a hit. Meanwhile you iterate and iterate cheaply just making perfect things for this well-delineated group. It all sounds a little bit long tail, right? Well, perhaps but its more the idea of being big and perfect for a global group than making niche things in and of themselves. And I think these niches are bigger than one might think. Whats the world market for classical music inspired Blackberry cases for Nigerians? Well even though Blackberry looks quite walking dead at the moment there are 2m Nigerian Blackberry owners. Assuming that only one in 20 Nigerians like classical music, that’s still a potential market of 100,000 people. These people will go to the same websites, will be interconnected and be excited that an intersection of their hobbies is illustrated by a product. By designing and marketing perfectly to this group one may attain greater success than by trying to make the perfect iPhone case for everyone on the planet. So get designing so that if you do become famous for 15 minutes you have a product to sell!

Creative Commons Attribution MAStateLottery.

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Is desktop 3D printing safe? Will it harm your health? Ultrafine particle emissions and vapors

Is desktop 3D printing safe? Will it harm your health? The short answer, we don’t know yet. Always keep your 3D printer in a well ventilated room with ten or more air changes per hour.  Today not enough consideration is given to possible harmful effects of 3D printing ABS and other materials in the home.  New research is showing that potentially 3D printing could have harmful effects and we need to all take precautions to mitigate them.

Ultrafine Particle Emissions

An article on ScienceDirect looks into Ultrafine Particle Emissions from desktop 3D printers. The article concludes that,

“Estimates of emission rates of total UFPs were large, ranging from ∼2.0×1010 #/minute for a 3D printer utilizing a polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock to ∼1.9×1011 #/min for the same type of 3D printer utilizing a higher temperature acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic feedstock. Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.”

(EDIT: Added later after speaking with a friend, Ben McMillen I took another more critical look at the study. Thanks Ben!) The study was conducted at one location on one day. It was not repeated for any length of time or repeated during a series of days. It was also not conducted at many different locations. Environmental things such as an automobile parked near the location, smoke or other causes could have influenced the outcome. If the results were replicated in many locations it would be a much more significant finding.  If in isolation several 3D printers would have been sealed in boxes and the resulting UFP concentrations would have been measured than it would also be more significant. If the experiment would have been done in more controlled locations and with many more readings over time then the results would also be more significant. In looking at the study it seems much more like an isolated finding that points to a possible issue than anything remotely certain.

I’m glad that research is being done into this area. Ultrafine Particle Emissions are nanoscale particles that may be inhaled by people and deposited in the lungs.  With UFP inhalation there can be adverse health effects such as lung disease. I hope that more research will be conducted into this area and that suitable criteria for safe home 3D printing will be developed.


Harmful fumes

In addition to the UFP issue harmful fumes may be released.  Indeed with regular melting/oxidation styrene, hydrogen cyanide and other harmful chemicals may be released when ABS is 3D printed. With regards to Hydrogen Cyanide some tests were conducted by individuals that concluded that the release of hydrogen cyanide was within limits, but no large scale research has been done. The fumes from the melting of ABS plastic have been known to cause adverse health effects in industrial workers exposed to processes such as injection molding. These workers do have considerable daily exposure much more so than one would ever expect to have when using a 3D printer in the home. But, the ”findings of this study implied the ABS plastic injection-molding process may worsen olfactory function among workers.”   This pubmed artcile on carcinogens and respiratory sensitisers during the thermal processing in plastics concludes that in an industrial setting with controls in place there is very little to worry about. But, research on the effects of ABS fume build up in a consumer setting has not (to my knowledge) been done. Consumer 3D printers do not employ ventilation systems and are placed in many different types of rooms some with little ventilation. Likewise this 1995 article concludes that ABS(and other plastic’s)’ Thermal Decomposition Products produced “sensory irritation, coughing and airways constriction” in guinea pigs exposed to considerable levels of  TDP. Based on this and other papers exposure limits for the workplace were set. But, again in a home setting the conditions will vary and one does not have HVAC and other countermeasures.

In my opinion to place a desktop 3D printer in a non ventilated or poorly ventilated room would be a risk that I personally would be unwilling to undertake.

Other materials 

Some 3D printers use resins containing Methacrylic Esters, these are a known skin irritant and may be cytotoxic. This article mentions “potentially cytotoxic acrylate based monomers.”  While in this article, “the main drawback of these acrylate containing resins is the high cytotoxicity of residual unreacted acrylate groups.”  Additionally in some cases detailed chemical analysis of photopolymers and SLA resins have shown that not all MSDS fully disclose all of the constituent ingredients of the material. This article looks at the photoinitiator contained in resins and concludes that “a clear toxic effect was observed with all tested concentrations, and a post-processing step of 7 days was required to leach out the initiator residues.” Especially with non fully cured parts some of these resins may produce risks, however the concentrations used in the study are far higher than found in the resins. The resins are known skin irritants however and users would have to make sure that they fully cured their parts in order to not have issues with that. With these resins safety precautions would seem to be very important and users must be very careful when touching parts made with them and residual material.

John Unwin’s Advice

John Unwin is the author of this paper as well as the Principal Scientist of Analytical Sciences Unit of the UK’s
Health and Safety Laboratory. and I asked him for his opinion on the safety of 3D printing.

His advice:

“I am not aware of any issues that have been raised in HSE concerning this technology as far as exposure to fumes is concerned. However, the principles of good process control alluded to in my paper are equally valid in 3D printing I think. Temperature control of the polymer will be important because if degradation occurs due to overheating then its will affect the quality of the product. Catastrophic failure of the polymer (burning) would be required to produce degradation products of any acute concern. So I think it unlikely that there would be an appreciable build up of toxic fumes as the process would be terminated on product quality grounds. The printer should be regularly serviced and cleaned to ensure optimum performance In my research, all of the sites had a distinctive smell from the heating process. Even though the processes were well controlled and some of these processed up to 50000 tonnes per year, very little fume was observed and this was controlled with general ventilation or forced mechanical ventilation. Therefore I do not think there is a significant risk from polymers like ABS as long as the temperature of the process is adequately controlled. However as a precaution I would ensure an adequate number of air changes (6-10/hour) in the room or ensure that a build up of the annoying smell was avoided by opening a window and door to supply a reasonable flow of air at home.” (NB, Dr. Unwin’s advice here only concerns vapors, it does not cover Ultrafine Particle Emissions!)


With regards to both harmful fumes and ultrafine particle emissions not enough research has been done to without a doubt conclude that desktop 3D printing is completely safe. Fume hoods, HEPA boxes or respiration equipment may be the only way to reduce or eliminate UFP issues. Burning rather than regular melting of ABS would produce very harmful effects. With regards to fumes there is probably not “significant risk from polymers like ABS as long as the temperature of the process is adequately controlled.” Some materials such as resins are skin irritants and may cause additional harmful health effects.  You must always use a 3D printer in a properly ventilated room with 10 air changes per hour. You should not smell any fumes from your printer during operation, if this is the case than this may be a sign that fumes are building up and could be potentially harmful. Always deploy safety precautions such as hoods or gloves when required. I would personally recommend that any and all desktop 3D printer users either make or purchase a HEPA box or fume hood to contain their 3D printer. The jury is not out yet on the UFP’s and there is much more research to be done but since this is your home and you are in proximity to this machine I would strongly advise that you do this.

Before we go all haywire on this. Lets ask us this question: is barbecuing safe? Many of the chemicals released while grilling are linked to increased risks of cancer. Barbecue smoke has carcinogenic substances in it. Additionally there may be issues with carbon monoxide and burns from the fire itself. Using accelerants and fire may cause additional health risks. If someone asked me, “Is barbecuing safe?” I would have to say that it was not. Yes millions of people continue to barbecue every day. We must not rush to conclusions or judge this amazing new technology too harshly. But, we must adopt the safety precautions that we know we need to.

It is amazing that 3D printing can give everyone a factory in their home. But, please do realize that yes this thing is a factory. And factories have lots of fumes, heat and possible hazards. 3D printers come with responsibility and are equipment not hereto found in the home. 3D printing is marching into the home at a pace that scientists and researchers concerned with safety can not keep pace with. Now research is being done for the first time and we must deploy the best methods to be safe at all times. Take care of yourself and do always realize that this amazing machine is a factory that happens to be in your house. Print safe out there everyone!

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Interview with Prabhjot Singh of the GE Additive Manufacturing Lab on using 3D printing in manufacturing

Because of General Electric’s recent 3D printing contests I was given the opportunity to interview Prabhjot Singh who is the manager of the GE Additive Manufacturing Lab at GE Global Research. I spoke to Prabhjot about how GE uses 3D printing and what the bottlenecks are on using it in manufacturing.

Prabhjot Singh, Manager of GE’s Additive Manufacturing Lab standing in front of an SLM Solutions machine that has a PSH 100 semi-automatic sieving station.  To the left of printer is a multiloader that lets you use multiple powders in one build. Prabhjot is standing over a Double chamber blasting system that is used to post process SLM parts.

Prabhjot mentioned that GE has over 300 3D printers across the company. They have nearly every single different 3D printing technology from many different vendors. GE uses Magics for file repair and Unigraphics for design. GE’s involvement in 3D printing goes back years and the company actually has developed and deployed its own laser cladding technology. This is one of the widest used technologies in GE. The company mainly uses it to repair used compressor blades and repair other worn down or broken high value industrial parts (with laser cladding you can print on existing materials or parts with the same or even another material). GE’s Plastics division (since sold to SABIC) actually developed Ultem (one of my all time favorite 3D printing materials). Even though much of the excitement now is about using 3D printing in actual production of aero engines and other high value parts  GE mainly uses 3D printing in a research capacity at the moment. They are looking at as well as developing process parameters, materials, applications, production lines, quality control and other practical steps that need to be taken in order to make the technology production ready.

GE Aviation’s Additive Lean Lab is one of the parts of GE that is furthest along with the technology. This $27m lab has been specifically set up to use 3D printing in aircraft engines. They hope to by 2016 incorporate 3D printed fuel nozzles into their production aircraft engines. GE’s next generation aircraft engine the LEAP will have a total of 16 3D printed fuel nozzles in it and be used on the Airbus A320 NEO, 737 Max and COMAC C919 (not heard of COMAC? oh, you will).  Prabhjot said that the main advantage of using 3D printing in this application is that it reduces the number of production steps significantly. The nozzle is constructed in one production step instead of many. This leads to more efficient manufacturing and lets them do the production in half the time.  Prabhjot mentioned that there is “simplicity in the process of manufacturing directly” and that GE wants to “make the parts just right.”

An SLM Solutions SLM 280 HL at GE’s Additive Manufacturing Lab

I asked Prabhjot what the issues were with using 3D printing in actual manufacturing and what technological hurdles GE needed to overcome in order to use the process more widely in production.  Prabhjot found “the lack of closed loop control very annoying.” When asked for a wish list GE would have with regards to 3D printing he wanted closed loop control, published databases of materials and material characteristics, systems to inspect parts, significant improvements to post processing, an expansion and improvement to the design tools used for 3D printing and cobalt chrome, iconel and other materials optimized for aerospace applications. Right now GE uses off the shelf materials and it will need specialized materials in order to move forward.

I also asked him what kind of research GE is doing with regards to 3D printing. GE is “developing its own processing technologies, looking into ceramic additive manufacturing and piezoelectrics for ultrasound.” According to Prabhjot “GE will adapt (a technology or process) if it exists and if not develop it.”  It would be interested in printing “resistors, inductors and capacitors” in order to have more fully integrated production steps but expects this to be “hard to do.” They are also  interested in ceramic matrix composite materials for use as turbine components and indeed make piezoceramics.

Metal 3D print model of a GE aircraft engine 

I asked Prabhjot how good the 3D printed parts were and what needed to be improved on them. As for mechanical properties, fatigue and tensile strength he said that heat treated DMLM (Direct Metal Laser Melting, GE speak for SLM)  parts were “very close” to their requirements. “Surface finish is still an issue, especially when we can’t reach features to finish them.”  They still need a good way of mitigating and predicting errors also. Sometimes they also need many iterations in order to get a part to perform or be produced without or with fewer supports. He also felt that additionally there was a need to improve the overall software tooling needed for design and manufacturing.

As for the advantages of using 3D printing? “It is not necessarily faster” but  ”once the process is dialed in it is monolithic, high yield and has a high level of maturity” It is “a simplification of the manufacturing process” and you can realize geometries with 3D printing that could not be made by other means. He also is excited by the fact that their designers “are spoilt..with (being able to make) hundreds of designs” and that they “change designs weekly.”

GE has previously purchased two 3D printing companies, Morris Technologies & Rapid Quality Manufacturing I asked if GE would make more acquisitions in the space, Prabhjot said that “he could not reveal” but that GE wanted to “secure its supply chain.”

I really enjoyed talking to Prabhjot about GE’s use of 3D printing.  They have serious money and effort invested into the technology and appear to be making headway in introducing it in actual manufacturing. The issues they are encountering may seem prosaic compared to visions of a 3D printer on every desktop. But, it is in manufacturing where 3D printing can make the greatest impact. In speeding up company’s product development, letting them do more iterations and letting them do shorter run parts it can speed up their business as a whole.  It is in manufacturing where serious money will be made either by vendors or companies that outcompete by using 3D printing in their supply chain. If Mary is faster than Bob at making things and designing things then ultimately Mary will win. If Mary then also is able to make better designed things that match her needs or the needs of her customer’s better than she is assured victory in the long run. In my opinion this is the greatest impact 3D printing will have on business. It will be the tool of the winners, the companies that want to go faster. GE is a company that always wants to win and go faster. It is also serious about making the least amount of mistakes, so serious that they have whole dojos of black belts walking around trying to make everything with the best Six Sigma rating. It also tends to make products where mistakes in manufacturing lead to huge costs on the part of their customers. If a train, aircraft engine, power turbine or MRI scanner fails the possible human cost as well as the cost in lost revenue to the customer is considerable. Much more so than in other capital equipment or products not made by GE. GE products are also all high value products that are typically inelastic. If someone comes to you with an aircraft engine thats $200,000 instead of  $2.5m you are likely to distrust it rather than snap up the bargain. In this way GE can leverage its brand, value, size, portfolio and manufacturing expertise to command high margins on products that  can not fail. As a company it is therefore beholden to the weakest link in its manufacturing chain. A single mistake could erode significant equity and brand value from the company. This to me is the significance of GE working on 3D printing. A $147 billion revenue company with 305,000 employees that can not afford to make any mistakes will be using 3D printing in manufacturing. By using 3D printing in next generation aircraft engines it is taking a risk on using a new manufacturing process in a new critical product. In order to mitigate this risk they will have to do a lot of heavy lifting and optimize the processes, materials, software toolchain and overall manufacturing of 3D printed parts. Given their reach and what is at stake they will have the resources to do this. This will bring benefits to 3D printing and will improve the application of the technology significantly. And since GE is so huge and followed so closely there will be spill over effects to many other companies if GE is successful. I hope they will be! I first thought that GE was only trying to sprinkle some 3D printing excitement sauce over their stock price but now I’m beginning to believe that they are serious about 3D printing in a big way. This makes me hopeful for a day when there may not be a 3D printer on every desktop but there may be one in every factory.

(PS..and I used to think that ultimately it would be 3D Systems that would buy SLM solutions, not so sure any more.)

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Leopoly is awesome and just the right 3D modelling tool for 3D printing

Leopoly is just the kind of 3D modelling and creation tool that 3D printing needs. It is a WebGL browser based 3D modelling tool that lets you push, pull, prod, smooth 3D objects in the browser. Its intuitive and incredibly easy to use. You can grasp it and start creating in minutes. The tool lets you easily make lots of fun organic objects and you can even select from several different materials to render your objects in. You can share things on Twitter and Facebook and remix other peoples objects. The video below explains Leopoly and the one below that explains the basics.


There is also Leopoly Next which lets you design offline and offers more functionality for modelling and integration with Leonar3Do. This is a 3D mouse and head tracking goggles which together with a 3D display lets you create while moving in the virtual 3D space.  I’ll be playing around with this for sure and can’t wait to see what others create with it.

3D printing is an incredible technology but in order for it to be truly useful many people will have to be able to create their own things with 3D printing. 3D printing is a collection of layer by layer manufacturing technologies that all are striving to become the most efficient way to make individual objects according to a (unique) design. Mass manufacturing is better at low cost and throughput. 3D printing is better at quickly letting one make any individual design. Its better at short production runs, items with one user or one use case. In order for the full impact of the technology to be felt many people will have to be able create with it. Now there are approximately 8 million CAD and 3D modelling people worldwide. If we want everyone to be able to make anything they want they will need to be able to design anything they want. The thing holding the market back is not the printers but the software. A book press is useless without writers and literate people. TinkerCAD, 3Dtin  and now Leopoly are awesome easy to use tools that will really help 3D printing. By making designing easier they are the gateway to broader 3D printing adoption. Leopoly is in beta and you can ask for an invite here.

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Stratasys & Makerbot a good cat in the bag

There is a Dutch expression, “to buy a cat in the bag.” This means to buy something that ends up being not what you thought it was or hoped it would be. The expression comes from a much less PETA and Internet influenced age when the crafty Dutch used to make coats from cats. In order to obtain a good coat the cat would have to have a single well defined color fur such as black and not be a type of multicolored tabby cat for example. If someone had cheated a furrier by selling him a cat of the wrong color, sight unseen, the furrier had “bought a cat in the bag.” The furrier would in future be wise to look into the bag holding his dead cat before purchasing. Buyer beware. But, what if the furrier didn’t want to peek into the bag? What if it was enough for him or her to be seen to buy it and march triumphantly across the local market proudly carrying his bag? What if he hoped it would be a black cat but any cat would do as long as he was seen on this day. What if he just wanted to be seen to march triumphantly, much like that rival furrier who had continually kept the towns’ tongues wagging with his frequent and bold cat purchases? What if this would serve an ancillary business goal in the short term and perhaps work well for him in the long run.  What if sometimes any dead cat will do as long as it is large enough. In other words, sometimes it may be OK to spend $403,000,000 on something that may not be worth it as long as it is seen to be a good move.

In short, I think that this is a nice parable for the Makerbot acquisition by Stratasys for $403m. I’m going to try and outline here why I think that as a company an sich I don’t think the deal makes much sense. But, in Stratasys’ current position this will be a good purchase for them.

Stratasys’ current stock is up 79% for the year and 222% for 3 years and 926% for ten years and the company has a market cap of $3.3 billion. 3D Systems has a market cap of $4.3 billion is up 134% for the year, 917% for three years and 2333% for ten years. 3 year average revenue growth at Stratasys was 29% whereas it was 43% at 3D Systems. Net income at Stratasys last year was 8m on revenues of 255m while it was 39m at 3D Systems on revenues of 354m. Price to book at Stratasys is 2.1 while 3D Systems has a ratio of 8.1. Cash flow from operations may explain the disparity, in 2012 this was $1m at Stratasys (albeit in a merger year) while it was $53m at 3D Systems. So when seen over a few years both stocks have done very well but clearly 3D Systems is much more of a stock market darling and seems to have the revenue growth to match. One proviso though, 3D Systems has the 22nd highest short interest versus free float percentage on the NYSE at 32% in April. Currently the number is 28% while Stratasys has a much lower 10% figure. This is an indication that rather a lot of bets are being placed that 3D Systems stock is overvalued. So Goldilocks may find herself in a house filled with bears while Rapunzel looks on forlorn and ignored.

There are only four publicly traded 3D printing stocks (Autodesk and GE’s attempts to be considered notwithstanding). ExOne is a new and relatively small company, Arcam is traded in Sweden and then we have the two big boys Stratasys and 3D. They are the natural magnets for investors responding to the media hype in 3D printing. These two companies have been competing with each other to be the 3D printing leader for nearly two decades now. There is one China shop and two bulls eying one another with bright eyes, either stock or company can not be seen in isolation. Even though they have very different technologies and used to be in different markets the flight both their shares have taken since 2008 has changed both firms and made them much more an Airbus/Boeing duo eagle eyed towards one another’s movements.

Stratasys was conservative, astute and careful and worked on its own FDM technology. Nestled on the plains Stratasys was the company whose employees were most likely to go bowhunting, lets say. A flirtation with HP brought much excitement and later on the company acquired the relatively small Solidscape to be able to work in lost wax casting. Its major move these past years has been to merge with Objet. This company’s polyjet technology is much smoother and more detailed than FDM while generally being less robust and dimensionally accurate. The combination of the two firms means they can sell machines that work in industrial environments with tough FDM parts as well as create highly detailed dental, in office, display models and other parts with Objet. Furthermore Objet has made major strides forward in multimaterial technology letting you print different densities on one part, Objet parts have also gotten a lot stronger and may in future be a process that could be used for full color 3D printing. The combination was ideal and the different groups in the company seem to get along just fine despite there being much acrimony at one point between them over dissolution of a previous partnership. It seems that the specter of 3D Systems advance could make friends of the unlikeliest of candidates.

The Objet merger also brought troubles, there was a class action suit in the states that was settled. More problematic is a Israeli commercial misconduct suit filed against current Stratasys and ex-Objet executives and key investors according to Seeking Alpha. The plaintiffs include Stratasys current CEO and the Chairman of the Executive Committee. The lawsuit is being brought by the founders of Objet. Regardless of the merits of the suit this could perhaps be a cloud that hangs over the firm.

Another issue was the fact that Stratasys had no exposure to the consumer 3D printing market and 90% of all the media hype and attention was directed at consumer 3D printing. Analysts that have quizzed me on the 3D printing market almost always approached it from the consumer space and opportunities in that space and are often unaware that many more opportunities exist in medical, metals, dental etc. Apart from its $7,000 Mojo Stratasys had not entered into this market at all and made no investments in consumer facing services or companies. This was a major reason why Stratasys was seen as a lot less interesting and sexy stock than 3D Systems was. Because far away from the cold winters of Minnesota in Rock Hill a very different firm was making major inroads into the space and keeping the media spotlight as well as investor interested pointed at it at all times.

3D Systems has always been more aggressive than Stratasys. It was the pioneer and was listed first and had grown well. Only a few years ago the firm was sitting on a pile of cash but had a problem, it had no future. Or so many of us thought. Its Stereolithography technology was seen by many as being end of life. With tedious and time consuming manual finishing required on each part production costs would be higher than other technologies that could do partially mechanized post processing such as Stratasys’ support removal stations. Smoothness and detail are excellent with SLA  but UV degradation yellows parts and causes them to become brittle. Part strength and heat deflection temperatures were also lower than other 3D printed parts. Meanwhile its SLS technology provided for less attractive and less well defined parts than EOS competing SLS technology. It was felt that 3D Systems would not do well in a world dominated by end use and production parts and would be consigned to making molds, its life on a tether.  And that tether was EOS’ unwillingness to enter the US market. So what did 3D Systems do? It spectacularly bought itself a future. It bought the two largest 3D scanning companies, lots of service bureaus, a prosthetics start up, a design firm, a UAV manufacturer, a materials manufacturer the list goes on an on. It bought consumer facing 3D printing companies and launched a consumer 3D printer.

Only a few years ago both Stratasys and 3D Systems were captives of their own patents developing their own technologies for their own niches and applications.  Stratasys  was still walking along this path while 3D Systems became active in every single application and vertical that 3D printing had. They seemed to want to own the entire space and provide for every conceivable 3D printing requirement and solution from 3D authoring software to consumer machines and tools to industrial machines. It will take time to ascertain if the one stop shop approach will work and if 3D can integrate and develop synergies from its disparate business units and acquisitions. But, damn this was a company on the move.

It was the specter of this, the cookie monster munching away at every morsel on the table in the industry that prompted Stratasys into action. The Objet merger was spectacular but still Stratasys didn’t have any consumer 3D printing exposure. It has over 500 patents and a clear lead in the technology. But, over a 100 FDM based start ups and printers were emerging and someone somewhere had read the Innovators Dilemma. How to recapture initiative, show boldness and get this exposure? Buy, Makerbot of course. In one fell sweep Stratasys would become the leader in the consumer 3D printing space. And best of all, it could buy it for stock which it had and didn’t have to spend cash which it was low on. Indeed the company had negative free cash flow in 2012 ($-14m) and a net income of $8m. So there may have been cash to invest in developing and acquiring a start up in the consumer space but it would not have been a gigantic amount especially since Makerbot had gotten $10m at one point. Another, very different 3D printing company Shapeways has received over $47m in venture funding so far. So even though Stratasys was one of the leaders in the space and had at one point been sitting on a cash pile it risked having smaller 3D printing start ups get funded $30m or more by VC’s and actually run the risk of these start ups being able to out spend them in the desktop space. I believe that the main reason for a weary Stratasys to buy Makerbot now was to on the one hand attract investors and on the other hand make sure that Makerbot was not able to attract significant amounts of new funding. This may have meant that Stratasys would not have at one point successfully been able to compete and enter into the desktop space. A possible IPO by Makerbot would have also meant a well capitalized future challenger for Stratasys. It was probably unable and unwilling to spend the money to do this now but in an all stock transaction with a lower than average multiple and valuation why not?

Sometimes any dead cat will do, as long as its large enough and cheap enough. Because other than an all stock transaction that would make major waves Stratasys’ options for getting exposure to the consumer 3D printing space were limited. What else could it have done? Spend $10m trying to outmarket Makerbot and woo a maker audience wary of large companies and with an ingrown love for start ups? They would have always been at a disadvantage and people would have been inclined to support one of those 100+ FDM start ups. It could risk having invented a technology decades ago, watch others commercialize it for the desktop without making a cent on it. Makerbot as an asset was not the thing they were buying here it was momentum for the Stratasys share price and a hedge against not ever being able to compete on the desktop.

Apart from Thingiverse which is a wonderful asset that could be a winner takes all file sharing solution for 3D printing if well managed, Makerbot’s value lies in its perceived lead in the desktop space. It has been excellent at driving marketing to itself and becoming the number 1 brand on the desktop. But, Makerbot’s machines have suffered from reliability and uptime issues from the start. The Makerbot brand and community suffered a major hit when they abruptly switched from touting their open source open hardware approach to effectively becoming a closed source company. The major reason for its growth has been the love and praise it has gotten from makers, open hardware people and the community at large. They seemed more idealistic than others and were rewarded for that. This proved to be an illusion. With regards to their machines Makerbot has not been able to take its money and higher numbers of staff and head start and translate this into better machines. There are much smaller companies with far less money that have been able to make cheaper more reliable 3D printers than Makerbot has.

For a comparison of some desktop 3D printers look at the chart I made below. In terms of build volume the Makerbot is significantly surpassed while it is comparatively more expensive while delivering less compared to many printers. Pay special attention to the Build volume in liters that actually lets you compare the volume easily. The machine cost per liter of build volume is a kind of weird metric I came up with to check the price efficiency of these selected 3D printers. The units shown are all technologically interesting and amongst them are also the largest in unit sales. This for many has been a closely guarded secret but I’m sure a few of them are close to harakiri today for not disclosing their numbers. Also pay attention to the funding numbers these were quite high for some systems but others are self funded. Many have made printers that exceed the capabilities of the Makerbots.

Build Dimensions mm Build Volume liters Minimum Layer Thickness mm Cost Assembled? Unit sales Crowdfunded? Interesting Machine cost per L of build volume
German RepRap PRotos X400 CE 400 x 400 x 350 56 0.1 $4,442.00 Yes NA No Largest build volume, CE certification $79.32
German RepRap PRotos X400 400 x 400 x 350 56 0.1 $2,408.00 No NA No Largest build volume $43.00
SeeMeCNC RostockMaxDelta 279 x 374 22.9 0.09 $999.00 No 300 $77,659.00 Delta printer, cylindrical $43.62
Leapfrog Creatr 250 x 270 x 300 20.3 0.15 $1,613.00 Yes 1000 No Large build volume $79.46
Aleph Objects Lulzbot TK-O 300 x 300 x 225 20.3 0.45 NA Yes NA No Dual extruder NA
3D Systems Cube X 275 x 265 x 240 17.5 0.1 $2,615.00 Yes NA No Up to 3 extruders ($4000), cartridges $149.43
RobotFactory 245 x 245 x 245 14.7 0.1 $3,918.00 Yes NA No Build platform speed 5.000 mm/min $266.53
Robo3D 254 x 254 x 203 13 0.1 $520.00 Yes 1050 $649,663.00 Plastic housing $40.00
FelixPrinters Felix 2.0 255 x 205 x 235 12.3 0.2 $1,828.00 Yes NA No High rigidity & quiet $148.62
Fabbster 225 x 225 x 210 10.6 0.044 $1,797.00 No 600 No Sticks, high speed $169.53
FelixPrinters Felix 1.5 235 x 205 x 200 9.6 0.2 $1,160.00 No 500 No Aluminum frame $120.83
Ultimaker 210 x 210 x 205 9 0.05 $2,200.00 Yes NA No Open source, thin layers $244.44
Solidoodle 3rd Generation 203 x 203 x 203 8.5 0.1 $799.00 Yes NA No Sold over 1000 of 2nd Generation. $94.00
Hyrel3D 200 x 200 x 200 8 0.025 $1,645.00 Yes NA $152,942.00 Closed loop & support material $205.63
Deezermaker Bukobot 8 200 x 200 x 200 8 0.1 $2,020.00 Yes NA See Bukobot Aluminum frame $252.50
Eventorbot 203 x 254 x 152 7.8 0.1 $500.00 No NA $137,508.00 Open source & Attractive $64.10
CB Printer 200 x 200 x 180 7.2 0.1 $2,265.00 Yes NA No High build quality $314.58
Makerbot Replicator 2 285 x 153 x 155 6.8 0.1 $2,199.00 Yes NA No Venture funded $323.38
Makerbot Replicator 2x 285 x 153 x 155 6.8 0.1 $2,799.00 Yes NA No Dual extruder & acrylic casing $411.62
Aleph Objects Lulzbot A0-101 200 x 190 x 100 3.8 0.45 $1,725.00 Yes 400 No All design files shared $453.95
FormLabs Form1 125 x 125 x 165 2.8 0.025 $3,299.00 Yes NA $2,945,885.00 Stereolithography $1,178.21
Beijing Tiertime Up! Plus 140 x 140 x 145 2.8 0.15 $1,499.00 Yes NA No Easy to use $535.36
3D Systems Cube 140 x 140 x 140 2.7 0.2 $1,569.00 Yes NA No Consumer friendly & material cartridges $581.11
Deezermaker Bukobot Mini Green 125 x 125 x 125 2 0.1 $850.00 No NA $167,410.00 New Open source framework $425.00
Printrbot Printrbot Jr. Kit 114 x 134 x 102 1.6 0.1 $399.00 No NA $830,827.00 Cheap, Assembled for $499 $249.38
B9 Creator 51 x 38 x 203 0.4 0.05 $2,495.00 No NA $513,422.00 DLP $6,237.50
MiiCraft 43 x 27 x 180 0.2 0.05 $2,299.00 Yes NA No Pico DLP Stereolithography $11,495.00


And this brings me to another mystery. Why would these savvy VC investors sell for $400m now? I mean its a nice exit. But, in the last nine months the company sold 11,000 3D printers in 9 months according to all of the media articles. So in a full year they’d sell 13,750. This would give them a revenue, just in systems not with filament thrown in, of $38m a year for a five year old company with a 10m investment. Seems alright? But, even with all of the interest in consumer 3D printing they don’t think that they can make a big splash and at IPO get higher than the multiple/valuation that Stratasys was paying? Were they burning money too quickly? Was no one willing to pony up more cash? In the press release it was stated that the company generated $11.5m in revenue in the first quarter of this year and $15m last year. If they sold a third of their printers in the first quarter it would leave 3.5m in materials revenue left over, which would be nice and imply that Makerbot’s installed base was buying 72,000 kilos of materials from them a quarter. But, Makerbots pricing at around $48 a kilo is much higher than many alternatives at $20 a kilo for material. What if the first quarter unit sales were much higher than 3000 and many Makerbotters had switched to purchasing filament elsewhere? Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is true. Might this explain the VC’s unwillingness to see this through to IPO? A machine plus consumables business that all of a sudden wasn’t the cash cow it was spreadsheeted to be? Or was the valuation by Stratasys simply more than they ever thought they were going to get? Did the VC’s know the cat was the wrong color but Stratasys know that even if it was, it would be a good buy? Was future development of the printer hemmed in by Stratasys patents?

Risks/Rewards of the Purchase

Rewards for Makerbot users: 

Improved machines

Improved product development.

Higher reliability.

Risks for Makerbot users:

  • Loss of start up coolness of Makerbot.
  • Company may become more corporate (seems unlikely).

Rewards for Stratasys Management/Shareholders:

  • Momentum in Stratasys stock.
  • Increased exposure to the desktop 3D printing market.
  • Market entry now for all stock transaction.
  • Eliminating future competitor.
  • “full 3D printing market” product line.
  • Increased sexiness for Stratasys brand.
  • Higher valuation for Stratasys, P/E etc.

Risks for Stratasys management/shareholders:

  • Reduced sales Makertbot due to lower start  up coolness.
  • Customer complaints due to higher FDM consumables pricing on industrial machines.
  • Reduced revenue due to possible cutting of FDM consumables pricing.

Rewards for the 3D printing industry/community at large:

  • Better Makerbots.
  • A successful exit might prompt more funding.
  • Ensuing media attention will move the spotlight away from guns.

Risks for the 3D printing industry/community at large:

  • Will the plethora of 3D printing start ups now end up in few hands?
  • Can the engineering and marketing prowess of both parties eliminate competition?


What other things could Stratasys have done with this kind of money? Although I think it is a good deal for them I think it would have been much better for Stratasys to buy up several metal 3D printing companies. This could have been presented as the future and together with the waves GE and others are making in the metals space, FDA approval for procedures and real numbers and patient outcome improvements in metals.  Estimates on medical say it may be a $7b a year opportunity. There are many exciting new applications in automotive and aerospace.   Arcam, the company behind EBM technology makes machines that make tens of thousands of titanium medical implants a year. It has a market cap of around $22m and revenues of $21m. They could have purchased that for example or maybe Realizer, SLM solutions, Concept Laser, Optomec or Layerwise. The purchase of Arcam and especially the purchase of Arcam, Realizer, Optomec and Layerwise would have been a much better investment in my opinion. This would have given them 5 different metals technologies and would have them be well placed to supply industrials with the 3D printers of the future. Both Stratasys and 3D Systems are  weak in metals and this would have given them a real USP and an incredible lead on the rest of the industry. I think the Makerbot purchase is a cat in the bag but it may yet work out well for Stratasys but now that they’re on an M&A roll they should get shopping on these metals firms before the nice people of Rock Hill decide to hoover up those crumbs.

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On 3D printed guns and liberty

I know it is probably unwise to criticize a band of people  trying to 3D print their own firearms. But, I feel I must state this, if only for the record, if only to let me sleep better at night someday in the future.

The people at Defense Distributed are sociopaths who by refusing to consider any possible consequences of their actions are exhibiting an almost childlike asinine level of  irresponsibility. The media, by giving young Cody a platform to express their views and obtain funding, are culpable in letting a lone gunman not only hijack their editorial pages, blogs and TV for his own ends but also in letting him build his gun. Without media attention the “3D printed gun” would not have been possible. Through their irresponsible reporting they have made from a non-event a deadly device that will at one point kill someone. The most likely victim, one of the people making this thing.

It is through media attention that we see Cody’s pathology emerge. If you see the YouTube videos the student becomes a leather jacketed sunglasses wearing “eating Diane Finestine’s lunch”, “Joe Biden this is no country for old men”, “How’s that national conversation going” corny one liner bad boy who AR-15 in hand interjects himself into the US national gun debate. Look at the changes coming over him in the videos, ever more bombastic, self-absorbed and macho. Driven with a desire to be famous he has grabbed his 15 minutes of fame with a secure pistol grip and Rambo stare.  Motivated by a wish to delta his Twitter followers and be someone he is driven to complete his mission. Not a student of law but rather an actor on the world stage, a mayor influencer in a grand national debate a Navy Seal  in the culture wars. The New York Times, CNN, NBC, BBC News, etc. He is somebody. Somebody who has a natural gift for PR. A deadly troll wants to be famous and has found his shtick in making guns. A quote from Cody and co. describing their inspiration, “We could be like arms manufacturers”, “That’d be cool.” “What about 3D printing?” A quote from me, “this will end well.”

Dear reporters, you have created this monster, this self promotional manipulator who bereft of any engineering or 3D printing sense will probably end up hurting himself. Everything they’ve done so far could have been done better by a few experienced engineers & 3D printing people over a weekend. The real tragedy here is that the most likely short term outcome of this entire thing is that Cody will on live TV lose several fingers and may suffer from severe burns once his poorly designed excuse for a firearm explodes in his hands.  Not only is the idea ill conceived but the materials are poorly chosen with heat deflection temperatures and strengths far below those required for a firearm. Some basic research would have uncovered much better suited 3D printing materials. Orientation and layer direction also does not seem to have been taken into account. The design is also in my opinion not adequate not taking into consideration the forces at play. What we can learn about the design choices they make seem bereft of a basic understanding of the plastics involved, mechanical engineering and 3D printing. The Liberator is a dangerous thing, not because it will somehow change America but because it will at one point rupture while being fired and possible really harm the operator of the weapon. The other victim will be irony. No doubt that this is going to be the worst thing thats happened to the word since Alanis Morisette.

Despite the existence of this thing, I still maintain that on current generation home machines it will not be possible to make a working reliable firearm. A gun that is better than a few things one could collect from Home Depot.  There are far better production technologies available for producing arms in the home.

But, if this idea is promoted enough it will at one point lead to a 3D printed weapon being produced. This will be untraceable and you will by no means whatever be able to detect it or stop it from being produced. It may not work well but could be used to threaten, rape, kill and hijack. Because the most dangerous thing about this is that it radically lowers the barrier for a criminal to obtain something they can use to credibly threaten someone else and coerce them into doing their bidding. By mentioning this gun the media and letting them do their story we are making this outcome more likely. We should stop talking about this and ignore this entirely because that will make it less likely that such a thing will be produced and less likely that people will get hurt. Not mentioning this will at  least slow its development.  You can not unmake an idea. Eventually with 3D printing everything that can be made will be made. We need to realize this and as a society be responsible. And promoting a dangerous idea just because it is hip and interesting is not being responsible.

This is akin to in 1995 giving a gigantic amount of media attention to someone who wants to publish the Anarchist’s Cookbook online. Imagine all the fear then? And now terrorists can use the internet to exchange lots of information but I am betting that this level of exchange and the ensuing dangers are  far lower than what we would have feared back then. But, the simple mentioning over and over again of this possibility would be enough to make it self-fulfilling just like the internet itself was a self- fulfilling prophecy. Will the internet make it possible to exchange all information? Yes. Is this inherently dangerous? No, unless people who want to do dangerous things seek and find this information.

We are basically good people and so far the 30,000 people who have 3D printers at home haven’t been making guns, because they don’t want to kill people but make nice lovely things. This idea has been around for decades but no one (outside R&D for the military) has picked this up, why? Because these people were intelligent enough to realize that the outcomes of this would be negative. Being grown ups, they were able to think about the consequences of their actions.

This entire “3D printed gun’ story  is akin to there being no occurrences of anyone stabbing anyone in the eye with a fork. Someone coming up with the idea to stab people in the eye with the fork because they believed that in general you are free to do what you want. That someone then detailing how to stab people in the eye with forks. That person then repeatedly explaining the concept to the mass media over and over again. And…all of a sudden people start getting stabbed in the eye with forks. Will this mean that forks are dangerous? No, it means that if you give someone a stage from which to shout their dangerous idea, you make it more likely that this idea will come about. This is not true of all ideas, some can be stopped because they are aired. But, others like the “stabbing people in the eye with forks” or “you can now 3D print a gun” idea can not be stopped because once the genie is out of the bottle there only remains the inspiration for the individual to carry out the act in isolation. This is similar to the “lone school shooter” idea whereby mentioning this in the media causes more school shooters to emerge.

It is much easier to make a weapon with CNC, and plans for CNC weapons have been online for a while now.

If you were really interested in making guns at home aren’t there many tools that would be much better suited for the purpose than a 3D printer? Reamers? Drills? CNC?


Could you make a gun out of clay by using that as a mold? Yes. Should we regulate pottery wheels?

This thing has the functionality of a zip gun (maybe) and would not be up to the standards of a weapon made with pipe and other materials from your local hardware store. So what is the story exactly?

This just the perfect storm of “new technology 3D printing”+fear+guns=story.


How will this help American gun owners? They can buy guns? So why would they want to make them?

Isn’t there a risk that criminals and the insane, who can not buy weapons will use them?

Isn’t the best possible use case for this weapon the hijacking of an aircraft?

In the interests of liberty should you do product development for Al Qaeda? A group much more likely to benefit from this technology than NRA loving Americans?

How many aircraft can  Al Qaeda hijack using this weapon for it to still be a victory for liberty?

If Americans die due to terrorists using this weapon will it still be a victory for liberty? What number of deaths will be OK?


Does the risk that a person unable to obtain a firearm because they are insane or a criminal using this to kill someone outweigh the perceived benefit to American gun owners?

Does lack of criticism from the NRA imply that the NRA thinks it is a good idea that the criminally insane and convicted or active criminals will have an ability to produce their own  firearms?


“The goal was, the political goal was, universal access to the firearm.” So this is a political goal that may kill someone? Is it worth it, did you get to the part in your course about proportionality yet?

Would this project be worth it if someone died?  Would the people at defense distributed be able to live with that? From interviews it seems they have not considered this or do not mind.

Does something like the precautionary principle or any kind of reasonable weighing of the outcomes apply here?

“If the police can have it, if the military can have it, then you can have it.” Isn’t the modern state based on a monopoly of violence by the authorities?Is a asymmetry in weaponry needed to keep a stable society? So I should also be allowed poisonous gas? Nothing is to be forbidden or restricted? How about basic laws that we’d like to make so that we all get along?

He seems to imply that he’s read the Leviathan, has he?


“The political “discussion” about mental health, the background check, and gun control is invidious and follows a disciplinary desire. Remember that power produces truth. Individual subjects are made administrative objects through a documentary process: The mental health evaluation, the questionnaire, the application. The tendency is toward an ultimate result where no one really meets an artificial behavioral “norm,” and all are unfit to own a weapon. Case in point.
This is not a discovered truth about reality. Power produces.”

Read that few times and tell me what you think. Does this imply that because at one point maybe the criteria for insanity will become broader it is a good idea to give weapons to insane people now? Because maybe at some different future “the government may  take our guns away”, we should make them available to bank robbers and psychopaths now? In other words, we may at some point reach a slippery slope so we must now do something that endangers people?

“Don’t we all have the capacity for evil within us, is an essential question and I think yes of course, …. this ability to do harm that lies in all of us. But regardless of if there will be more murders in the end or more gun crime in the end we still think there is a liberty interest in allowing you to have access to those things.”

Is anyone actually listening to what this guy is saying? How can someone say this and still be considered to be of sound mind? He is accepting of the fact that a certain number of people may die but thinks that regardless of the number of these deaths “the liberty interest” outweighs the number of deaths be they 1, 10 or 100,000? He accepts that what he is doing will kill people but wants to press on regardless? Regardless. His idea of what liberty is and his actions in bringing this about outweighs any possible consequence? If I think that something promotes liberty I can do it regardless? More importantly I should let nothing stop me? Someone should tell these guys that we live in a world with consequences. There is no save game, no do over.  What if we disagree on what liberty is? What kind of 3rd grader man is the measure thinking is this? So by the amazing logic driving these people someone who wanted to detonate a nuclear weapon would be justified in doing this as long as they thought there was a “liberty interest” involved?  And even if 300,000 people died it would totally be OK because the abstract idea of liberty is much more important than any number of human lives. What are the criteria for liberty interests and who sets them?  Its like someone gave a third grader access to a thesaurus, Hobbes and 3D printing and they understood none of those things but were able to parrot a few things just enough to get invited to all the TV channels.

“Oh Definitely, this is the problem of liberty generally, people are gonna be free to be stupid, they’re gonna be free to mess up, they won’t build it right, and they might hurt themselves.” Finally I think he’s said something I can agree with.



























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My doubts about BotObjects

BotObjects launched their full color desktop 3D printer with a podcast and a webpage. You should check out the page and read their claims because below I will discuss why I doubt their claim that this is currently a fully functional device that they have and will be launched in a matter of weeks. I really want this thing to be true and real. It would be wonderful. And I will be the first to admit I was wrong and apologize profusely if this incredible idea is real. If this were a concept I would go easy on it but they say they have this device and it will be on the market in weeks. I am highly skeptical. Technically I don’t think its possible, they also don’t seem to have the required knowledge of people who would have done this. If they would have they would explain themselves differently and would ascribe a different relative importance to their innovations.

But, the most important thing to me is: Why the hell is this thing orange? Why did they go through the trouble or making a semi transparent orange cover? Why choose orange? Did they like the color? Did they think people wanted to see their prints but not see them really well in a transparent cover? The Form1 uses an orange cover but that is because it uses SLA and needs the orange to block out light to  prevent it being harmful to peoples eyes and most to stop the light in the room from hardening the resin before the laser does. Why in a non-light based 3D printer would you pick orange as a color? This thing use FDM so the orange is not needed. Knowing, as I’m sure that the people capable of making a full color desktop 3D printer would know, that all the  light based systems will tend to use orange to do this, why pick orange. Why not pick another color to differentiate yourself? Any color but orange? Why pick orange, this is totally amazing to me.

I’ll go through their site, header by header.

“Just like normal ink printers, the ProDesk3D uses its proprietary 5-colour PLA cartridge system, capable of mixing primary printing colors to generate the colors of choice for the object you wish to print. This is delivered seamlessly with our software included with the ProDesk3D.

Why “delivered seamlessly with our software included with the ProDesk3D” is that really important considering the invention itself?

Why mention this and not talk about other color related things?

DPI, colors, color capability?

The form factor of the thing leaves too little space for 5 regular print heads plus everything else.

The mechanics of the thing would be too complex.

And why not mention the complex mechanics?

Why not mention all the breakthroughs needed for this in switching/gates/extrusion technology?

If the complex mechanics would be there they would also not fit in the machine. Or did they perhaps have a huge stride in some kind of electronics field?

If they did this why not mention it.

Mixing like this would not be feasible without some huge tech gains.

Purge times would be too high. Or if purging would be done, would require more equipment.

Why not talk about these challenges?

Why not mention what colors are in the cartridges?

Color mixing is hard.

And all the mixing is done in the cartridge? Or cartridges individually?

If the cartridge is the magic is the magic then done in each cartridge individually? The podcast seems to imply that this is the case. This is confusing to me. Or is it a cartridge system? If there is a mixing system why not give that a name and mention that? Our ColorMixerPro is amazing…”

If you could mix any color, how would this create true full color? How would that work exactly?

If I’d have to mix for skin color, print, mix for eye color, print, mix for pupil color, print, mix for eye color, print, mix for skin color print all in one layer wouldn’t it take too long? How would it purge/cut off the stream?

And if it would do these things they would need much more space.

“Improved accuracy with printed Support Material 
To support your printed 3D objects, the ProDesk3D delivers a PVA-based Support Material via our proprietary Dual-Extruder head. Now the most complex 3D designs can be printed with ease. Our Support Material does not require a messy finishing set or any chemicals to complete your design.”

“Improved accuracy with printed Support Material” is bull. They go on to say that it does improve the number of things you can print but support material is support for geometry not something that increases accuracy. How would it increase accuracy actually?

Why not mention how support is removed? Ultra sonic wash tank?

It is not messy, maybe, but how does it work then?

Why not make a bigger deal about support in the first place?

“Fast automatic set-up – with self-calibrating build platform
Just like normal ink printers, there shouldn’t be any complex or tricky set up, the ProDesk3D arrives out-of-box complete. Plug it into the mains, quick auto software download, insert your cartridges in seconds, and load up your 3D design and print it! Our industry leading proprietary Self Calibration Software talks to the ProDesk3D, understanding the composition of your uploaded 3D design, and while it auto-sets the printer, it also self calibrates the printer bed. No more tricky software set up!”

Whats the big deal with a self calibrating build platform? Why is that a huge selling point?

Does the extruder self calibrate?

Why does only the build platform self calibrate?

Why not both the platform and extruder?

How does it do this?

Why is this more important than highest speed and accuracy (see below)?

And the self calibrating build platform is more important than outperfoming the entire industry in every metric (see below)?

“Delivering industry leading accuracy, speed and durability
The ProDesk3D will be capable of printing down to 25 microns, beating industry leading speeds using durable PLA and PVA support material. The ProDesk3D sets a new standard for PLA-based 3D models, leading the industry on finish quality and durability. The ProDesk3D is capable of printing ABS material.”

How do they get better durability exactly? How would a printer give a part better durability?

So not only can they do full color but they are also faster and more accurate?

What does printing down to 25 micron mean? Does it refer to layer thickness? Detail?

Win on one maybe, win on many fronts and it seems too amazing.

Why are these things lumped in one sentence and not explained? Each part of the first sentence below the header is amazing.

And how do they achieve a better surface finish?

Is this a another process?

“Cutting edge tri-fan system
In order to ensure consistency of airflow within the enclosed casing, the ProDesk3D delivers a unique proprietary based tri-fan system to balance airflow across the cubic space of the build platform, enabling time and time again consistent 3D builds, and eliminates inaccurate modeling.

But their 3 fans get their own header?

In the previous header they mention in one sentence, oh yeah we outperform the entire desktop 3D printing industry in every important metric. But, we thought that this was less important than our self calibrating build platform. We will lump the amazingness all in one sentence and then for another header talk about these amazing fans we have.

Also the usage of “cubic space” just bothers me.

What does eliminates accurate modeling mean? in the previous sentence the fans provide “consistent 3D builds” ok, so far so awesome and this in line to what they help do. But what is eliminates inaccurate modeling mean? Do the fans make sure I don’t make any mistakes in Solidworks?

“A beautiful anodized aluminum safe casing – highly functional
The ProDesk3D arrives in a high quality, beautiful and safe anodized aluminum casing. The goal had been set to think about the maturity of 3D printing, what would it look like in 5 years time, and how would the right case endure these times. Setting new standards with aluminum design, the ProDesk3D separates itself from the kit-like contemporaries.”

High quality, beautiful and safe are important but…uum…maybe the case does something else for your printer?

Is it rigid for example?

Why not mention the other benefits the case brings?

Marketing & Claims

I could understand not disclosing tech before launch. But, then why not talk about the other non patentable technolgy?

Why not mention all of the breakthroughs you had to make. “We had to make major advances in….”

Why not file first, then disclose?

Why not file, disclose and then launch with a working machine?

If the machine works right now and is ready, why not wait and show upon launch? Why the lag between now and the garden party?

Why not launch at the garden party? What is the  purpose of putting this live now a month in advance?

If as they say they have it right now why not go to BBC, CNN and show the thing working.

Why not launch at the 3D printing event that they say they attended?

Why soft launch something that answers every question and problem in 3D printing? What is the point of this from a marketing perspective, when with a few images and a video shared privately you could launch this with a newspaper, blogger or TV channel of your choice.

Soft launching this would be comparable to soft launching a chocolate bar that tastes great and makes you thinner.

Why no images of printed objects now?

From the Podcast

From the Engineer & Designer podcast: “we got cracking on this over two years ago” when they were involved with 5 other companies as CEO and CTO.

The “cartridge system is eco friendly and reusable, that was a big challenge for us, huge challenge” compared to the other stuff, not so much.

“We’ve got a self calibrating build platform, it took for ever”, uum why? How? Compared to the other things that they must have done to get the color to work the platform doesn’t seem like a hard challenge.

Also compared to the higher, accuracy, higher speed and other innovations it doesn’t seem like a huge challenge.

The build platform and cartridge are the only “big” and “huge” challenges mentioned. None of the other stuff, support, writing the mixing software etc.

Why not talk about the speed and accuracy?

“the tri fan system, was critical to making this work” How come? It would only improve builds, its not critical for the whole machine.

How are the fans critical to making this whole machine work?

300mm x 275mm x 275mm build platform is mentioned. But, this is not mentioned as amazing even though is 3 times Makerbots and second only to Rostock Max and German RepRap.

“sliders and autochecks (of machine software) go immeasurably further than whats available on the market today.” Sliders? How so? After a story about the sliders being used to adjust parameters, a question is asked What parameters do you have to adjust? “Its more around coloration. And what you can do with coloration.” uum?

 In summation

But, most of all, I go on Twitter and  in the comments box of Solidsmack and express my doubts about this machine. The logical response for them is that the sweet sweet smell of victory is near. Because if they have this machine and  it works as they say and it is going to be shipped in a matter of weeks as they say this is a beautiful moment. There is one 3D printing guy expressing his doubts. He doubts that this machine we made exists. He is a 3D printing consultant and he doesn’t even believe that this machine we spent two years on exists! Could you believe this? How awesome this would be? How great this would feel?

Other people also doubt it and start posting their doubts to twitter and in comments to articles. Oh no, we’re about to launch everyones dream 3D printer and this may cloud our launch. This is a risk. And we’ve been working on this thing for two years and have made multiple breakthroughs in multiple technical fields and will this will blow everyones mind.

What would you do? What is the only thing to do, to tweet, “@pilz glad that the botobjects is so amazing you cant hardly believe it, come to our garden party June. Heres an invite” But instead silence. The sweet vindication is so near. Would you wait? Would you not respond?

Or maybe you just would have taken one photo of one part and then presto this would all be gone and you’d have had 1.2 million visits and 200,000 newsletter sign ups by nightfall and been on the BBC in the morning. Then in 24 hours with some canny PR support you could have been on many major tv stations and papers the world over.  After all you have the device? It will be shipped in a few weeks?

And if you are not ready why say you are? Why launch this now? To promote the garden party? I mean if you invited a few journalists and told/proved to them them before that you have a full color desktop 3D printer that is also the fastest and most accurate system in the world well…I think they’d come. Given the high media interest in 3D printing you could make a huge event out of this. It just doesn’t make sense.  In short, I don’t believe the BotObjects is real. I understand I’m putting my neck out there but I just think that someone needs to stand up and say this before people get taken for a ride.

For some research on the topic of color mixing you can check out Myles Corbett’s report about RepRap color mixing (Thank you Richard). One thing mentioned in there is that for CMYK color to work on a FDM machine you’d need a fifth color, white to get lighter shades and no color. This would mean that including the support material the BotObjects machine would need 6 cartridges total not five, as mentioned. Or perhaps you would need the 5 cartridges as mentioned and an additional filament spool of support. But, this is not mentioned by BotObjects, they only mention a 5 cartridge system.




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