Reporter with Silicon Hills News

20130717_203501Gigabot is Austin startup re:3D’s printer that builds objects thirty times larger than most consumer 3D printers, and costs less than $6,000. For comparison:

  • The Makerbot Replicator 2 printer that can build objects of 410 cubic inches (roughly the size of a human head) costs around $2,000
  • Gigabot prints objects of 14,000 cubic inches (about the size of your dorm refrigerator) for under $6,000
  • Objet 1000, built by Stratasys, has roughly a 24,000 cubic inch volume (the size of your real refrigerator) for about $40,000

Of course there are other differences. Gigabot has a resolution of 100 micron layers whereas Objet 1000 can get an accuracy within 16 micron layers. But still….
It was basically a sales pitch that re:3D presented for a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers—at the Advisory Board building Wednesday night. But it was an interesting tutorial for anyone new to 3D printing. re:3D spokesman Tim Sandfort covered the history of 3D printing—which began in the 1980s despite its emergence in recent years—and explained the variety of products being made using the printers, from Nike shoe souls to human ears made of collagen feedstock (the material that is melted to make objects). Most printers use ABS plastic which is melted and laid down, layer, after layer, to build the object.
re:3D is currently working on a “plastic muncher” to recycle plastic into feedstock to enhance the ecological benefits of the printers. The company also had to make its printer extremely sturdy, from extruded aluminum, because the larger a printer is, the bigger the risk that it will shake during operation, which would damage the quality of the product. At the same time, Gigabot weighs only 100 lbs.
Since the technology is new to the public arena, Sandfort explained, there are a lot of hurdles in the industry’s future. re:3D calls itself an “open source” company in terms of the designs it produces. But there are intellectual property issues surrounding the design of the printers as well as the use of printers to replicated patented objects.
“For example,” Sandfort said, “we were interested in understanding whether a heated bed oven technology Stratasys uses is locked up. So a heated bed is something we could do, but the way we did it could have been an IP violation.”
And who loses if you break a part from some device and just print a replica at home rather than paying for a replacement?
There are also ethical issues surrounding what can be made on the devices including guns and “adult” objects.
re:3D was founded in January by a team that includes Matthew Fiedler, a biochemical engineer from the Neuroscience Laboratory at the NASA; Samantha Lynne Snabes, former Social Entrepreneur In Residence for the NASA Open Innovation Program; angel investor Lara Jeremko, who has worked in institutional venture capital portfolio management; Suzanne A. Pierce, a Research Assistant Professor with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy in the Jackson School of Geosciences and Assistant Director of the Digital Media Collaboratory in the Center for Agile Technology at The University of Texas at Austin; Chris Gerty, an explorer and expert in the “maker” culture and Katy Jeremko, who is studying to be an Industrial and Interaction Designer at Syracuse University and last summer was the Designer in Residence at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
In April, the founders launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $40,000 and 24-hours later had $250,000.
Fiedler joined the meeting via Skype and answered technical questions about Gigabot’s design and functioning. But was most interested in the printer’s possibilities.
“These printers run on imagination,” he said. “The better imagination you have, the more useful objects you can make. That’s the big question now: How can we use them to their fullest potential?”