re:3D, Inc. honored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce as Community Support and Leadership Award Finalist 

US Chamber of Commerce. The Dream Big Awards presented by Chase for Business

re:3D, Inc. honored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce as Community Support and Leadership Award Finalist 

Finalists To Be Recognized During Annual Small Business Awards Program

HOUSTON, TX — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced re:3D Inc. from Houston, Texas as one of the finalists for its annual Dream Big Awards. The Awards, presented by Chase for Business with support from MetLife, celebrate the achievements of small businesses and honor their contributions to America’s economic growth. 

“Over the last several months, small business owners have faced challenge after challenge.  Yet, despite these challenges small business owners never stop innovating, pivoting, taking risks, working hard, and dreaming big,” said Tom Sullivan, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Small Business Policy.  “Small businesses are a critical and vibrant sector of the U.S. economy. The U.S. Chamber is proud to celebrate the very best in American small business through our Dream Big Awards.” 

The Dream Big Awards program includes Business Achievement Awards to recognize excellence in eight categories and reflect the leading businesses in each of the following areas: community support and leadership, emerging, green/sustainable, minority-owned, veteran-owned, woman-owned, young entrepreneur, and small business of the year. This year’s finalists were selected from a record of over 700 applicants.  

The Community Support and Leadership Award recognizes the success of one small business and honors its contributions to the growth and diversity of the American economy. This award recognizes a small business that has demonstrated an exemplary level of leadership and community engagement to assist the needs of its community, and to service the needs of its customers, employees, and neighbors during the coronavirus pandemic. re:3D has provided free prototyping of life saving devices, produced PPE for their community and supported their customer’s and partners similar efforts in response to the pandemic. The company manufactures large scale, affordable 3D printers that can 3D print from plastic waste as well as traditional feedstock and gives away one 3D printer for every one-hundred that they sell to someone making a difference in their community.

“The dire needs created by the pandemic have illustrated that local, small scale manufacturing, whether in your home or in small factories around the world, can be a means to serve your communities. We are grateful to the open source 3D printing community for banding together to create solutions for PPE shortages, and were honored to work alongside our fellow makers, customers and first responders to solve this challenge,” shared re:3D Community Ambassador, Charlotte Craff.

Award winners will be announced at the virtual Dream Big Awards program on Thursday, October 15 at 2:00pm ET.

About re:3D
re:3D consists of a group of explorers committed to decimating the cost & scale barriers to industrial 3D printing. Having pioneered the world’s first and most affordable, human-scale industrial 3D printer, re:3D likewise is creating large scale, affordable 3D printers printing from pellets, regrind, and flake plastic waste. Beyond creating 3D printers for customers in over 50 countries, re:3D offers 3D printing contract services, consulting, design and education services. For more information on re:3D, visit

Charlotte craff

Blog Post Author

Inside NASA’s Pandemic Response Campaigns

The following is a repost of an article written by Mike DiCicco which can originally be seen on NASA’s site here.

In mid-March, as much of the country shut down in response to the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California got to work.

Doctors nearby needed ventilators, so the team set out to design an inexpensive version that wouldn’t use any of the same parts as traditional ventilators, so as not to compete for supplies.

Patrick Degrosse, engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, shows the guts of the ventilator that a team of NASA engineers designed in just over five weeks. The machine uses none of the parts used in traditional ventilators, so as not to compete for supply lines. Credits: NASA

Unsure where to begin and knowing that whatever they came up with would need rapid approval, they reached out to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Leon Alkalai, head of strategic partnerships for JPL, connected with the regulator’s assistant director in charge of respiratory devices. “I said, ‘We have no idea what we’re doing, but we have a great team and we’re enthusiastic and we need help,’” Alkalai recalled, “and he said, ‘We’re in.’”

The FDA official noted that ventilator design is essentially “a physics and fluidic problem,” Alkalai said. That was when he knew the team would succeed. “When the problem is translated to physics, we know what to do.”

Across NASA, other centers also found ways to refocus their skills and technologies to address the pandemic. As rates of infection and hospitalization again tick upward in many states, several of the solutions NASA field centers came up with in the spring now teeter on the verge of widespread application.

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, home of the Human Health and Performance Center, the Technology Transfer Office combed through more than 2,000 technologies and software programs created in the last decade, looking for anything that might be useful in confronting the health crisis. The center submitted a portfolio of 34 open source technologies to the United Nations and is also helping a handful of groups update and manufacture a simple, human-powered ventilator originally designed for the space program.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, joined a local public-private task force with a hospital and college, a neighboring city, and two spaceflight companies and ended up patenting an improvement to an oxygen helmet for COVID-19 patients.

And when NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland heard that a familiar company was working to update a device for sterilizing medical equipment and spaces, the center jumped in to help.

In all these cases, NASA and its partners found that, with a little guidance, aerospace engineers also make pretty good medical engineers.

If It Helps Save One Life

For JPL, quick turnaround of a viable emergency ventilator meant reaching out to many partners, said Alkalai, who initiated and managed all these relationships. These included two local hospitals, several federal agencies, the University of California Los Angeles, and medical device giant Medtronic.

After just 37 days of working around the clock, they had a prototype, called Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally, or VITAL for short. “There were issues of exhaustion, but we were on a mission,” Alkalai said.

Almost as quickly, the FDA granted the device a ventilator emergency use authorization. The next trick was to get it out into the world. This required a new approach to licensing.

“Normally, we’re happy if just one company comes to us saying they’re interested in a license,” said Daniel Broderick, manager of JPL’s Technology Transfer Office. In this case, the response was much bigger. Over 300 companies registered on the JPL website to learn more about the ventilator, and more than 100 applied for a license. Now the challenge was to determine who was capable of producing the machine. “We’ve never seen this much licensing demand for a technology,” Broderick said.

One of those applicants was Pro-Dex Inc., a design and manufacturing company in Irvine, California. Working with NASA on the ventilator was an opportunity to learn new things, grow the company, and “be part of the solution,” said Pro-Dex CEO Rick Van Kirk.

In late June, the company was working on sourcing parts, determining distribution channels, and laying out the assembly line. And NASA is still supporting the effort, having put together documentation, 3D renderings, and videos to assist licensees, including a video about the assembly process. “They did a great job of teeing it up for everybody,” said Van Kirk.

Pro-Dex was one of 29 companies granted licenses, including seven other U.S. businesses.

“If half of them end up delivering the devices, that would be amazing,” said Alkalai. “We would be just thrilled if at least one unit makes it into a hospital and helps save a life.”

Other teams at JPL have designed protective respirator masks and a necklace that vibrates when wearers start to touch their faces. The masks and necklace can be 3D printed, and the design files and instructions are available for open source licensing on GitHub.

About 30 entities have licensed the low-cost Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally, or VITAL, that NASA engineers designed and patented. Licenses are free of charge. Credits: NASA

Human-Powered Solutions

Engineers at Johnson are offering a simpler ventilator solution, primarily for use in developing countries. As the pandemic unfolded, engineers who had developed a ventilator for use on the Orion spacecraft started updating it. The device is similar to human-powered ventilator bags used in ambulances, but those are squeezed by hand, which becomes tiring quickly. Johnson’s ventilator is powered by larger muscle groups in the arms or even legs. It can be used to keep a patient alive for hours, perhaps while waiting for a bed to open up, said Kris Romig, technology transfer officer at Johnson.

“The technical team came to us and said, ‘We think this could help, and we don’t know how to get it out into the world,” he said. The center is now offering the ventilator as an open source technology.

It didn’t take long for Matthew Fiedler and the other founders of 3D printing company re:3D, all former Johnson employees, to hear about the ventilator, which the company is helping to refine.

A team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston designed a 3D-printable ventilator that can be powered with both hands for use in the Orion capsule. The center has repurposed it for use on COVID-19 patients and is working with companies around the world to get it out to hospitals. Only a few parts, such as the accordion-like bellows, can’t be 3D printed. Credits: re:3D

The Johnson team had computer-aided design files for the ventilator parts but had never manufactured them. “They sent us the file, and we printed it,” Fiedler said. “We’re helping them bring the product to life and figure out how to make it better.”

Once the design is finalized, re:3D, whose manufacturing facility is close by Johnson in Houston, could start producing ventilators, working with federal and international organizations to get them into the hands of those who need them, he said.

Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI), whose global technical headquarters is in St. Louis, is also working to get Johnson’s manual ventilator out into developing countries. “We deliver beer to places you wouldn’t believe all over the world,” said Lucas Steinle, global director of industrial digital transformation at ABI, noting the company could use that infrastructure to help deliver the ventilators almost anywhere.

The engineering group of ABI’s subsidiary in South America, known as Ambev, is working with Johnson engineers to finalize a prototype, which it plans to bring to the United Nations to see how the company can partner with other groups to get it into manufacturing and distribution. Steinle added that ABI has the facilities to manufacture it through 3D printing if need be.

Meanwhile, Leviathan Space Industries is building partnerships to introduce the human-powered ventilator in Ecuador. The company has been working to build a private spaceport in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, which was ravaged by one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus.

“Due to its ease of use and how cheap it is, this can definitely help provide emergency relief when hospitals have overflow capacity,” said Robert Aillon, founder of Leviathan.

The Pompano Beach, Florida-based company has partnered with the University of Kentucky for help with testing and FDA approval and is working with Ecuadorian company Pica Plasticos Industriales on manufacturing. And Leviathan is working with the Ecuadorian school Universidad Espiritu Santo to help with that country’s regulatory approval process, Aillon said.

Back at Johnson, the center’s simultaneous effort to dig up any technology that might help – whether or not it’s patented – has led the Technology Transfer Office to consider making it possible for the public to search broad categories of unpatented technology. “These can be useful without a license, just open source,” Romig said.

A Second-Generation Sterilizer

While others work on ways to mitigate the effects of the virus, the company Emergency Products and Research (EP+R) is working with Glenn engineers to destroy it.

The Kent, Ohio-based company’s AMBUstat fogger system creates an aerosol of water, peracetic acid, and hydrogen peroxide to eliminate all pathogens in the air or on surfaces. It was originally developed after consultation with a Glenn research engineer in 2015 and was intended for use in ambulances.

“We were working on a new design that would let us deal with the limitations of the original,” said Jason Thompson, who handles business development for EP+R and drove the original device’s creation. The company wanted it to better address airborne contaminants, treat different-sized spaces more efficiently, and be more cost-effective.

With help from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the company Emergency Products and Research (EP+R) improved its AMBUstat sterilant. Jason Thompson of EP+R tests a new system that lets the AMBUstat G2 device quickly sterilize small spaces, like the inside of a police car. Credits: Emergency Products and Research

When Glenn heard about the new work, the center wanted to help again, so it put an aerosol science and instrumentation specialist on the case, and JPL was tapped for additional consulting. The resulting device, known as the AMBUstat G2, creates smaller aerosol droplets to better attack airborne viruses. Improved flow control and the ability to control the process from outside of the targeted space allow it to treat spaces faster and more effectively. In a pilot project with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the company found it could disinfect 10 to 12 police cars in the time the original fogger treated just one.

Following about a month and a half of cooperation, Glenn is testing the new device, after which it will go to a proving ground for testing against the novel coronavirus.

With the sterilant already approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, Thompson said, the company is ready to move into production of the AMBUstat G2 as soon as testing is complete.

Meanwhile, the Glenn researcher who helped refine the original AMBUstat teamed up with researchers from University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland to develop another device that uses atomic oxygen to decontaminate N95 facemasks for reuse. Initial results indicate effectiveness; however, more testing is needed to confirm the effect of multiple decontamination cycles on the integrity of the masks.

Over at Armstrong, the Technology Transfer Office was hard at work pursuing FDA approval and a company to build an improved oxygen-supplying device the center’s engineers came up with.

The positive-pressure oxygen helmet resulted from a task force that included Armstrong, spaceflight company Virgin Galactic and its sister The Spaceship Company, the city of Lancaster, Antelope Valley Hospital, and Antelope Valley College, bringing together resources, medical professionals, and engineers.

“Completely Outside of Our Comfort Zone”

Engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, Mike Buttigieg (left) led a team that came up with a low-cost oxygen helmet for COVID-19 patients. The design includes a magnetically sealed port, which the center has licensed out. Here, Dr. Daniel Khodabakhsh of Antelope Valley Hospital tries one on. The hospital was part of a task force that helped with the effort. Credits: NASA

Oxygen helmet manufacturers have been unable to meet the surge in demand in response to COVID-19, which often deprives patients of oxygen. A team led by Armstrong engineer Mike Buttigieg was charged with developing a low-cost, easily made assisted breathing helmet that could withstand pressures that off-the-shelf units weren’t designed for, without impacting the supply chain. Through conversations with the team’s lead doctor, Buttigieg had the idea to install a magnetic port, allowing access to the wearer’s face. “Having a helmet on without face access makes it hard to check vitals or take a drink of water,” said Samantha Hull, licensing manager and outreach coordinator at Armstrong.

The task force produced hundreds of the modified helmets for use at local hospitals, but Armstrong wanted to get them produced at greater scale. Final FDA approval also required a commercial manufacturer, meaning NASA had to find a company to license the technology without regulatory approval, said Benjamin Tomlinson, technology transfer officer at Armstrong.

In early July, the brand-new company Medify Products LLC signed a nonexclusive license to use the magnetic access port in oxygen helmets.

Tom Ryder, president and CEO of Genesis Plastics Welding, started Medify Products after he saw video of oxygen helmets being used in Italian hospitals early in the crisis. Genesis, his original company, had been producing similar helmets for more than 25 years.

“This is a product that utilizes all of our expertise,” he said. “We want to put that talent to use in fighting the virus.”

Ryder said Medify, located in Fortville, Indiana, will likely incorporate Armstrong’s magnetic port into more than one helmet design. A major advantage of working with NASA, he said, is that Armstrong is working with its contacts to get prototypes into formal testing and working with the FDA to secure emergency authorization for the helmets.

Much of this is new territory for Armstrong, which specializes in aeronautical research. “Medical applications are completely outside of our comfort zone,” said Tomlinson, noting that his team is figuring out how to navigate the approval process.

“This is something you can produce without a lot of expense, and it can save lives,” said Tomlinson. “Its elegance and simplicity is the beauty of it.”

Ryder said he wouldn’t previously have associated NASA with projects like this. “How they’re working with businesses like mine, a small business, gives me hope for the country.”

To learn more about NASA’s response to coronavirus, visit:

Mike DiCicco

Article Author

Barclays and Unreasonable Group select re:3D to receive $100,000 Grant in support of COVID-19 related work

Barclays and Unreasonable Group select re:3D to receive $100,000 Grant in support of COVID-19 related work

Barclays and Unreasonable Group launch second $1,000,000 fund for entrepreneurial solutions addressing challenges resulting from the global pandemic

September 22, 2020 – LONDON – re:3D has been awarded a $100,000 grant in recognition of the exceptional work being undertaken in addressing the immediate and long term challenges resulting from the effects of the global pandemic.
The grant is designed to support and amplify the impact of the work re:3D is doing.

The Unreasonable Impact COVID-19 Response initiative was launched by Barclays and Unreasonable Group earlier this year and has already supported ten Unreasonable ventures that have pivoted their businesses to combat challenges related to COVID-19.

The initiative was launched as a direct response to the outbreak of COVID19 and is an extension of Unreasonable Impact, the unique multi-year partnership between the two companies supporting growth stage entrepreneurs across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific regions solving many of the world’s most pressing issues.

re:3D was chosen by a selection committee for the meaningful work they are doing to provide PPE to workers in minority and underserved areas who are at greater risk for critical illness from COVID-19. The program, PPE for the People, is fiscally sponsored by Impact Hub Houston, and has donated 3D printed face shields, ear savers and other PPE to help protect restaurant and food pantry workers, as well as organizations and small businesses that seek to reopen safely, like barbershops, nail salons, and veterinary clinics. PPE for the People partners include: Baker Ripley, Creatorspace, West Houston Institute IDEAStudio, Leidos, McDermott, Stand Behind and 3DPPE. “We are actively seeking businesses and organizations looking for this protective equipment. Please share this opportunity with those in need,” said re:3D Community Ambassador, Charlotte Craff.

re:3D Co-Founder and Catalyst, Samantha Snabes and Charlotte Craff will join the 12 other grantees at a virtual event, The Unreasonable Impact COVID19 Response Exclusive Summit, created with Barclays on September 29th, where they will have a chance to share re:3D’s exceptional work with a global audience.

Joe McGrath, Barclays’ Global Head of Banking, commented, “Through Unreasonable Impact we set out to offer advice, expertise, and support to entrepreneurs so that they can more quickly increase the scale and impact of their businesses. These entrepreneurs have been recognized for their ingenious approaches to tackling almost impossible-sounding challenges, especially in some of the most challenged communities across the globe. When COVID-19 took hold this year we knew that Unreasonable Impact entrepreneurs would be among the first to pivot their talent and drive towards responding to the impacts of the pandemic – and we’re in awe of the speed with which they did just that, and of the scale of the positive impact that they have already had. We’re honored to be able to extend our support through the Unreasonable Impact COVID-19 Response Initiative, which provided grants that will help these entrepreneurs to accelerate their work in response to the ongoing pandemic.”

Daniel Epstein, Founder and CEO of Unreasonable Group, added, “Unreasonable Impact was co-created with Barclays with a shared intention to support and scale up entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The global impact of COVID-19 is unlike any challenge any of us has seen in our lifetimes. Setting up the second COVID-Response to support and amplify even more Unreasonable ventures leveraging business to combat challenges related to the pandemic, is a natural extension of our mission. We are humbled to be supporting the exceptional work of re:3D.”

For more information and to be invited to attend the Exclusive Summit, visit
Full list of ventures selected:

  • 75F: Utilizing the Internet of Things and the latest in cloud computing to create systems that predict, monitor and manage the needs of buildings
  • Aerofarms: Responsibly and sustainably feeding humanity by growing flavorful, safe, and healthy food in the world’s largest indoor vertical farm.
  • Air Protein: Using microbes to convert elements of air into a sustainable protein product
  • Cell-Ed: Delivering essential skills training in three-minute lessons on any mobile phone — learners simply call, text, or click to access a world of learning
  • Green Fuels: The world’s leading supplier of biodiesel processors, producing over 400 million liters of sustainable fuel every year in over 50 countries
  • LEAF: Bringing safe and hygienic fresh fruits and vegetables to the marketplace by empowering all shareholders in the agricultural value chain.
  • Livox: The first intelligent alternative communication software for people living with disabilities, helping 20,000 people more easily interact with others
  • Purpose Works: Enabling sustainability, agility and operational efficiency in global supply chains.
  • re:3D, Inc.: 3D-printing objects 30 times larger than competing desktop models, at a more affordable cost.
  • Richcore: Eliminating contamination risks and creating safer medicines with animal origin free (AOF) proteins.
  • Sure Chill: Disrupting the entire cooling industry with new technology that doesn’t require a constant power source, enabling refrigeration of food products, life-saving vaccines, and more.
  • WizeNoze: Facilitating access to an easier-to-understand internet for children, teenagers, people with a low level of literacy, immigrants, and the elderly.
  • Árvore Educação: Improving students’ literacy skills and understanding of local and world events through a digital reading platform

About Unreasonable Impact, created with Barclays

Unreasonable Impact is an innovative multi-year multi-geographic partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group to launch the world’s first global network focused on scaling up entrepreneurial solutions that will help employ thousands worldwide in the emerging green economy. To date, the more than 100 ventures that comprise the global cohort operate in more than 180 countries, have raised over $2.1bn USD in funding, have generated over $2bn USD in revenue, and have created more than 30,000 net new jobs since joining Unreasonable Impact. For more information, please visit

About Barclays

Barclays is a British universal bank. The company is diversified by business, by different types of customers and clients, and by geography. Barclays’ businesses include consumer banking and payments operations around the world, as well as a top-tier, full service, global corporate and investment bank, all of which are supported by their service company which provides technology, operations and functional services across the Group.
For further information about Barclays, please visit

About Unreasonable Group

Bringing together a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, creatives and business leaders, Unreasonable acts as a catalytic platform for entrepreneurs tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges facing us today. From designing highly curated immersive programs, facilitating access to a global network of mentors to operating a private equity fund and providing advanced storytelling and media activities, Unreasonable operates at the highest intersection of business and impact. It is uniquely positioned to support growth stage entrepreneurs solving key global environment and social challenges to scale up through the deployment of knowledge, networks and capital.
For more information about Unreasonable, please visit

About re:3D

re:3D consists of a group of explorers committed to decimating the cost & scale barriers to industrial 3D printing. Having pioneered the world’s first and most affordable, human-scale industrial 3D printer, re:3D likewise is creating large scale, affordable 3D printers printing from pellets, regrind, and flake plastic waste. Beyond creating 3D printers for customers in over 50 countries, re:3D offers 3D printing contract services, consulting, design and education services. For more information on re:3D, visit

Media Contact:

Charlotte craff
+1.512.730.0033 ext 2
Social: @re3Dprinting

GBX Case Study: Coffee Picking Baskets in Puerto Rico

With the development of our Gigabot X pellet printer came our engineers’ need to trial it in different applications and settings. We settled on Sandra Farms – the coffee farm at the center of our latest story about chocolate cigar molds – as a case study to determine the practicality of using recycled plastic to create real-world, functional objects.

“Good coffee is picked by hand.” Israel Gonzalez is a second-generation coffee farmer who started Sandra Farms in the early 90’s. He explains that coffee pickers around the world are historically underpaid, typically placed at the bottom of the coffee farming ladder.

Sandra Farms is trying to break this mold.

“The main focus here is trying to use Sandra Farms as a model. We want to support an agricultural, agrarian way of life in Puerto Rico.” Domenico Celli came to the farm as part of a graduate school project with a focus on implementing sustainability practices, and several years later finds himself still working with them and more attached to their mission of specialty agriculture. “The people that we have in mind are the farm workers and families and communities here in some of the most rural and remote areas of Puerto Rico that have traditionally been dependent on agriculture as their main source of income, and culturally, their way of life.”

Sandra Farms is trying to set an example for other farms, paying their pickers two to three times the average in Puerto Rico. Says Celli, “That is because above all, we are committed to making this a viable way of life for these people and their families.”

The basket opportunity

In working with Gonzalez and Celli on their chocolate cigar mold concept, a potential case study opportunity for Gigabot X presented itself.

“Most agricultural workers in Puerto Rico traditionally are the forgotten people here, and that’s reinforced through what they use to pick coffee with,” explains Celli, “which is mostly just fertilizer bags, or really uncomfortable, five-gallon buckets that are not at all made for coffee picking.”

“The five-gallon plastic bucket…” Gonzalez shows one off that has been strung with a simple rope handle. “It’s functional, it works, cheap – but not ideal, not ergonomic.”

Our local team in Puerto Rico took the opportunity to investigate 3D printed solutions that could provide a superior substitute for the farm’s pickers, with the ultimate goal of using Gigabot X to print a design using recycled plastic.

The choice of an application in Puerto Rico was no accident. Gigabot X has the ability to print from pelletized plastic as well as recycled plastic regrind; our team saw immense potential for a machine that could create a closed-loop system on an island, using waste as input material to create functional objects that may be expensive to import.

“Unfortunately, our recycling systems here in Puerto Rico are very outdated, not very efficient, and in reality, not much – if anything at all – is recycled,” says Celli. “A much better alternative would be able to actually have a way to repurpose and use that waste, and know that it’s going to some sort of practical application.”

The design process

Our San Juan-based designer Alessandra Montaño began the process with a CAD sketch. “The design process was very interactive,” she recounts.

Over the course of the project, she visited the farm four times, working with Gonzalez in person and talking directly with workers trialing the design in the fields. “I did one prototype, sent it to them, they made some changes like widening the design, changing the height of the basket…”


re:3D Mechanical Engineer Helen Little describes the trial and error process of testing, and the balance of modifying the basket design for the specific application while understanding the unique nature of a pellet printer. “We wanted to focus on quick production and cheaper cost-per-unit, so we chose to use a larger nozzle,” Little explains. “But there are many issues that come with that: a lot of oozing, lower quality prints…So we had to do a lot of optimization of print settings to get a higher-quality print.”

Little decided to experiment with printing in vase mode, which involves extruding in a continuous stream rather than a lot of stopping points where the nozzle has the opportunity to ooze plastic. “For that, we had to actually redesign the part itself so that the perimeter was only one layer thick,” she says.

Together, Little and Montaño incorporated user feedback from Sandra Farms into incremental tweaks to the design and new prototypes. They increased the basket depth to allow for a larger haul to be carried at one time, refined the shape to better hug the wearer’s waist, and added a brim to which a picker could attach shoulder straps.

“The way that a part is designed and printed has a huge effect on how long it takes to print, how much material it is, and at the end of the day, the bottom line for the cost,” explains Little. “I think it’s really important to get these real-world case studies and get that user feedback so that we can assess how viable of a solution this is for them and how much we can help improve over the current solution they’re using, using Gigabot X, 3D printing, and recycled materials.”

By the culmination of the testing process there had been twelve iterations of the basket, with the final design clocking in at around three and a half hours of print time.

Putting it to the test in the field

The crescent moon design on which they settled curves around the front of the waist, with a wide profile so a picker’s hands don’t have to travel far to drop in coffee cherries. It’s manageable enough to strap over one’s shoulders and carry through the field, yet sturdy enough to haul over fifteen pounds of coffee.

“We had wondered whether they could take the beating on the job, at the farm. ‘Can the bottom hold?’” Gonzalez initially pondered. “Yeah, they do,” he smiles. “Very well.”

Explains Celli, “The way that we designed them with re:3D was so that the opening would be wide so that a picker going through the field on uneven terrain is able to quickly pick coffee and kind of dump it into the bucket without it falling.”

He recounts the difficulties that came with the old-school fertilizer sack picking method. “It’s hard to keep it open with one hand, put coffee into it in the other, and then be efficient in a day where you’re trying to optimize how quickly you can get through the fields.” Seasonal coffee pickers, Celli explains, are paid by the pound. A vessel that allows for faster picking and movement through a field – not to mention fewer coffee cherries dropped – equals more money in a picker’s pocket. 

The comfort of having the basket contour to the hip is an obvious added bonus, Celli continues, allowing workers to pick more comfortably and later into the day.

There were more unforeseen positives of the custom basket design which Gonzalez and Celli didn’t fully comprehend before embarking on the project with re:3D.

“The reaction of such joy and excitement from the coffee pickers seeing these baskets that were actually made for them and thoughtfully designed to be comfortable for them was amazing to see,” recounts Celli.

The impact on the pickers’ morale was an unexpected and uplifting side effect of the project for both Celli and Gonzalez. They seemed unaccustomed and touched to be the focus of a project with a specific goal of creating a product to make their job easier and more comfortable.

The joy in the fields was visibly apparent, with pickers jockeying to get a chance with the new baskets: a promising sign for both the basket project and Sandra Farms’ own internal case study of running a sustainable, ethical farm prioritizing workers’ livelihoods.

In the meantime, both Gigabot X research and Sandra Farms’ exploration into sustainability continues. 

This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust and the National Science Foundation, who helped fund our research into Gigabot X.

Morgan Hamel

Blog Post Author

Designing Chocolate Molds for a Puerto Rican Farm

Nestled in the green mountains of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico – about a two hour, winding drive from San Juan – is a boutique coffee grower by the name of Sandra Farms.

Owner Israel Gonzalez grew up on a coffee farm in Oriente, Cuba, a childhood that greatly influenced his ambition to carry on the tradition. At 15 years of age he moved to New York City. The next several decades in the States were spent completing undergrad and grad school, meeting his future wife and farm namesake, Sandra, and starting a family. Throughout, the dream of a farm remained, a plan that was ultimately put into action in Puerto Rico in the early ‘90s.

The setting is idyllic. “It is beautiful, I know,” Gonzalez muses. “But you know, some people don’t like living out here. They’d rather have Fifth Avenue – which is wonderful, I love Manhattan – but I’d rather be here, of course.”

It was nearly three years ago that re:3D cofounder Samantha Snabes met Gonzalez on a tour of the farm. The topic of 3D printing arose. Perhaps there was an opportunity to print some tools for use in their line of work?

Sandra Farms would later serve as a test kitchen for proof-of-concept work using recycled plastic to create functional tools on the new pellet printer, Gigabot X. There was also a second opportunity that Gonzalez saw for 3D printing on the farm.

In addition to acres of coffee, Sandra Farms boasts a collection of other crops, including citrus, turmeric, and cacao. With their chocolatier Bajari in Mayagüez, they created a line of chocolate products – among them, cigar-shaped chocolates. The path to create the lifelike, cylindrical cigars Gonzalez envisioned, however, proved to be more difficult than anticipated.

“We had searched – both myself and the chocolatier – all over online, everywhere, and we never had found a totally cylindrical mold,” says Gonzalez.

Sandra Farms employee Domenico Celli echoes this challenge. “There wasn’t really any solution that we could easily find out there, especially for a relatively small scale production like we have.” Their method in the interim was imperfect: a mold fashioned from a piece of ½” PVC pipe. Says Celli, “It wasn’t very practical, it was a pain to use, you could only do a few at a time.”

The band-aid solution worked in the beginning when they were only making a few pieces at a time for themselves or gifts. Celli continues, “But now that they’re trying to gradually increase their production they weren’t able to scale the way that they had wanted to with that product, because our chocolatier was not able to pump out what we needed with the molds that we had.”

When Gonzalez and Snabes met, a lightbulb went off for him. “I said, ‘Ah, 3D printing might save the day.’ Bingo.”

In conjunction with re:3D designer Alessandra Montaño, they worked on the design of a cylindrical mold into which molten chocolate could be poured, and then snapped apart to remove the chocolate pieces once hardened. Gigabot was used to 3D print prototypes as they refined the features.

“Designing cigar molds are not that complicated – cigars are just a cylinder shape,” explains Montaño. “So, instead of focusing on that aspect of the design, I was focusing on how to make this practical for them.”

As a small, boutique coffee farm, their needs weren’t dramatic – they were just starting out with this idea and interested in producing batch quantities in the dozens or low hundreds, not thousands.

“They aren’t making a million chocolate cigars,” says Montaño. “I wanted to design something that they could use to scale up, if they wanted to. So, the interesting part of the design is that it’s modular, and you can just keep adding more modules as you go.”

The design is simple to use: new rows of the mold simply snap in place next to the previous sections. This will allow the farm to start small and increase their capabilities as demand grows, keeping any initial investment small as they gauge interest.

“As we continue to expand, we can literally just add more units to that and increase production without having to build a whole new way of doing things,” says Celli. “We are very excited to work on this mold with re:3D, and so far we’ve been able to start increasing our production and getting it out there into the market.”

The out-of-the-ordinary setting for such 21st century technology is not lost on the Sandra Farms team. “I think obviously all over the world, 3D printing is really becoming more mainstream, and people are starting to fully realize the potential on all different types of industries,” says Celli. “Here in Puerto Rico, on a coffee and cacao farm, it’s amazing to see how many different applications that there are in such an unlikely place.”

* Disclaimer: The 3D prints used in this application were for prototyping and testing purposes. Experts recommend proper material use and post-processing when creating 3D prints for use in direct food-contact applications. Please see Formlabs’ Essential Guide to Food Safe 3D Printing for guidance:

Morgan Hamel

Blog Post Author