There's an old saying that "Politics makes strange bedfellows." Apparently that's true for 3D printer startups as well. According to an article in the online edition of Monday's Wall Street Journal, Makerbot Industries will soon be sharing building space and rubbing elbows with the likes of Morgan Stanley and the Goldman Sachs Group.
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Rich Brown at CNET provides a good overview, including covering some of the tradeoffs and purchase/implementation considerations, of the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer.
Brown's overview doesn't contain anything surprising or new for people already involved in the 3D printing movement, it will be quite useful for those looking to purchase or build their first printer.
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iheartengineering found that the key to producing large parts without warping was to maintain a stable ambient thermal environment.
This was especially true because their offices are located in a converted brick warehouse building with concrete floors, lots of drafts, and inconsistent heating during the winter.
To deal with the unstable office temperatures, and to make sure that any objectionable vapors given off by the MakerBot were exhausted outside the building, they constructed a simple housing and venting system.
As a part of the venting design they needed a part to mate between the housing and off the shelf ducting. So they did what any self-respecting engineering firm would do - they quickly designed the part they needed, using open source CAD software of course, and printed it out on the MakerBot.
The special housing allows them to run the 3D printer continuously for hours, and sometimes for days, on end. The stable temperatures result in consistent prints as well as allowing them to produce parts as large as the MakerBot workspace will allow.
Last week I visited the iheartengineering headquarters in Brooklyn and was surprised to find that they have managed to build a rapidly expanding business around the print-on-demand model and unique product designs. Besides their abundant creativity, the heart of their business is a first generation MakerBot 3D printer that manufactures parts as orders come in the door (or over the internet).
It's not unusual for them to keep the printer running for hours, and sometimes days, at a time when orders peak. They've developed some special techniques for producing large parts with some unique fill patterns that I will post more about later.
Most important, the work, and the business model, that iheartengineering is pioneering convinced me that all the buzz about 3D printing generating a rebirth of manufacturing and creativity in the U.S. is much more than just hype. It is a practical and achievable goal, one that may soon be a reality for a growing number of start-ups.
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One of America's outstanding strengths, and the thing that makes it unique in the world, is its pioneering spirit of self-sufficiency and belief that the nation, and its individual citizens can overcome any obstacle or hazard that nature or mankind throws in its way. That spirit may not be so obvious in its more well known left and right coast megalopolises like New York and L.A., but it survives and thrives in heartland cities like Kansas City.
Kansas City, like so many midwestern areas, was given birth by early pioneers and farmers that knew if they didn't take control of their daily lives they would quickly perish. If a piece of farm equipment broke, they figured out how to fix it. There was no Amazon, no FedEx, nor UPS.
I remember visiting a friend's rural home near Kingsville, just outside of Kansas City, and being amazed as he explained how he built a small tractor. He couldn't afford to buy a commercially built tractor, but he had an old junker car in the backyard that was way beyond being road worthy.
First, he pulled the engine and completely rebuilt it. Once the engine was running reliably, he rigged some pulleys so the engine would drive a generator he had scrounged, and set it up as a welding rig. Using the welding rig, he set about transforming the car frame, cutting most of the body off down to the frame members, then modified the basic frame design. Eventually, and it took months of hard work, he had the tractor he needed, and a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction.
But he didn't have 'pride' - he wasn't egotistical at all about what he had been able to accomplish. He, like many midwesterners of that generation, didn't see anything particularly special or unusual about what he had done. It was just normal, every day, life from his perspective. If I had asked him about it he probably would have responded, "You just do what you gotta do."
That spirit, that creativeness, that self sufficiency is still very much alive and well in America's heartland. And, it's seeing a new groundswell of energy and enthusiasm. A great example is the way the Maker Faire initiative has taken root in Kansas City.
There's a totally different, perhaps stronger, perhaps more grounded, feeling about the Kansas City Maker Faire compared to other similar events. You can feel the difference just from watching the video below featuring the 2011 event.
And, the KC Maker Faire isn't just about 'seeing' and 'experiencing' what makers are doing. It's very much about diving in head first, getting involved, sharing what you are making - or want to make, learning from others, and teaching them what you know. Now's the time to get involved, to become part of this great movement, and to get the same wonderful sense of personal accomplishment. Sign up to be a maker now - the entry deadline is rapidly approaching. You'll be glad you did.
I can't be exactly sure what Michael Overstreet and his gang of fellow makers are up to in Kansas City, but whatever it is, it sure looks like fun. They have turtle shell racers that appear to be remote controlled from the operators smartphones, that look just as if they jumped right off the screen out of a Mario Bros video game adventure.