on Feb 3 2015
We wanted to make it incredibly easy for people to turn ideas into real things.
When we first started 3D printing, we had a lot of failures with the tech. We realized that everyone was working on software or machines, but no one had taken a close look at materials. It was all commodity plastics. Why?
We wanted more than prototypes; we wanted functional objects. For instance, a part for my car, that I print out, place it in the car, and just go. Not some prototype that sits on a desk, but real world things.
We needed better materials to make that world a reality. With our backgrounds in chemistry and materials science, we realized we were the best ones to make that happen.
Absolutely! Right now, the state of the art is using the same stuff that is used to make disposable sporks - that is what people are shoving through their machines, at an extremely high mark-up, and not really being able to make anything functional.
One of our customers, for example, wanted to make a mounting bracket for this new type of computer in their car. But, the problem was, in the hot sun, the car gets very, very warm, and that bracket had completely melted... during their demos to investors! But if they had used our material… We care about things like that. It would have been an in-use product. Not just a prototype that was just for looks, but a functional item that won't just melt on you.
Also, when MadeSolid was initially started, we were doing software for scientists, that let them turn these molecular structures that they would use in their research into actual physical versions of it that they could hold and manipulate. And, as we got orders, and the complexity went up, the orders began being cancelled by the service bureaus that we sending our orders to, such as Shapeways and Ponoko. Looking into the problem, it turns out, that it was a materials problem. Essentially, the state of the art at the time was springing or dipping these objects in superglue after they had been printed to hold them together.
So we shut that version of the company down and mothballed the software. And I joined this hacker space to start working on the chemistry, and that's where I met my co-founder David Rorex. We began hacking together, on making better materials for 3D printing just so we could make more cool stuff. We made a lot of progress and decided to incorporate because we had some pretty damn good results over at the warehouse.
On the consumer end, you have MakerBot users printing chotchkies and bobble heads. They are not our target. Our main customers are engineering firms and prosumers who want durable 3D prints, often used under mechanical load in real products.
For prosumers, their job depends on 3D printing. They willing to pay premium price to get a product that lets them use 3D printing in their workflow.
For industrial customers, when there's less than a thousand units of some product, it is not always cost effective to injection mold it. It's just easier to 3D print it.
On objective measures - like strength, durability, and surface tension, we're clearly superior. That's easy to measure.
But while we are clearly better on scientific tests, it's the intangible that's important. Our customers love the feeling of the object. Not the way that it looks, but the way it feels like a real product, as opposed to a cheap piece of plastic. You literally have to touch it to know the difference.
Also important, is how well does it print? Is it reliable and consistent? We also have some of the highest resolution materials on the market right now. If you want a product that looks exactly like the digital file, that's what you need.
FireCast. It lets people like jewelers to do things like 3d print a mold, pour in some gold or silver, and then entirely burn away the original print. So you get custom jewelry in a day... from a few thousand dollar 3D printer.
We launched FireCast in July. By the end of September, it became our largest revenue source, accounting for 30% of all our revenue year to date.
The problem with FireCast right now is there is so much demand that it has been back ordered and then we're trying to reiterate on the next version. We were mixing everything in house, and then demand outstripped our ability to do that. So now we have to find contractors.
We are still focusing on the jewelry market right now. It's the fastest growing segment of 3D printing, and we're still getting handle on the demand for our FireCast product.
The overall jewelry industry which is worth around 200 billion annually, and the market is headed towards greater customization. As an analog, in the world of clothing, fast fashion has taken off very, very, quickly.
Jewelry has lagged, mainly because it is very hard to iterate. You have to carve these designs, you have to wax, and create a wax injection mould, and then you are going to make it cheap enough, you runs of hundreds of thousands of items to get it to every department store in the world. So, it's slow to change in terms of fashion.
There are a lot of smaller shops now, that realize that they can buy these off the shelf 3d printers for around 3 or 4 grand, and if they have the material that they could burn out, you know, to pour in the gold or silver, whatever, to create the shape, they can use it immediately. And that's why they love FireCast.
Before FireCast, jewelers had to invest in very expensive integrated proprietary solutions costing upwards of a quarter-million dollars. Now you can do the exact same thing with FireCast and a couple thousand dollar machine. It massively expanded the market for jewelers being able to jump in and add 3D printing.
Like we did with jewelry, we look for industries where professionals could easily use 3D printing if there was a superior material that could be used in an existing machine.
Similarly, biomedical has a low barrier for 3D printing. Producing crowns and dental structures is a market we'll enter in the short term.
Longer term, medical printing is huge. People are looking to print out customized arm braces and things like that.
We also have some efforts underway right now on printed electronics. It is going to let people make metal at very low temperatures, with a machine that is not complicated - you literally change one component for around 50 cents.
For MakerBot-type printers, there are a large amount of people reselling the same filament from China that you can find in Alibaba and just putting a new label on it. Our only real competitor in that market is Tallman and he sells nylons and other engineering plastics. However, they aren't optimized for printability, which ours are.
For more prosumer SLA printers like the Form1, a lot of the printer makers prefer a vertical business model, so they are producing their own materials. But there are a couple small start ups like MakerJuice, and Spot-A resins in Europe.
No one has been able to catch up with us in terms of performance. We are the best in the field.
The 3D printing industry started extremely integrated and locked in, but now we are seeing a trend towards openness. Particularly with Autodesk and their open printer. That's going to let them leapfrog other platforms, and it is going to force everybody to become open. You are open or you die.
You could look at a historical analogy, with computers. They were huge mainframes that only large defense contractors and banks and such could afford. That proprietary model disappeared as the microcomputers took over. Also, being able to exchange both your programs and your data in formats that weren't tied to the mainframe were important.
At least a few times a week, we have small printer manufacturers contact us, wanting to make sure their printers are "compatible with FireCast"... because they then sell more machines. Companies that don't do that, particularly small hardware companies, they're dead if they are not using some industry standard. Our goal is to be that industry standard, no matter what material we make.
Software sucks right now. These machines have to generate tool path code to move the print heads or move the lasers, or what not. All of them have some level of tool path generation, and the way that is done now, in the open source world is absolutely horrible. Most of the software that is derived from that inheritance is also crap. It is absolutely horrible. So having, a sort of merger between the understanding of the physical way things are printed and the materials is needed, and none of the software does that right now. I'd say more, but I don't want to reveal much about our plans there.
Business model stuff. We want to be more than just a company that just sells materials, dull materials, but materials that are married to the software--that's what keeps me up. Also, patents. We have more potential patents than we have funding to pursue them. That keeps me up a lot. We could launch a lot of products, but we don't want to launch something that we can't get IP around and to be completely honest, we can't afford to get the IP around all the things we've done in R&D right now. We have products that are literally sitting around waiting. That is our biggest challenge.
We want to print everything. I want to own the entire 3D printing market, starting from the materials. I'm not against going into machines or software to make that happen. Materials is just the beginning for us, because this is a problem that had to be solved, and no one else was doing it.
One of the complaints against the 3D printing industry is how little these companies spend on R&D and they're now in deep crap, because we have companies like me, that are going to eat their lunch, whether it's software, machines, or materials.
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