Our five Cool Vendors exemplify 3D printing’s new dynamic: vibrant startups challenging established players.
3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) is 30 years old. For the first 20 years, the market was dominated by companies that commercialized their products and slowly, steadily grew their businesses. Then came the “makers.”
Makers are people who love to invent and build things and improve on existing items, often with the idea that they will commercialize the work done in their garage or basement. Makers saw 3D printers as something more than machines to build prototypes. They saw 3D printers as devices that could print their own replacement parts (RepRap, for self-replicating, rapid manufacturing) and at home (Cornell’s ongoing Fab@Home project).
The maker community’s enthusiasm caught the attention of the general media, and what was once a niche market selling enterprise machinery experienced heretofore unknown global attention. Makers, not manufacturers, drove the 3D print market hype.
Today there are hundreds of 3D printer startups worldwide who are challenging the established players. Our Cool Vendors in 3D Printing report highlights five of them.
This research does not constitute an exhaustive list of vendors in any given technology area, but rather is designed to highlight interesting, new and innovative vendors, products and services.
Barcelona, Spain (www.crayoncreatures.com)
Why Cool: Crayon Creatures is a subsidiary of cunicode, which produces consumer-oriented, co-designed digitally fabricated products, such as moon rings, cups, 3D printed photographs, pendants and lamps.
The value of Crayon Creatures is in the fabricated content: It takes unique and personalized designs and fabricates them via 3D printing (see Figure 1). For people who don’t have firsthand experience with 3D printing, Crayon Creatures provides a product/service platform that enables people to design their own customized objects — in this case, turning the imagination of children’s 2D dreams into 3D realities. The service is marketed to adults rather than children, as the figurines themselves are for decorative purposes.
Source: Crayon Creatures
Taipei, Taiwan (http://flux3dp.com)
Why Cool: Flux has developed a unique all-in-one device that incorporates 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser engraving and modular functions (to be introduced at a later date) that provide a complete scan-to-print user experience (see Figure 2). The Flux device targets the mass consumer market for consumer products and crafts at home. This company aims to differentiate its 3D printer by providing:
- A modular design that allows users to change the 3D printing function into laser engraving, dual color printing or even food printing.
- An open module software development kit (SDK) that allows users to create their own modules. The startup hopes to create a module ecosystem that will develop more usage around Flux.
Cambridge, Massachusetts (www.markforged.com)
Why Cool: MarkForged is the first vendor to produce a composite 3D printer capable of reinforcing parts with continuous carbon fiber, Kevlar and/or fiberglass. Users can print reinforced composite parts at their desks with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than most commonly used metals in fabrication or construction, such as aluminum. The hardware allows users to add reinforcing fibers at any orientation and shape within the plane, perpendicular to the direction in which the 3D printer adds material to the part.
The aerospace and automotive industries are first adopters of MarkForged’s printers since composite materials are now the preferred way to optimize parts for maximum strength and durability at the lowest part weight. Early adopters are also using MarkForged’s printers to produce tooling and fixtures, given the sufficient strength of the objects produced.
Old World Labs (OWL)
Norfolk, Virginia (www.oldworldlabs.com)
Why Cool: OWL offers a precision stereolithography (SLA) printer that is not sold but provided with a service subscription, assuring buyers of upgrades as their printer is enhanced over time. The unique subscription plan provides combinations of maintenance services, technical support, operator training and consulting. The business model is intriguing — I often tell our clients to “try before they buy” a 3D printer.
The printer itself incorporates patented, proprietary technology encompassing different lasers, materials and mechanisms than used by other SLA printers. OWL says its MC-1 printer offers repeatable 1-micron resolution and accuracy to +/- 500 nanometers. As a practical matter, a 4 millimeter (diameter) micro gear, such as the one in Figure 4, is an example of the smallest size part the printer can make.
Source: Old World Labs
Somerville, Massachusetts (www.voxel8.co)
Why Cool: The one truly unique 3D printer at Consumer Electronics Show this year was definitely not a consumer device — Voxel8’s device prints a proprietary conductive silver ink. Using a dual extrusion process, the extruder works with polylactide (PLA) plastic, and a pneumatic syringe dispenses a conductive material, integrating it into the finished piece. Operators can stop the printing of both materials, insert an electronic chip and wiring harness, and restart printing in tight registration. The result is something like the quadcopter shown in Figure 5.
Voxel8 is pushing the boundaries of engineered materials that are solid-like pastes at room temperature, yet functional. Its inks flow when pressure is applied during the extrusion process and then rapidly cure into a solid at room temperature. Lithium ion batteries, piezoelectrics, wideband 3D Wi-Fi antennas, embedded sensors and ceramics (among other materials) that can be 3D printed with 10-micron resolution are among potential applications over time.
The complete Cool Vendors in 3D Printing, 2015 report with detailed analysis and insights is available at Gartner.com.
Tags: 3-d-print 3d-print 3d-printer 3d-printing additive-manufacturing ces consumer-electronics-show cool-vendor cool-vendors-in-3d-printing crayon-creatures flux3dp maker makers markforged old-world-labs voxel8
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