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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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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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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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Open Source 3D printable optical equipment library

Tipped off by the 3D Printing subreddit, I just read a paper on PLOS ONE about an open source 3D printable optical equipment library. This is, in one word, fantastic.

The paper initiated a, “library of open-source 3D-printable optical components to provide an extremely flexible, customizable, low-cost, start of a public-domain library for developing both research and teaching optics hardware. The results show that using this open-source optics method can reduce costs of many optical components by 97% or more.”

By using 3D printed components this library should greatly expand the number of people that are able to experiment and play with optics.  The cost of an optical rail went down from $320 per meter to 12 per meter. A lens holder went down from between $20 and $180 to 24 cents. A base went down from $150-730 to $3. These are amazing cost reductions and illustrate 3D printing’s role in making technology more accessible.

“For example to outfit an undergraduate teaching laboratory with 30 optics setups including 1 m optical tracks, optical lens, adjustable lens holder, ray optical kit, and viewing screen, the total cost would be less than $500 using the open-source optics approach as compared to $15,000 for commercial versions, providing over $14,500 in savings.” This could have as a benefit that optics can now be done in the home and also in High Schools.

A lens holder. 

The OpenSCAD designs as well as the Arduino control software were  posted to Thingiverse. You can see and download them here from Joshua Pearce’s Thingiverse. Pearce was one of the authors of the paper and also authored a paper on the Recyclebot so is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in 3D printing.

Open source optical rail using OpenBeam.

The team used OpenSCAD to make the designs and printed them out on a RepRap. They also used other open technologies such as OpenBeam (an open source extrusion beam project), OpenBeam is making huge strides lately and is increasingly also used in 3D printers for the chassis. They also made a Filter Wheel changer which usually costs around $1500 for $50 using an Arduino and 3D printing.

Open source 3D printed, arduino controlled filter wheel changer. 

The authors point out that the accuracy of the RepRaps needs to be improved to get better results. The dimensional accuracy of ABS/FDM is good though and it is relatively tough so I hope that this will be a great solution for schools, colleges and enthusiasts to get into the DIY optics game.

When I read this I felt head slappingly dumb for a moment since this system works similarly to Materialise’s Rapid Fit system that produces jigs for the testing of mass produced parts. These are made by SLS and are extremely accurate and also use 3D printed parts in combination with beams. I’m an idiot for not connecting these two things earlier and realizing that this should be possible. The extreme accuracy of RapidFit though does point to further possibilities in refining and improving the optics library using high end machines.

P.s., A great thing about the paper was the acknowledgements where, “The authors would like to acknowledge helpful designs and discussions with M. Kreiger, G. Anzalone, T. Tam and thingiverse user ordaos.”

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The importance of the Lyman Extruder, Filamaker, Recyclebot and Filabot to 3D printing


In a story scripted for Good Morning America 83 year old Hugh Lyman invented the Lyman Extruder II, a simple desktop open source machine that converts ABS plastic pellets into filament. Mr. Lyman also won a $40,000 prize with his invention and in case you were wondering supplements his making activities with fishing and golf.

I thought this was a wonderful story and it is a significant invention. I was also moved by Mr. Lyman’s YouTube comment, “This is an open source project free to the world.” Not only by the quote but because it was  a YouTube comment by an 83 year old inventor who had just really pushed 3D printing forward. Modernity still surprises. As does YouTube with no crappy comments and no people falling to the floor and flopping around like fish for once.

Effects of Lyman 

Filament currently retails for $40-$50 online in several 3D printing material stores and 3D printer retailers. By letting people buy pellets the cost per kilo might be reduced as much as ten fold. You can buy pellets from $5 to $10 a kilo and much cheaper even if you buy direct from large distributors or plastics majors.

Cheaper 3D printing 

This extruder will therefore have a significant effect on pricing. If you wanted to print a mug it would have previously cost you $5 and now perhaps $0.5. This is a huge difference for 3D printer operators, you can make many more things at lower cost. Many more designs will become feasible at this price point. You also now don’t really have to think about using up material but can rather impulse 3D print many more things. Many more desktop 3D printed products now make sense. And for many things the price differential between the 3D printed thing and the mass produced item at the store has eroded or even disappeared altogether. This will make desktop 3D printing a cheaper hobby, more useful for some business applications and significantly reduce the TCO of the machines in any application.  ABS based FDM printers in one fell swoop just became 10 times cheaper to use. This will push the demand curve for the technology significantly outward.

Example of installed base improvement  

Better still this points to proof that indeed this market can be improved quickly by inventions that improve conditions for the installed base of 3D printers. If the software gets better, everyone with a 3D printer benefits. If lasers get better any SLS printer gets better. If resins get better Objet benefits etc. If materials get stronger they can be immediately deployed on compatible machines.  This is different from traditional manufacturing whereby each new technological innovation can not be immediately applied to existing factories. Because 3D printing is a 3 factor input process furthermore any of these 3 factors (machine, file, material) can be readily identified and improved upon, this is much more difficult in a fragmented complex mass manufacturing supply chain. It is in this manner that developments in 3D printing will out pace technological developments in mass manufacturing. 3D printing innovation can simply enter into use much more quickly.

Example of business problems and realities being solved by a Maker for Makers


The reason these materials were so expensive in the first place is that the market was too fragmented with too many different 3D printing solutions consuming different materials. There were lots of small vendors that placed small orders and fragmented these even further by wanting lots of different colors. This meant that these vendors could not achieve the low cost and scale that was needed for cheap filament. They bought from small time distributors or intermediaries and traders and were nuisance customers which also drove up the cost. I know this because I’ve been working on this problem for some months and came close to cracking it but, well, moving right along. Also with prices & margins artificially high everyone was not exactly keen to cut prices so prices stayed high. And what ended happening in the end? This whole inefficient chain of vendors was circumvented by a tool made by a maker making 3D printing more efficient. This is not only significant for now but points to this happening more in the future. You might be able to rip off a guy who wants to print out a term paper or airline ticket but you can’t indefinitely rip off a guy that wants to print everything.

One to many

Another great effect is that now its much simpler to give away things. Like this key chain? Keep it. This gets 3D printed things into many more people’s hands. By giving away more things and letting people keep lots of things and making it cheaper to sell 3D printed things we can turn these products into ambassadors for the technology. We can give away things that illustrate the capability & cost of these machines. Most importantly the people that have these things can now tell their story to their friends and family spreading the technology further around the world.

More failure=yippee!

With lower costs we will all be able to fail harder, better, faster and stronger. We’ll be able to make many more versions of things and test out many more things. We will be able to more easily test out each other’s designs and print out things with more whimsy or more adventure. This should in time lead to better product development in 3D printed things. We should see better things emerging more quickly than they have. More beautiful and functional things should also get made, all with more rapidity. This will also lead to increased demand for 3D printing.

But..this gets better yet, FilaMaker, Recylcebot and FilaBot

But, this story gets better still. There are a bunch of other similar project out there such as Joshua Pearce’s Recyclebot (more info here at RepRap).  FilaBot is a KickStarter funded project to make a personal filament maker. FilaMaker is a project by Marcus Thymark to combine a grinder with a filament maker (good name, Marcus Thymark, sounds like he should be invading Carthage or something). You can see a video below of Marcus’ grinder.

Recycle your 3D prints.

So what would a reliable grinder+filament maker mean? It would mean that you could recycle your 3D prints. Don’t like your mug or fractal whatnot, just recycle it. Bored with your keychain, turn it into a new one. This would also in and of itself significantly reduce the cost of 3D printing because not only is the kilo price much lower but you would iterate while reusing material and only keep what is perfect or memorable. Keep a picture frame, fridge magnet or gift and all other things would be in flux. This would greatly reduce the environmental impact of the entire 3D printing ecosystem and also lead to increased adoption. Also, we can now totally hit on Greenpeace chicks.

3D print for free! 

But..does it get better still? Oh yes it does, because a reliable grinder & filament maker could recycle household waste and turn that into 3D printing filament. So take your old Coke bottle tops and turn them into a nice Coca Cola red 3D printed bracelet. This would be a huge reduction in the environmental impact of 3D printing in the home and indeed make closed loop recycling in the home possible. It would also make 3D printing free. We could print whatever we like. And it would cost us nothing. This should help drive desktop 3D printer adoption as well.

Wow, so nothing bad’s going to happen?

Mmmm…well first off we have to be sure that these machines will even work repeatably at scale. Can they produce the correct diameter’s consistently?  Will there be bubbling and breakage. And since these things are rather slow, can you leave it on overnight without it burning your house down? We have to realize also that sooner or later someone is going to get very ill from putting the wrong kind of plastic in the machine or from fumes. If you melt PVC you might expose yourself to dioxin. Styrofoam has fun carcinogens too. Other plastics can also release dioxins when melted or burnt. Many melted plastics release fumes that to a more or lesser degree are harmful to us. So incorrect or possibly also correct usage of these devices could lead to people developing cancer. This doesn’t have to stop this thing in its tracks but should give us a moment to take pause. But, then again cigarettes give us cancer and people use those things all the time and they don’t even let you 3D print. But, because of this it is unlikely that these devices will go beyond the kit form. Perceived liability will also deter investors.

Speaking of investors, what about other negative things?

Well, if we do go on there is one more rather negative thing. In order to explain that I have to take you to a land far far away, a magical enchanted land of sunshine, dreams, hopes and possibility. This land is inhabited by a mystical and very powerful tribe of creatures with otherworldly names such as  Thiel, Khosla, Efrusy & Doerr.  The name of this magical land is Sand Hill Road. This tribe of creatures is called the VC’s. The VC’s are fearless, brainy, influential and very good at one thing: risk. Just how good are these creatures at judging risk? They’re amazing, thats why they all live smack dab in the middle of an earth quake zone in a city guaranteed to at one point fall into the sea. Yes, kids, these guys know risk like no one else.  These gallant and courageous creatures fear only three things: capital gains, hardware and the Emperor of Trolls, Myhrvold. When Myhrvold stomps around the wastelands of Texas the VC’s scurry and hide in their restaurants but other than that these proud creatures are free to roam the far corners of the earth. When Lord Myhrvold returns to his castle to cook up his potions they come out, blinking their eyes adjusting to the bright sunny glow of  their land paved in sun, bar charts and gold. These creatures are super smart, like owls every one. They feed only off of dreams and Excel. They are the guardians of invention deciding which idea becomes a thing. And they make amazing things such as social media video app platforms and also sometimes media video social app media platforms or sometimes even app social media video platforms and many amazing things like that.  Recently I even heard that they made a social app video media platform. Theres talk, but only talk, of them even perhaps getting together to, wait for it, make a social video media app platform. Truly world changing stuff! And to think they had humble beginnings in boring things such as semiconductors, these creatures have come a long way indeed. The tribe is really more of a heard but a herd that pretends its not a herd if that makes sense kids. Just imagine a group of mythical zebras pretending that they all don’t have stripes. And also pretending never to talk to one another.  Just like a magic lamp you go to them and rub them the right way and they grant you a wish. This wish is called a term sheet. But, unlike a genie you must never ever let them grant you your first wish.  What you really want is a second term sheet.  Also, unlike a genie you can not wish whatever you want but rather only wish something really really big.  VC’s never grant small wishes. Besides the rubbing you need a few things as well, some shiny PowerPoint as an offering, some yummy Excel to sustain them and some  items called barriers to entry, business model, defensibility and a dream. These all combine to form a magical potion and if the potion is just right  magical potion, the VC’s will grant you your wish.

So a few days ago our young hero Brock, good at Lacrosse, arrogance and pivot tables, jumps out of bed to work on his magic slides. And the numbers are good, yummy tasty VC numbers. Because Brock is going to take the VC’s fear of hardware away with these yummy tasty consumables numbers. Its not a machine, its HP. Its not an industry, its Gillette. You see, what we’re selling them a 3D  printing solution and the 3D printing material is a part of that, this is a platform. And with those yummy margins on the material the whole potion just makes sense. He just knows the VC’s will grant him his wish and he’ll be in his own jet faster than you kids can say abracadabra. But, then Brock reads about an 83  year old man who has just won a prize for something called a Filament Extruder. Brock breaks down crying sure that the mystical people up on that hill of greenbacks will never make his dreams come true. 30 years in the trenches at McExcel are to be his lot.

So kids, the moral of the story? Brock is fucked. The VC money to this market just went poof, like Amp’d mobile poof, gone. This is the downside, we bootstrap and kickstart from here on out.

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What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. Attribution in a 3D printed world

In a world where anyone can make anything many things will be copied & reverse engineered. Many things will be remixed. Many things will be adapted upon, changed radically or altered ever so slightly. It will be easy to download objects and tweak them. People will work on things together and designs will be passed around the world. In such a world we must be mindful of attribution. Attribution will be key to encouraging invention & innovation by letting people reap the rewards of their creations. If things are not correctly attributed we reward only those that copy and not those that put in the hard work. We risk ending up in a world without fundamentally new ideas and without true innovation.

I will write more about this in a later post but I think its about time for us all to accept that we will soon no longer be living in a world with any defensible intellectual property. I think that this is inevitable and it is from this operating assumption that I write this post. The one thing we should hang on to is attribution. When a movie is downloaded you at least know its from New Line Cinema or the Michael Haneke directed it. You at least know the movie by its original title and can enjoy and recommend that film to friends. You could later on buy the movie or friends of yours could or you could become a fan of Mr. Haneke. In this manner Mr. Haneke profits from any and all interactions people have with his film and indirectly could monetize even free downloads.

With things it is different. If you design a lovely chair, I could download the file adapt it and change the name of the chair. I could take your form, innovation or design and remove all trace of you. It would be difficult for anyone to then find out who you were and that you designed this chair. The object is different from the movie, it is not a shared experience per se but a thing. Because of this you could not profit from the success of this thing in any way. It would be easier to copy, steal and adapt than innovate and do research.

True artists and inventors would not be rewarded and unable to make any money off of their innovations. The outmoded Intellectual Property system is a plaything for big companies and is not capable of dealing with the speed of a 3D printed world. Since it is concerned with individual objects and comparing their relative uniqueness, age or primacy it will be too slow to make any real impact on what is actually happening with 3D printed things. If a court could make a ruling in Belgium on a case of infringement within two weeks it would be irrelevant in a global context despite copyright and other treaties. Also, by then this thing will have mutated perhaps a 100 times in as many jurisdictions. When does one copy become a new thing? Since the system is set up to rule in cases of individual items it is always going to be behind the times. If Mary copies a chair and then Tom adapts it and Leandro adapts it once again and then Min downloads the original and changes that while Moses combines both chairs then who infringes when? If Mary is found to have infringed on the original, then what about the others? The court would have to determine infringement in each and every case individually.

Previously copyright worked because book printing companies and TV stations were centralized businesses that were easy to find. In a world of decentralized production there will be no one to go after. There will always be someone somewhere who doesn’t have a mortgage, doesn’t have kids in college but does have a 3D printer.

Knowing what the source is of your objects is therefore very important. There will be no enforceable penalties from a centralized trademark bureau that can ensure that a trademark or name is your own. With trends and global information flows accelerating “flash in the pan” hits will become the norm as well as tiny successes. By the time the trademark infringement email arrives most of the monetization of that trademark that is momentarily in the spotlight might have already occurred. By the time the letter falls on the doormat, it could already be over.

What we need for objects is a combination between Flickr and Twitter. We need a timeline that establishes when a thing was made. We need a public database where one can upload a thing to the world, establish what it is, who made it and what rights are assigned to it. Shapeways and Thingiverse both could have this role but as they are being run by commercial parties for financial gain it is doubtful that they could be the best custodians for this kind of information in the long run. With commercial interests at stake, they might cave to people abusing the IP system too quickly. eg what if someone uploaded a Ford part to Thingiverse today? Would Makerbot keep the part live? or take it down? I would assume that Makerbot’s deal to sell several thousand 3D printers to Ford’s engineers might influence their decision. This points to a need for a Wikipedia-like organization to safeguard the public timeline of all the worlds designs. This would answer the oft heard online chorus yammering for sauce. The all defining sauce, or source. Where does this thing come from, what is it, who made it and when was it made? It is only through publicly safeguarding source that we can entertain the possibility that in the future there might be some way to make a living as an artist, designer or inventor.

Above is an image for the Mal1956, a copy of the Eames Ottoman. For an excellent article explaining the merits of this case here is a piece by preeminent IP lawyer Ernst Louwers.



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8 ways in which 3D printing industry is different from printing. Spellcheck & PostScript

I think that there are a number of similarities between paper printing and 3D printing but would council against directly comparing the paper printing industry, market, cost reductions and growth with that of 3D printing.

There are a number of fundamental differences at the moment and here I pick out 8 ways in which the current state of the 3D printing industry is different from the state of the DTP/PC/printer industry before its mainstreaming:

1. Ecosystem: With paper printing entire industries & ecosystems coalesce around technologies such as inkjet, laser printing & toner. This is not the case with 3D printing where there are many different technologies that have very little to do with each other and there is no ecosystem around them with many being developed by one company.

2. Shaving Cut: With paper printing the ink is very expensive but paper is cheap. This means that even though the printing ink is a ridiculously expensive compound and gives companies inordinate margins, the cost per print for the consumer is still low. This is because paper is cheap. This means that HP can have sweet margins in paper printing while still making the technology usable. Meanwhile in 3D printing everyone copied the HP/Gillette business model but they made a mistake. The 3D printing material is both the paper and the ink. So yes, the margins are ridiculous but they are limiting their market size and revenues significantly because the technology is too expensive. By limiting the applications 3D printing has and by unnecessarily inflating costs so that less things can and will be printed they are keeping people from using and adopting the technology. All the 3D printing companies are guilty of this and it is really inhibiting the growth of the market.

3. PostScript: With paper printing there was PostScript. Before PostScript paper printing was a mess and it is with the adoption of PostsScript that the entire DTP, print at home, print at the office thing actually worked. 3D printing has no PostScript. This means that you don’t know what you’re going to get, you don’t know if it will work, theres no universal path from app to machine and theres a lot of ambiguity.

4. Ease. It is easier to use Microsoft Word successfully and consistently than it is to use a 3D modeling application.

5. Bleed. Word and other business productivity applications had crossover effects with home use leading work use to bleed into the home igniting the DTP and PC revolutions. The work user base for 3D modeling and CAD is much smaller than PC.

6. Need. As part of their lives people have to make documents and often print them. The PC and DTP revolutions made ingrained user behavior and needs easier to accomplish. 3D printing does not do this but is a new thing for users to do. It might make their lives easier somewhere in the future but there is little immediate benefit.

7. No Spellcheck. In addition to PostScript there is no spell check for 3D printing. With making a Word (or WordPerfect 5.1! ) file you could see what you were doing, edit it yourself and spell check. There is no spell check to check if your thing will work in 3D printing. You also won’t even know if it will print in the first place. There is file repair software but there is no integration between these high end packages and the 3D design application.

8. Many people can write. Many people can write and could use PC’s and printers from the get go. But, not many people can 3D model, design or have a sense of design. For the PC and DTP we had to learn GUI’s and what software is but for 3D printing we will have to learn to 3D model (or other input) and learn how to speak design.

Image, Creative Commons Attribution Jake Sutton.

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3D printing a blank canvas

3D printing is not being held back by machines, its man that is restraining this revolution. In the tool chain from the ideas in our heads to the final product many steps are precarious ones. 3D design software is too difficult as is file repair and conversion. But, it is at a step before this, in our minds themselves that the greatest blockades are to be found.

The Diamond/Diabetes/Distraction Age

I do think that we are approaching an age where people want to understand their supply chain, know where there things come from and want to have things be just so. I do think we want to design and make our own things. I do think we want to individualize and make our mark on the world. I definitely think that we want to continue to differentiate ourselves and in a populated media and commercial landscape it is becoming hard to do. I do think we want to create and do think that we love the idea of 3D printing and machines that can make everything.

In living a digital existence we have been divorced from real things. We want to reconnect with our world, with our hands, with other people, with the things that surround us. Screens will no longer be enough. Higher resolution will no longer be enough. More things will not please us anymore. By moving into a time of post-consumerism towards increased awareness and meaning we will bring about a new age in design, manufacturing and cultural life. But, how to let go from these brands that hold us back. How to let go from the idea that meaning, design or inspiration must be provided by an authority figure somewhere?

The Singer Problem

People will enthusiastically tell you that we will have machines that make everything on the desktop and use them to share things and make everything we need just as we want it to be. Such a statement, if left unqualified, is bull. The sewing machine has been around for over a 170 years.  We could today use these machines to make all of our own clothes and give them precisely the look and fit we want. We however do not do this. Even enthusiastic sewers and fashion designers don’t make all of their own clothes. I’ve previously called this the Singer problem. Maybe sewing is too difficult, seen as a girly thing to do or seen as a low wages job or maybe the time just doesn’t pay off for many people part of the modern world. Truth is that if we were really on the path to a universal making revolution, sewing technology would be on the forefront.

The blank canvas problem

Want to confound someone? Freeze them in the headlights? Give them a blank sheet of paper and ask them to draw something. Many will not be able to draw. Many will be afraid of drawing. Many will get stuck, unable to express themselves. Many will not even start, unable to know where to go. Unable to decide where the first ink is to touch the page. Many will be unable to tell you what they want to draw but are unable to do. The corollary for this is, sustained creativity comes from constraints. Dilbert can be consistently engaging for decades because it has a limited universe, set ideas, set characters and similar stories. Dilbert is limited to its panels and format and because of this consistent quality can be achieved. Given fewer constraints it would have been harder.

Many will be frozen in a 3D printed age. Understanding the technology but unable to express themselves due to the wealth of infinite possibility.

Design is other people/No Exit

At the same time adults will rely on others to make their branding, design, style and fashion choices. We stop making things at one point. Afraid of what others will think. We conclude that we can not draw, or not draw well enough as compared to others. We are afraid to make something to show off our own thing. We  flock to the safety of brands. Its got a polo horse on it and everything, I must be stylish, I must be safe. Instead of making things ourselves we spend our time trying to choose products, choose things other people have made that are just right in terms of cutting edge, us and stylish. We read Vogue and it tells us what to wear. We stifle our own creativity and rely more and more on institutions to decide for us what we must wear or have in our houses. If we are to all 3D print, we have to start believing that something is valuable because we have made it. We have to start believing that we don’t really care about other people’s opinions. Rather than reflexively saying that we don’t care but meanwhile don’t have an actual opinion on anything, just parrot institutionalized opinion. We have to start believing that something can be beautiful just because we think it is.

From mind to product

There are two solutions I can think of that would sweepingly remove all of these issues. 1. a growing and vibrant maker community that connects with the mainstream through the idea of making coupled with people’s experience of photography that went from being an expert activity to a everyman one. A broadening of the idea that the supply chain of all your things is important, coupled with some slow food thinking and a shirking back from the excesses consumerism. This would gradually usher in the age where everyone can at least believe that they could be designer. It is not 3D printing that will let designers go the way of the professional photographer, it is people’s self confidence in their own ability.

2. A technology that lets anyone think of a certain shape and then 3D prints this shape. If I need to choose which of these two options has the greatest chance of succeeding, I’d bet on 2. There’s a guy called Jack Gallant at UC Berkley, he and his team are using fMRI scans of the visual cortex to see images in your brain. MRI images can already be turned into 3D prints. So it is a question of time for them to be extracted from your mind and then turned into 3D prints. At such a time you could actually think of an object or shape and we could 3D print it. This would be a sea change since it would mean that you could 3D print your dreams or any visual thoughts. What does Vogue have on my brain? What does Ralph Lauren dream that I can not? I can exactly tell you the shape I want this thing to be. This will be a huge impact for 3D printing technology and design since then the path from dream to thing is clear and all other designers, brands and  institutions will seem like distractions. Below and above some initial experiments that showed people movie trailers and asked them to reconstruct them. It is the tool chain that restricts us and the tool chain which will be impacted the most by this technology. The tool chain makes us not able to express ourselves directly. The toolchain of Hermes is what lets them construct and distribute their vision of things. It is this that will be altered by a technology that would let us think of something and then make exactly that. Then we can welcome everyone to a 3D printed world.


Here are some previous posts:

The Sistine Chapel in an Age of Screens.

Dear HP, Brother, Xerox, Please Make a 3D printer.

Punished for Quality.

Dieter Rams versus Jony Ive.


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The Sistine Chapel in an age of screens

In living a digital existence we have been divorced from real things. Our high speed lives consist of 1′s and 0′s, flitting between apps and scanning continually from screen to screen. We spend our lives watching birds fly on phones and detectives solving crime on TV. We kill thousands of people on our Playstations and drift into low impulse  control existences. We are obese and listless.  Gaming and watching we railgun our way into type 2 diabetes. We seek stimulation and excitement from bright screens and ignore the real world around us. The feedback loops on games grow ever shorter divorcing us from the slower and more boring feedback loops of the real world. We are level 60 warriors on a server park in northern Oregon and level 0 doers in our own homes and lives. The imagined world of TV’s and photoshopped magazines grows ever more beautiful. Marketeers invest billions to seduce us. New devices are more portable and screens propagate to surround us. Amidst the seduction of the screens our own lives pale by comparison. They are not as exciting, not as continually interesting. We withdraw into a digital world and ignore the real one.


The Sistine Chapel

I was in the Sistine chapel last year, generally seen to be one of the most interesting architectural and artistic sights in the world. A beautiful thing to gaze up at when you are in Rome. I’ve been 4 times and am amazed and wowed every single time. It is a rare and edifying place to be and fills me with the joy of artistic appreciation, it delights my heart. This time it was nearly Easter and a door on the western wall was opened to reveal an archway and room normally not seen by the public. Crowning them were two beautifully carved angels elegantly set in stone. I could see workers prepare for the papal address, guards guard normally hidden archways, priest like chess pieces glide across the room. Two older clergy were whispering off in a corner, there was even a Swiss guard, other men who had the look of those that had been doing this for decades look seriously at lists and clipboards while workers moved chairs and anachronistically shiny stage trusses with animated Italian seriousness.

Amidst this uncharactaristic look behind the scenes of the Catholic church, near one of its holiest days tourists milled trying to surreptitiously take photographs of the walls and ceilings above them. Most ignored the men working in the next room but I was fascinated by something I was not likely to ever see again, the supply chain and organization behind Urbi et Orbi. I was touched by the seriousness, routine and mundaneness of it. Stacked chairs being moved for the rebirth of Christ. Checklists and walkie talkies for a ritual that is thousands of years old. Black robed men solemnly sending texts. Men with earpieces circulating, walking, meeting, working for a God. As an atheist I found their work poignant and was glad I got to see it. Still, I could not resist those finely drawn frescoes above and turned my gaze to Michelangelo’s bodies in motion, still one of humanities finest artistic achievements, a man lying on his back telling the story of his God. Adam and Eve, the story of creation all brightly rendered while the paint drips into his eyes. But, not even this was the most poignant thing I saw that day. While looking down momentarily I saw a boy of about 10.

He was not looking up at the ceiling. He was looking at his iPhone. He held it horizontally and his head and his upper body periodically turned from side to side. He seemed to be navigating through some space landscape or piloting some kind of craft on a faraway universe. I understand that art appreciation might not be central to a ten year old. But, as he held his digital pacifier, enthralled by the action within, he was missing the sight of a lifetime above. Furthermore his mother held the back of his head with an open hand, navigating him around passersby. This done with a skill and routine that deflated me. And thus the little man walked, crisscrossing the stone flooring and being elegantly steered around a clump of Japanese tourists, narrowly avoiding a glancing cranial impact from a low hanging Nikon, while being again with much professionalism lead around a clutch of Spanish teachers listening to a guide before leaving the room. His eyes never leaving the screen, an iPhone controlled automaton rocking with the sway of images. Not looking up once. He didn’t look up once. She didn’t stop and ask him to look up once. Not once. I’m sorry I’m getting repetitive here, but not once.

It would be OK if the kid didn’t pay much attention in Rome in general. I would understand that to a certain extent. Maybe he’s not into the Vatican museum. Maybe the sumptuous halls and galleries wouldn’t tickle his fancy. I don’t myself have children but I completely understand that every once in a while it could be very tempting to toss a shiny technology brick at a child in order to occupy their minds. In these outstretched galleries with their artifact laden beautiful spaces stretching across the ages one might perhaps have a mind otherwise occupied. One could consider this a preamble and ignore its significance. Then later on in your walking tour,  in one of the most important artistic spaces in the world as well as one of the centers of a major world religion I would expect at least a glance up. If only to say one has been there or to justify the time. If only to have looked at the thing but once.

But, the kid didn’t. He was guided round the room like a zombie, a character in a computer game: not seeing, not realizing, not exploring, not living. Were not talking here about making the kid sit through the Matthäus-Passion for 3 hours. We’re not talking about signing him up for the Art History course at the Harvard Extension. We’re talking about making him look up for five minutes from a shiny tablet. We’re talking of perhaps letting his curiosity extend beyond the borders of a 640 by 960 pixel screen for a few moments.

And so we zombie like stroll through the world. Our eyes locked on those screens and bright continually moving pixels. We grab our phones when left alone a moment. We sit across from each other our minds millions of miles away. We sit close and focus on events happening elsewhere. We are downloaders not up loaders in this life. We dream of gaming marathons and worry about how many people follow us on Twitter. We focus on taking the best picture while not being there. We watch TV shows about interesting people with interesting lives filled with excitement while our lives are mundane, consisting only of their adventures.

Worse still, as characters in soaps become our friends, as the people of “real …. of ….” become our neighbors and we root for 3D markup toiling against other 3D markup inside the memory of consoles, our memories become more those of the stories told to us rather than the ones we ourselves make. Our frame of reference becomes the “hero always wins” and all “solutions are simple”, black and white worlds of TV and the movies. Our lives become the “save now win later” universe of games. Our joy increasingly comes from identifying and experiencing these artificial worlds as we ignore our own. At least if we only dreamed all day we’d be actively making those dreams. He we are pacified, here we are in the Matrix trapped in vats of our own construction.

The sheer vastness of time spent in front of screens skews our views of reality as well as taking us away from it. Their easy narratives are so much simpler than our complicated world. The people on screens are always so much prettier than we. Their lives so much more resolved. Their surroundings often more beautiful. Their excitement seems to make our existence so much less exciting. And the sheer number of points of success, relief, closure and resolution in their lives makes ours seem tirelessly difficult by comparison. The virtual world is thus also making the real look harder and makes it harder to enter into again.

My favorite statistic from CSUN, “Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours. Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500.” So if they continue with that habit then by the time they’re 40 they’ve watched over 4 years of TV continuously. 4 years of your life. 4 years spent watching NCIS, Storage Wars & some competition where they try to find the best whatever…… And how about this chilling statistic, “Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54.”

I know I know, how wonderfully luddite of me to rage against TV. But as the virtual continues day by day to grow more compelling with higher resolution, better stories and better visuals our screens will in future enrapture us even more. As we look from screen to screen and not at the real earth, not at leaves, the sky, our friends faces or at raindrops snail trailing across our windows our interest will ever more be captured by those screens. Our lives are worth more than that. Your life is worth more than that. Turn of that TV, close your Macbook, put away that smartphone. Live.


Given enough eyeballs, all things are shallow.

Iterative product development, using 3D printing in combat.

Mission Possible, full face masks.

3D printing a blank canvas.

Dear HP, Brother and Seiko, please make a 3D printer.

Punished for producing quality.

Dieter Rams vs. Jony Ive.

3D printing verus Mass production, 1% of everything.

Images Creative Commons, Attribution. Fransisco AntunesFreeparking. BriyyzIdeacremanuellapps.

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