As part of the lead up to Innovation Night, we'll be talking about the other companies co-hosting with us. First up as the topic of this week's update is Structur3d, one of the coolest companies in 3D printing today. They've developed a paste extrusion for 3D printing, the Discov3ry extruder, which lets you 3D print in any “soft” material like icing sugar, Nutella, silicone, and even clay. We were lucky enough to reach out to them pretty early on in our journey, and can attest first hand that the company is run by some of the nicest and most helpful folks you can meet. Now that they're nearly done fulfilling their successful Kickstarter campaign, I decided to chat with their co-founder and lead tech guy, Andrew Finkle, and pick his brain on what makes Structur3d tick.
The idea behind Discov3ry came about when Andrew was playing around with an early RepRap printer of his. As he had access to lab grade syringe pumps through his work at the time, he decided to hook one up and see what happened...and it worked! Wanting to buy his own syringe system, he quickly discovered that there just weren't any available that met his needs. After convincing co-founder Charles Mire to look into things more fully, he casually posted the idea one day on Reddit, and realized there was quite a bit of demand in paste extrusion. Structur3d was born, and development of the Discov3ry extruder began in earnest.
Once Charles and Andrew were working full time on the project, things really began to pickup. They connected with the CommuniTech innovation centre in Kitchener ON, received a 5k grant to develop the tech further, and ended up joining CommuniTech's Hyperdrive program. With some initial funding, office space, mentor access, and growing market demand all supporting them, they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. As Andrew says, “Kickstarter takes over your life! But it's very exciting, and having the whole community rallying behind you makes it a great experience”.
After raising more than 400% of their goal on Kickstarter, things started to get a little more difficult. As Structur3d manufactures everything in house, producing enough units to meet their Kickstarter was no small challenge. They also ran into some hiccups during design for manufacturing, and finalizing their supply chain was yet another struggle – thing's we're currently experiencing ourselves with our motor issue!
Nevertheless, Structur3d was able to solve their problems relatively painlessly and has begun shipping their paste extruder system. Already, the market feedback has been phenomenal, as the extra time they spent on their design has proven to be more than worth it. People are printing in new materials almost every day, and getting better and better resolutions. One user on their forum has apparently demonstrated printing with clay at 200 microns – and any food related substance has been a big hit among makers and consumers alike.
So just how does their Discov3ry extruder work? All you have to do is plug it in to the standard extruder stepper port, adjust some slicing parameters, and switch the nozzle from the heated unit to the Discov3ry's. It's compatible with all open source printers, and most proprietary ones as well – though some may require a few workarounds. Then, just load a syringe filled with material of your choice into the Discov3ry and click print! The best part is, the syringes are re-usable for most materials – but like ProtoCycler, you can't mix things. For instance, you can re-fill your Nutella cartridge over and over, but you wouldn't want to refill a silicone cartridge with Nutella. As long as these guidelines are followed, the entire system is food safe – so any food you 3D print is totally edible!
With their Kickstarter campaign nearly fulfilled, the Structur3d team is already looking ahead to the future. They want to explore even more materials, open the community further, and get Discov3ry to everyone who can use it, including the educational space. Eventually, they'd like Discov3ry to be the go-to upgrade for any 3D printer, as it allows you to print in so much more than just plastic. And, having seen it for ourselves, we can agree it's one of the most innovative products on the market today.
To find out more about Structur3d, check out their website or Facebook...and be sure to come out to Innovation Night to see the Discov3ry in action!