Gigabot X Update

It’s been a long road for Gigabot X up to this point, and in many ways – as the first batch of printers is now shipping out to their owners – the road is just beginning.

re:3D was born in 2013 with the mission of creating a large-scale, affordable 3D printer that could use trash as input material. We quickly realized that these were several huge challenges wrapped into one dream, so we began by breaking it down into chunks.

Starting with the affordable and large-scale aspects, we launched Gigabot on Kickstarter in March of 2013. Several years and Gigabot versions later, we felt ready to take on the second part of the original dream.

We determined that the best method of tackling the challenge of printing using recycled materials was with a pellet printer. This does away with the need to extrude recycled plastic into filament, instead making use of a screw to extrude plastic pellets or flake.

Printing from pellets or flake comes with a host of benefits: it allows for faster printing due to the increased volume of plastic that can be pushed by the screw rather than pulled through by a filament drive gear, the input is an order of magnitude less expensive than extruded filament, and there is a much broader variety of plastic available.

With the support of many – WeWork, the Kickstarter community, Startup Chile, NSF SBIR, Parallel18, USAA, the Puerto Rico Science & Research Trust, America Makes, Hello Tomorrow, Wired/Gentleman Jack, Bunker Labs, MassChallenge, and a DoD SBIR Phase I grant – our team began work on our first pellet printer.

Over the course of three years, we built several iterations of the machine, redesigning tricky components like the extrusion screw, adding features like linear rails, and reworking the design of the pellet hopper and feeding system. What we’ve arrived at is Gigabot X, a pellet printer that has undergone thousands of hours of test printing and is now making the leap into the hands of early Kickstarter backers.

There are several main features of the pellet-printing Gigabot X that differentiate it from its filament-printing Gigabot cousin.

The main is – of course – the extrusion system. An industrial-strength, alloy steel screw drives the pellets with a compression ratio of 1.75:1 for less plastic degradation and better homogeneity within prints. The long barrel is equipped with three heating zones which allow for precise temperature control and material-specific custom profiles. The nozzle is removable and interchangeable, with options of 0.8mm, 1.75mm, and 3.0mm orifices.

To move around Gigabot X’s larger toolhead and to accommodate the larger volume of plastic being pushed through the nozzle, we have outfitted the machine with NEMA 23 stepper motors, in contrast to the NEMA 17 motors on the standard Gigabot. Linear rails replace v-groove wheels to allow for smoother, more precise motion of the bridge. A 8893 cubic centimeter printed polycarbonate hopper sits atop the machine to allow for 24 hours of gravity-fed printing at a time.

On the materials testing side of Gigabot X development, we’ve been so fortunate to partner with Dr. Joshua Pearce from Michigan Tech University. His lab has done an incredible amount of rigorous testing and research on Gigabot X, the data from which allowed us to co-develop two peer-reviewed publications about the optimization of recycled materials for 3D printing and the economic savings of Gigabot X when used as a distributed recycling/manufacturing system.

With the aid of Dr. Pearce and his lab, we’ve tested the following materials: virgin PLA pellets, virgin ABS pellets, recycled PLA regrind from failed prints and support, recycled ABS pellets and flake, recycled Polypropylene pellets, recycled PET pellets, recycled Polycarbonate pellets, recycled PETG regrind from rafts and support material, Taulman 920 pellets, recycled Polystyrene (#6), Cellulose Acetate pellets, and TPU pellets.

We are continuing to test new types of plastics – in addition to recycled and repurposed plastic like water bottles and 3D printed rafts – to refine our printing profiles so that users can enjoy the benefit of pre-configured Gigabot X Simplify3D profiles for a variety of materials. We’ve also launched a forum to share insights with the technical community as we continue testing.

The biggest takeaway we can offer so far is that printing from recycled materials is its own beast, and it’s an imperfect science. Even with pre-loaded Simplify3D profiles, this will be a different printing experience than that of using filament, and users should be ready for more trial and error and setting tweaking.

We continue to look for new sources of waste plastic that we can work to repurpose and test as Gigabot X input material. Our very own Mike Strong took home the top prize at the [Re]Verse Pitch Competition in Austin where we pitched using the scraps of polycarbonate from die cut sheets of ID card manufacturer HID Global with Gigabot X. As we learn more about where the platform has value in circular economies, we’re working to source other clean manufacturing waste like this – in addition to clean consumer waste, like water bottles – for testing with Gigabot X.

If you are a manufacturer willing to share potential waste streams, or have connections that may be valuable as we search for different plastic sources, we want to hear from you! Contact us at info@re3d.org and we can talk trash.

At this point in time, our team is working on finalizing the design of Gigabot X as well as creating Simplify 3D printing profiles for a variety of materials for our Kickstarter backers, who recently started receiving their bots. At this time we are taking a limited number of deposits for the next batch of pellet printers, with delivery later this summer.

We will be selling a number of configurations:

  1. A complete Gigabot X unit. The early release will be $16,950, without an enclosure or additional accessories.
  2. An upgrade kit to convert a standard Gigabot 3D printer from filament extrusion to pellet extrusion. The early release will be $6,000.
  3. Just the pellet extruder on its own. The early release will be $3,000.

We are taking $1,000 deposits for early delivery on the product offerings listed above. If you would like to hold your spot in line for the next round of beta units, please contact us at sales@re3d.org.

Download the Gigabot X PDF

Embracing New Tech in an Old Trade: Firebird 3D

Chad Caswell understands that this is a difficult concept for people to grasp.

“You’re going directly from a very digital process into a very old process where you’re grinding metal and welding and piecing it together.”

Caswell is the founder and owner of Firebird 3D, a company in Troutdale, Oregon which provides technical services to artists in the form of digital sculpting, CNC foam milling, 3D scanning, and of course, 3D printing. He uses these technologies to help artists more easily and affordably cast their work in bronze, a service which he does in conjunction with Firebird Bronze, a full service foundry owned and operated by Rip Caswell, his father.

As a trailblazer in this arena, Caswell understands the thought process of many artists and foundry owners on the topic of technology in the art world.

“I think a lot of people are scared that their jobs – their livelihoods – are going to be obsolete,” he muses. “But I think what foundries and people working in the art industry need to realize is that this is a tool that can make their lives a lot easier, and if they can work with it, they can produce a lot more work a lot more efficiently.”

Caswell has fully embraced the power of technology to transform business, and he understands firsthand that this is not something that poses a threat to his career or the artists with whom he works. “They’re still going to need to cast all these parts as if they’re wax: weld them, gate them, dip them in slurry, build them, and color them, just like they have for the last couple thousand years.”

The Model T Project

It was a particular project that spurred Caswell into the world of 3D printing: the memorialization of a famous Oregon landmark.

“We got the Gigabot when we got our first big project of 3D printing the Model T car, and that’s how we were able to skip the mold on that.”

Prior to 3D printing, Caswell aided artists in taking their work from model to bronze sculpture using a CNC machine. “At the beginning of business, we started off doing foam enlargements where the artists would bring us a maquette – like a small sculpture – and we would 3D scan that and use the CNC machine to enlarge it in foam.”

And although a big advancement from having to sculpt a piece in full by hand, this method came with its downsides. The porous foam still required artists to put clay on top of the form and re-sculpt the details, and then a silicone rubber and hard shell mold had to be made over the entire surface of the piece.

“It’s a very costly and time-consuming process,” explains Caswell. “If it’s a one-of-a-kind piece, you now have a big mold that you’ve paid a lot of money for that’s completely obsolete.”

But this was the standard process for large pieces of work; for smaller ones they turned to a Stratasys Objet Printer. “It hasn’t been used in three years,” says Caswell. “It’s a very, very costly process where it could cost over $1,000 for a liter of this resin, and so you would only do really small things.”

Then came an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind piece to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first scenic highway in the US: the Historic Columbia River Highway. The 75-mile stretch of road through the Columbia River Gorge was to be memorialized in a statue of its creators – Sam Hill and Sam Lancaster – and the car they first drove on it: a Ford Model T.

Caswell started in the way he traditionally did, sculpting the piece in foam. “We realized how long it was going to take to get all those perfect shapes, and form the tire, and do all that detail work,” he recounts. “Then we had mold makers starting to bid it and the costs were just getting really, really high.”

Rip Caswell came to his son to see if there was another way. “He knew I was doing some 3D printing,” Caswell recounts, “and he said, ‘Can you look into this and see if there’s any way to bypass the mold and just design in the computer and 3D print it.’”

Caswell started by talking to the foundry about the ideal specs of a printer to fit into their casting process. “There’s lots of little printers out there that are inexpensive,” explains Caswell, “but the foundry was saying that the printer should match the slurry tank at the foundry. The volume of that that they can reasonably pour is two foot, by two foot, by two foot.”

A search on the internet led Caswell to a printer that fit the bill.

“I looked around and that’s when I found the big Gigabot that was going to be able to handle our printing volume,” he says. “It’s exact same parameters as the foundry, so anything I print on there I can directly go to the foundry and not have to worry about size issues.”

Their first foray into the world of bronze casting directly from 3D prints was a success. “It worked out perfectly,” says Caswell.  “We were able to directly invest the 3D prints into the bronze. We saved a ton of money and a lot of time.”

Caswell remembers some of the numbers they were quoted by mold makers for the Model T project prior to their Gigabot purchase. “We had a couple people bid the mold, and it could have cost maybe three or four times what it would cost to print it.” And that, he explains, was only for the mold, and not counting the sculpting and original design work that would have been required.

“That would have been very costly and could have taken months of work, whereas the Gigabot was able just to run 24/7 and 3D printed it perfectly, ready to go.”

A Life Size Lion

Caswell has been met with a lot of excitement from his clients about the power of the technology he’s using.

Even if a job doesn’t go through, he says, “they’re excited to know the project can be printed no matter what.” Having the ability to print such large panels for bronze casting has opened the door to big ideas, and Caswell is in the fortunate position of being able to entertain them.

“We have a lot of jobs that come to us, and being able to say the sky’s the limit to our clients is pretty awesome.”

One such job that Caswell has recently taken on is the 3D printing of a life size lion.

He had already done a smaller lion – “about quarter scale,” he says – so he was able to scan that and enlarge it for the new job. This is where 3D printing comes in handy, Caswell explains. “You’re able to take something small or large and blow it up or shrink it down using 3D scanning and 3D printing.”

The piece is notable, Caswell says, “because of how big it is, but how simple the Gigabot made it.”

“The body size is perfect,” he explains. “I 3D printed the entire torso in one section.” The large 3D printed pieces then make it very easy for the foundry to cast and assemble.

The process sans 3D printer would be a lot more laborious, Caswell explains. “If we didn’t have the Gigabot, we would have to mold it out in foam and spend a couple months sculpting it, redoing all that detail that was originally there, and then another couple months molding it.”

And from a time standpoint, it’s night and day. “I 3D printed the lion in three weeks and it’s already ready for casting,” says Caswell.” From there, it’ll probably only take them 12 weeks to finish it. The entire project will take about five months, whereas the old way of sculpting it could take over a year.”

The price difference, he underscores, is also substantial. It’s not a ten or 20 percent savings, it’s more like 50 or 60 percent.

3D Printing: The Future for Artists

“3D printing is definitely the future for future artists,” Caswell muses.

There are so many benefits in several different departments, he explains, from the time savings, to the costs savings, to space savings.

“With 3D printing, we have the ability to digitally store sculptures in the computer.” What this means is that molds that would typically take up valuable floor space can now be stored on a hard drive.

“We can save a lot of space at our foundry which is huge concern because we hold on to all of our clients’ molds all in the same building,” Caswell explains. “Being able to throw away the ones that are being unused and store those files digitally is pretty great.”

Aside from taking up precious real estate, physical molds are also subject to degradation over time.

While it would be great to have molds on hand from a previous sculpture commission if the artist wanted the piece casted again in the future, the quality of that mold after a few years’ time is going to be compromised, and the final piece will take a significant amount of finish work and extra bronze.  “Knowing that at any point, I can fly down to where that sculpture is and 3D scan it, come back home and 3D print it on the Gigabot is very reassuring,” says Caswell.

Caswell sees 3D printing as leveling the playing field for artists.

“I think it opens up a huge opportunity for people who are looking to pursue art as a career; being able to start at their computer rather than worrying about renting out a studio or destroying their home with clay,” he explains. “They’re able to work digitally in a clean small workspace, and, with 3D printing, go directly into the foundry.”

Project storage is also just as much a concern for artists as it is for foundries. “A lot of artists have to store their own molds in their house,” says Caswell. “Sometimes they’ll do a big job, and they spent five or ten thousand dollars on those molds. It seems weird to just throw them in the garbage after the projects.”

Much like foundries, many artists thus end up holding onto old molds on the offhand chance they want to cast them again.

A better option, says Caswell? “They can come to me, I can 3D scan it and give them a flash drive they can fit in their pocket, and that’s all they need.”

Learn more about Firebird 3D and the digital services they provide artists: https://www.firebird3d.com/

Check out the foundry portion of the process at Firebird Bronze: http://www.firebirdbronze.com/

HiveCube: Building a Safer Future for Puerto Rico

Maria Velasco was hunkered down with family on the west coast of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez when Hurricane Maria hit.

“The first 24 hours there was no contact with anything outside of your neighbors.”

She described how, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, they could venture a little further from home each day to assess the damage. Families relied on word of mouth to check the wellbeing of their loved ones; people would drop by to let others know they were alive.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Velasco recounts. “You realize what you need and what you don’t need in life.”

It was this focus on the essentials in a time of crisis that got Velasco and her business partner, Carla Gautier, thinking. Channeling the spirit of resiliency on the island following the disaster, Gautier and Velasco vowed to stay and help rebuild in their own way, to make the future safer for the people of Puerto Rico.

The Beginnings of the Hive

Gautier has a particular skillset that makes her well-suited for the challenge: she’s an architect.

While completing on her Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture in Boston, she spent four months in Berlin, traveling around Europe to study alternative types of architecture for low-income communities. It was on this tour that she was first exposed to structures made from shipping containers. Later, during her Masters of Architecture, she spent time in West Africa – in Benin – studying informal construction and development.

These two exposures later came together to form the foundation of HiveCube.

After completing her master’s, Gautier started working for FEMA, getting an up-close view of the destruction around the island post-Maria. On this assignment, Gautier saw firsthand a major factor that compounded the destruction of the storm: buildings not being up to code.

She and Velasco did some research, discovering that 55% of housing in Puerto Rico is constructed informally. Some areas of the island may not have stood a chance against the force of Maria, but surely structures being built to code and with hurricanes in mind should be a given on the island, the pair mused.

These three experiences in Gautier’s architecture career – her work on low-income housing in Europe, her study of informal construction in West Africa, and her exposure to the prevalence of informal construction on her home turf – came together to form the seed of an idea.

Gautier wanted to bring her knowledge of simplistic yet effective designs for low-income housing from Europe to help people in her homeland, to create affordable housing built to withstand ferocious storms that didn’t compromise on quality or comfort.

The idea for HiveCube began to take shape.

A Jumpstart from Parallel18

Hurricane Maria tested the resiliency of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico stepped up to the challenge.

San Juan-based startup accelerator Parallel18 created a new program post-Maria specifically to harness the energy and drive to bounce back that they saw amongst the population. Called Pre-18, it was a separate entity from their typical accelerator program, where they mentored around 40 companies from Puerto Rico each working in their own way to rebuild and kickstart the economy after the storm. HiveCube was one of the companies accepted.

Something I'm excited about in HiveCube is their team. They have two very energetic, capable founders in Carla and Maria.
Lucas Arzola is the Director of Operations at Parallel18
HiveCube founders Velasco and Gautier with Sebastian Vidal, Executive Director of Parallel18

HiveCube and the other companies of Pre-18 epitomize the buoyant spirit of Puerto Ricans following one of the worst disasters on the island in recent history.

“We had our campaign called ‘El Boricua se las Inventa’ – Puerto Ricans Get Creative,” explains Arzola. “We’ve seen that creativity happen all around us, and HiveCube is just one example of a company that was born from the hurricane and created a solution that now is growing and thriving.”

Companies from the Pre-18 program were then eligible to be selected for the following Parallel18 cohort; HiveCube was one of 16 that made this jump. “We’ve never as many Puerto Rican companies in the Parallel18 cohort as we did in this one,” Arzola muses.

The Pre-18 program was so successful that Parallel18 has decided to make it a regular thing. “It’s going to be an official program we’re going to do once a year,” explains Arzola. “So the idea is that we can do one Pre-18 cohort for every two Parallel18s.”

HiveCube’s extended time with the Parallel18 team super-charged their pace of progress as well as reinforced the value of the accelerator program.

“We’ve seen them evolve and grow significantly in a short amount of time, so it sort of validates our program as well,” says Arzola. “There’s no better validation than just seeing thriving companies that will be able to contribute to Puerto Rico and grow from this point on, because we’re able to support them in this stage where they need help the most. That’s why we do what we do.”

Parallel18 is also where Gigabot enters the HiveCube story.

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The duo was having a tough time pitching investors: their vision was getting distorted along the way, often manifesting in others’ minds as a less-aesthetic, lower-quality “trailer.” But what the two had in mind was so much more – they just couldn’t figure out how to communicate this in a way that resonated with prospective investors.

Gautier and Velasco experienced firsthand the phenomenon of using a 3D printed prototype in lieu of a digital one. The digital renderings on a computer screen or projector weren’t getting them the reactions in meetings that they wanted, but perhaps a physical model could convince people of their vision, they thought.

They used Gigabot to print a basic architectural model of a Hive, and began taking it to meetings with investors and communities working on reconstruction. The physical model excited people in a way that digital drawings and renderings hadn’t.

Suddenly, in Velasco’s words, “everybody wanted to take the meetings, everybody wanted one.”

There was something about being able to turn a physical object over in their hands that clicked with people. The surge in enthusiasm over the model pushed the pair to continue driving forward and make the concept a reality. With the first hurdle crossed, they now had to bring their vision to life.

Building a Hive

HiveCube works with used shipping containers, lending a second life to  structures that would otherwise end up in container graveyards.

They buy a certified-as-seaworthy shipping container, verify that the container is structurally sound, and begin preparing it for its new life. The container is given holes for windows and a door, a fresh coat of paint, and the interior refurbished and outfitted with living fixtures.

The prototype Hive that they constructed for their August launch party is what will become their Basic Model: a two bedroom, one bathroom unit with a kitchen and living room in the center.

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They’re filling a major gap on the island that contributed to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria: creating housing that’s code-compliant but also affordable for the general population.

“We believe in their concept: the fact that they’re bringing an architecture background to what they’re doing and are designing hurricane-resistant homes that can provide accessible housing,” Parallel18’s Arzola explains. “That’s really relevant to one of the big problems that appeared after the hurricane: the fact that the median income in Puerto Rico is low compared to the cost of housing. There is a need for more affordable options in the market.”

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Their goal is to create something that’s more than just a safe shelter. “We’ve been trying to make sure that we build something that’s actually nice to live in, not just something cheap and fast,” Velasco explains. “Something that people would want to own and they’re proud of and that they feel comfortable and safe with.”

The pride for their island shines through HiveCube’s mission to create safe, affordable housing for Puerto Ricans.

As Velasco puts it, “We’re going to try and build something that can actually help the community be stronger, if something like this – God forbid – happens again.”

On December 13th, HiveCube took home the People’s Choice Award at Parallel18’s Generation Five Demo Day, an award bestowed by an audience vote.

“It speaks to how relatable and relevant the solution is to Puerto Rico,” muses Arzola. “So yeah, we’re very proud.”

To stay in the loop with HiveCube’s progress and home releases, sign up for their newsletter at: www.hivecubepr.com
For sales and other inquiries, contact them through their website, Facebook, or Instagram

Hurricane Maria forces Parknet to Pivot, Gigabot Lowers Risk

Antonio Ramos takes a deep breath. “It was really depressing.”

A native Puerto Rican, he was living in San Juan when Hurricane Maria hit. He described the sentiment on the island when the storm was forecasted: Irma had just passed by with little effect, and the general feeling was that Maria would also spare them. The island is used to storms, he explains, and they usually bounced back after big ones in a couple weeks.

But this one turned out to be different.

He remembers seeing the radar images of the vastness of the tempest bearing down on them, their island dwarfed next to it. The dire situation quickly became apparent. Antonio recalls his reaction: “Okay, we’re screwed.”

It wasn’t just Antonio that had to weather the storm – he had a company to tend to as well.

From Capstone Project to Company

Antonio and his cofounder, Alan Lopez, started Parknet when they were still engineering students in university. They used the idea for their Capstone Project, building a controller that could connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi or SIM cards and control a boom barrier or electromagnetic gate – “really anything that could be activated,” Antonio explains.

They approached a local company with their idea, proposing to them that they could reprogram their controller in real time.

“They actually challenged us,” recounts Antonio. “They told us, ‘Hey, that can’t be done.’” The company said the only way to reprogram it was to go into a computer, use their software, and reprogram the whole controller.

Antonio didn’t balk. “I told them, ‘No, we can actually hack your controller.’” The company didn’t budge.

“So, it was a challenge,” says Antonio. “And challenge accepted. Something that we’ve learned is that you never challenge an engineer and say that they can’t do something, because they will do it.”

Six months later, Antonio and Alan demoed for the company their “unhackable” controller working as they had originally pitched. Parknet was born.

Maria's Arrival

Parknet makes cloud-based controlled access systems which provide facility administrators the ability to control access points – think entry doors or parking gates – in real-time, through the use of a web-based app accessible from any device with an internet connection.

Antonio and Alan explored different routes for how to market their system in Puerto Rico.

“At first, we wanted to use it for a parking lot payment system. But we found a bit of resistance here from the parking administrators,” Alan explains. They shifted their focus to gated communities and apartment complexes.

They joined the Generation Four cohort of Puerto Rican incubator program Parallel18 in August. And then, in September, Maria arrived.

“After the hurricane, we had no cell phone communication, we had no Internet, no power. It was really depressing,” Antonio recounts. “Our business needs Internet. It’s an Internet of Things device, so it needs Internet to operate and it needs power. So we were kind of stuck there.”

They pivoted yet again, strategizing how to stay afloat and retain their employees.

“We had to survive,” Antonio says. “The sales cycle for gated communities and apartment complexes can be from four to six months. It takes a lot of time and a lot of meetings and convincing.” But they found that with commercial spaces, the process was faster. “We started selling to co-working places and offices.” One such customer is Parallel18 itself.

Antonio stopped paying himself in order to keep his team on payroll. “We were in survival mode,” he explains. He began working in generator repairs, a service in high demand on the island following Maria.

They weathered the monster storm and its lingering aftermath, and several months later the company was back on its feet. As Parknet started demanding more from Antonio, he wrapped up his generator repair work and went back to it full time.

3D Printing Before Moving to Manufacturing

In the Parallel18 program, Parknet crossed paths with re:3D.

They began using Gigabot to 3D print enclosures for their printed circuit boards, or PCBs. “We can build a box in like, two hours, and we can test it before we send it to the manufacturer,” Antonio explains. “The manufacturer had a minimum of 10 boxes, and if it didn’t work correctly, we were going to waste 10 boxes.”

Once they finalized the enclosure design, they moved to a sheet metal forming process, but they continued to turn back to Gigabot for custom requests. “One of the advantages is that we can offer a customer a custom design,” Antonio says. “If they want a diamond shaped scanner, we can build it for them. If they want it embedded into a gypsum board, we can also do that.”

One Parknet customer in San Juan who has requested a diamond-shaped scanner is El Almacén, a speakeasy-style bar tucked away just off the buzzing square of La Placita.

They’re using Parknet’s technology to text message patrons digital keys and grant them entry to the bar with the swipe of a phone. The door unlocks and the e-key-holder descends into an old-timey themed lounge.

It also gives the bar the marketing opportunity to track and quantify their marketing. They can compare how many people the text message key was sent to and how many people used it, rather than their old method, which was a post on their Facebook page with the password for the night. There is also the location-based aspect of it – if a patron gets within a certain radius of the bar, their phone will remind them that they have a key to the nearby locale.

Moving Forward Post-Maria

It’s just past the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall.

Puerto Rico has recovered fairly well given the incredible destruction of the storm. The land itself looks lush and green, and the people I spoke with are propelled by a resilient spirit and a desire to rebuild and strengthen their island for the future.

Antonio is one of those very people. Parknet came out the other side of Maria arguably a stronger company, with more applications and a wider customer base than he and Alan had originally imagined. It’s been a big cycle for them that has taken them through multiple major pivots in the company’s lifespan.

After the trials of Maria, Parknet is now focused back on gated communities and apartment complexes and is ready to tackle their original vision of parking lots.

Learn more about Parknet: https://site.xubo.io/

Learn more about Parallel18: https://www.parallel18.com/

The Last Lockdown

It’s a disturbing sight. The desk is scratched with graffiti, and a terrified-looking figure cowers underneath – a small girl – with fingers wrapped around one leg of the desk.

The haunting scene is only a statue, but the fear conveyed on the young girl’s face is real. The statistics etched into the surface of the desk say it all: “During the 2017-2018 school year, the US averaged more than one school shooting per week.” “Guns are the third leading cause of death for American children.” “22 kids are shot every day in America.” They go on.

Daniel Crumrine and Sean Leonard are the creative duo behind the jarring sculpture. Both senior creatives in the ad industry in Austin, Texas, the two were spurred on by the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida to put their advertising skills to work for a good cause.

“We were inspired by the youth who were taking charge and making their voices heard,” recounts Crumrine. “They were – and still are – desperate for the issue to remain top of mind. Unfortunately, we knew the issue of gun violence against kids and students would fade from the news cycle after a while until it happened again. This project is our way of drawing – and keeping – attention on the issue.”

The piece is in fact more than just one statue: it’s ten, scattered across the country on their September 15th reveal in cities from Irvine to Parkland.

The statues were strategically placed in districts “represented by members of Congress who receive a significant amount of money from the gun lobby,” explains Crumrine. The timing is no coincidence: it’s back-to-school season and midterm elections will be taking place in just a few weeks.

“We know the gun issue is a sensitive one with strong opinions on both sides and that one stunt or installation won’t solve all our problems,” says Crumrine, “but we want to engage both sides.”

The idea for the piece came about because they wanted to bring attention to an ugly truth that many prefer not to think or talk about.

“Even for parents, it’s difficult to imagine the drills their sons and daughters are being taught in school,” Crumrine says. “So we wanted people to not just conceptualize it, but really see it and feel it.” The drills alone can be a taxing experience for kids, and, as he puts it, “it’s important for that emotion to be relayed to adults.”

They settled on a sculpture for its interactive nature as well as its realism. “A three-dimensional statue forces you to stop and look at it. It’s tactile – you can go up to it and study it, touch it, interact with it,” says Crumrine.

“Another reason we thought this statue was interesting is because it flips what a traditional statue represents,” he says. “Most statues are celebratory or honorary. This captures a moment that should make you uneasy and your stomach a little unsettled. We wanted that emotive reaction.”

Design & Fabrication of the Statues

With the idea born, the pair began making moves to bring the project to fruition.

“After we came up with the idea, we brought on colleagues who could help us bring it to life,” Crumrine recounts. Caleb Sawyer was their go-to 3D modeler, and with a CAD sculpture in hand, they began pitching the idea to organizations within the national gun reform movement.

They immediately got a positive response from Manuel Oliver, whose organization Change the Ref works to raise awareness about mass shootings and reduce the influence of the NRA on the Federal level. Oliver’s son was one of the 17 murdered in Parkland.

The pitch also piqued the interest of Giffords, a prominent gun reform organization started by Gabrielle Giffords, the US Representative from Arizona who survived being shot in the head in an assassination attempt as she met with constituents.

The two uniquely-impacted individuals came together to lend their own touch to the project. “Mr. Oliver collaborated with us to refine the design of the statue and led the push to make it a guerrilla-style national launch, and Giffords funded the project and is bringing it to life,” explains Crumrine.

The actual creation of the statues posed its own set of challenges.

“Our first thought was to do a bronze casting,” says Crumrine. But they quickly discovered that process would be both cost- and time-prohibitive. They looked into other materials, like foam. “What it came down to, ultimately, was what gave us the most realism and what was most cost-effective,” he recounts. “3D printing pretty quickly became the obvious choice.”

They decided on a multimedia approach: they would 3D print the girl and use a real school desk, both finished with a post-processing technique to lend a bronze-casted look to the piece.

The perk of using Gigabot for the project is that the girls could be printed all in one go, with no need to affix different sections post-printing. At a height of about two feet, they fit easily within the build volume of the Gigabot XLT. The ten girls were printed in our Houston office and sent to PBE Exhibits where Adam Fontenault handled the post-processing.

“Our main goal throughout this part of the process was realism, from the size of the statue to the look on her face,” Crumrine says. “We even wanted the faux bronzing to look as realistic as possible. Adam lightly sanded the printed statues and primed them to smooth out any visible print lines. He used a mixture of materials to achieve the lightly-patinated bronze look.”

The result is a statue that looks casted, at a fraction of the price and time it would have taken to go through that process.

“We’re thrilled with the final outcome,” says Crumrine. “She looks very lifelike, and the detail on the print is amazing. The bronze paint brings out additional features and makes the whole statue really pop.”

Prompting Policy Change and Conversation

The installation has gotten some major press following its September debut, making headlines in AdweekThe Washington Post, and CNN, among others. It’s a big step for visibility of the project, whose intent is severalfold.

“The first is to raise awareness of how pervasive the issue of gun violence against children really is and to force people to confront it,” Crumrine explains. “The second goal is to show how art as activism can be a vehicle for positive change. And the third goal is to educate people and motivate them to demand change.”

It’s a hot-button topic with many complicated layers, but Crumrine and Leonard hope that the installation can break through partisan arguments to the ultimate message: keeping kids in school safe from gun violence.

“Inevitably, this issue is loaded with political baggage,” says Crumrine. “But we’re hoping this project can at least focus the conversation around how to keep our nation’s children from being innocent victims.”

The idea is to spark policy change as much as it is to spark conversation.

“We hope we get strong reactions from both sides. We want it to be uncomfortable to see because it’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about,” Crumrine explains. “There will always be people who viscerally accept its message or viscerally reject it. But we want the people in the middle to consider what it’s actually saying.”

And as for the name of the cross-country installation?

“The title of the piece is ‘The Last Lockdown,’ because that’s the ultimate dream outcome,” explains Crumrine. “We want to help create a world where we’ve already seen the last one, but we’re not naïve enough to think it’ll happen overnight. This is hopefully a step in that direction.”

The Last Lockdown statues can be seen in the following ten cities:

Irvine, California

Parkland, Florida

Sarasota, Florida

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Houston, Texas

St. Paul, Minnesota

Las Vegas, Nevada

Denver, Colorado

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Spokane, Washington

Monumental Sculpture Bronze Casting with Deep in the Heart

It’s a sweltering, sunny July day in the small Texas town of Bastrop, and two men in what appear to be suits that you might wear to descend into a volcano are pouring what looks like lava from a cauldron.

I’m at Deep in the Heart, the largest fine art foundry in Texas, and I’m witnessing a bronze pour.

Clint Howard bought the foundry in 1999 and has grown it from five employees and 1,200 square feet to a team of 34 and about 22,000 square feet. “We’re like a publishing house,” he explains. They work with 165 artists around the world and turn their work into bronze or stainless steel monumental sculpture.

The bronze casting process – called lost-wax casting – is a 5,000+ year old art still being done in the same fashion as it was millennia ago.

“It’s a five generation process,” Clint explains. They start by creating the original sculpture, then making a mold on that sculpture, and then making a wax copy of the sculpture. A ceramic mold is made on the wax copy and flash-fired at 1,700 degrees to melt the wax out – hence the name lost-wax casting. With the wax gone, they’re left with a ceramic vessel that they can pour molten metal into, leaving them with the final sculpture.

Ten years ago, Clint decided that the business needed to start embracing technology.

“At the time, my focus was on 3D laser scanning and CNC milling,” he explains. “We got into the industry by buying a scanner and a huge CNC mill.” They would scan the sculpture and mill it piece by piece out of styrofoam.

“We did a lot of work for a lot of different artists in this technique,” he recounts, but, as he explained, “you still have to sculpt the whole piece full-size.” Clint describes the process as a huge “paint by numbers.” The styrofoam model gives them the outline and where the detail should be, but they still have to do all the fingerprint detail by hand with clay on top of the styrofoam form.

3D printing really wasn’t on their radar, Clint explains, until several years later.

Life Sized Dinosaurs

Clint got the fateful phone call four years ago from a dinosaur museum in Australia with a project proposal. “They wanted us to produce a herd of dinosaurs and they wanted to prove that it could be done all digitally,” Clint recounts.

The sculptures of the dinosaurs had been modeled in CAD, and the museum wanted Deep in the Heart to 3D print them in a material that could be direct-cast, circumventing “a whole lot of steps” in the casting process, in Clint’s words.

“Of course we had no idea what they were talking about or even where to start,” says Clint, “but they had done the research.” The museum had found Gigabot through Kickstarter and thought it would be an ideal fit given the proximity of the re:3D office to the foundry. “They basically said, ‘We want to do this – how many dinosaurs will this much money get us?’”

Deep in the Heart got their first Gigabot and quickly started experimenting how to best integrate 3D prints into their casting process. They ended up with 14 life-size dinosaurs – a nine-foot-tall, 13-foot-long velociraptor chasing a herd of smaller dinos – which now reside outside the Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Queensland, Australia.

The cost-savings of the project using the new 3D printing method were dramatic.

“To get 14 dinosaurs produced and installed for, let’s say, $120,000,” Clint says, “to do that traditionally – to have sculpted them full scale, to have molded them full-scale, and gone through the traditional lost-wax casting – we would’ve gone triple budget.”

"Unforeseen Benefits"

The dinosaur project was four years ago now, and Clint has since added two more Gigabots to their arsenal. “We bought the second one almost immediately and eventually decided we needed a third one,” he recounts.

Deep in the Heart’s specialty is monumental sculpture: their business is making really large pieces of art. “By having three [Gigabots],” Clint explains, “I can be printing three simultaneously, run them 24 hours a day, and it allows us the capacity to move a bigger piece through quicker.” They could do the job with one machine, he explains, but they want to move faster.

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The benefits of incorporating 3D prints into their casting process have been unexpected and multitudinous.

“One of the unforeseen benefits of 3D printing that I really didn’t expect in the beginning is the consistency and thickness that we can generate in the computer is far superior to anything that we can do by by hand,” Clint muses.

The traditional method is less precise: pouring molten wax into a mold and pouring it out, or painting liquid wax onto the surface of a mold. “We’re trying to gauge that thickness by experience; which direction the wind’s blowing that day,” Clint remarks. “I mean, we’re trying and we can get fairly close, but we have variances within our thicknesses.”

This means they’re often using more bronze in a sculpture than is actually necessary – yielding costlier pieces – simply because the wax mold is made by the imperfect human hand.

Replace the wax mold with a 3D printed one, and the thickness is now precisely and uniformly set in the computer. “It’s going to be exactly that consistency through every fold, every detail,” says Clint.

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“That really allows us to control our costs,” he comments. It also unexpectedly increased the quality of their casting, because with the 3D prints – as opposed to wax molds – “there’s no movement.”

“Wax is innately flexible,” Clint explains. Large sculptures are cast in many different sections – the massive buffalo they’re currently working on will be 30 or 40 separate pieces – and “each of those sections has the potential to warp slightly.” That means they’re often hammering and muscling the different pieces into alignment when it comes to assembling the final sculpture.

“With the 3D prints, they don’t move. At all.” Clint estimates that the assembly time of a monument that’s been 3D printed is about half that of one cast using wax molds.

The Rule of Three

“Most of the time when a commissioning party is asking for a monument to be made, they’re asking it to be a unique one-of-a-kind,” says Clint.

He explains that 99% of large sculptures out there start their life as a maquette – a miniature version of the big one. “That small maquette is where all the design work happens. It’s where all the artistic creativity happens.” The full-size sculpture is then just a mathematical formula of duplicating the miniature.

“Where 3D printing comes into play,” he explains, “is you don’t have to sculpt it big.”

They can take the small model, whether they sculpted it traditionally and then 3D scanned it, or whether they modeled it directly in the computer using CAD software, and they can print that model full-scale. This cuts out multiple parts of the process: they no longer have to sculpt full-scale, rubber mold full-scale, or make a a full-scale wax copy.

“I mean, you can literally just go straight from the printer into the ceramic shell process, and then you can cast.” The PLA material they print with burns out almost identically to wax, he explains.

It’s a huge time, energy, and cost-savings for them as a foundry. And for the artists, as Clint puts it, it allows them to go big faster. “It also allows artists to be more competitive because there’s not all those steps they’re having to pay for.”

Clint describes the cost savings rule of thumb as a “rule of three.” If a certain piece is going to be produced more than three times, “it might be cost-effective to do it the traditional method of actually sculpting the piece full-scale and making a mold on it,” he says.

“But if it’s going to be produced three times or less,” he explains, “the 3D printing route is cheaper.”

Where History and Technology Melt Together

“The cool thing about what we do is there’s always some historical significance,” explains Clint. “There’s always some story. What we’re doing is more than just an object.”

He’s referring specifically to the foundry’s focus at the time of this visit: a piece called The Splash, which is now installed in Dublin, California.

The sculpture pays homage to the role that a natural spring has played in the growth of the city, dating back to a Native American tribe. “The water is a very integral part of the city’s history,” explains Clint. “It’s also a very integral part of the native Americans that still live there, because the whole reason that this area was settled was because of this spring.”

The piece is 150 feet long: a large fluid-looking figure from which seven splashes emanate. Clint walks through the design: a water spirit has skipped a stone, causing these seven splashes. Each splash has a harmonic frequency superimposed into its face, which, Clint explains, is a “very specific part of the story.”

He goes on to recount that in the 1960s or 70s, the only surviving members of the tribe who still spoke the native tongue passed away. The tribe had lost their language.

In the 90s, anthropologists visited the area with wax cylinder recordings taken by anthropologists in the 1910s and 1920s who visited and recorded their language. “Luckily enough,” Clint goes on, “the elders in the community remembered their grandparents speaking the language enough to be able to help the anthropologists pull the language out of all of these recordings.”

Since this visit in the 90s, the tribe has now rediscovered their native language, and the sound waves on the surface of the bronze splashes pay homage to this.

“What we’ve got in all of these splashes is seven generations of members of the tribe saying ‘Thank you’ to the water spirit,” Clint explains. “That harmonic pattern is their voice frequency that was taken by technology, and then visualized in technology, and then superimposed on this sculpted splash in the computer, and then 3D printed so that each one of those splashes has the fingerprint of the voice of a [generation] of this tribe saying thank you.”

The impact of technology is woven throughout the story, from the rediscovery of the tribe’s native language to the creation of the sculpture to commemorate the role of water in the city’s history.

“It’s amazing,” Clint remarks. “Technology allowed it all to be created in the computer. The piece was 100% sculpted in 3D software and the monument has been 100% 3D printed and cast using the technology.”

Blending Old and New

It’s hard not to draw parallels between Clint’s commentary about the future of bronze casting and The Splash piece which his team produced.

The role of technology is steeped in both narratives. It’s been a tool, an enabler, a key to unlock a language and make a commemoration of that feat come to life.

And yet there can be pushback within the industry, resistance to the introduction of new technology that some see as a threat to the art’s centuries-old roots. “It’s a fine line to keep all of the ancient technology and the ancient techniques, and marry them with all this new stuff,” Clint comments.

But the basic process as the industry knows it is not going away, Clint explains.  “We’re still going to have to go through casting the same way,” he says. “What I’m starting to realize in the industry is that the traditional method will probably never die.”

Yes, several steps of the process are replaced by a single 3D print, but the piece still must be sculpted – whether physically or digitally – the bronze still must be poured, the sculpture still assembled and given its artistic hand-touch. The heart of the casting process is still very much there.

“But,” he goes on, “right now, I have probably 6,000 square feet of mold storage. Those molds are susceptible to handling, they’re susceptible to human error, they’re susceptible to just degradation over time.”

He sees a not-so-distance future where molds are obsolete, where a quarter of his floor space suddenly and miraculously becomes free for other use.

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“What the technology is leading me to believe is that very shortly, we’re going to have cloud based servers holding 3D files that represent the mold of the part,” he explains. “And now we can make that part any size we want. We can make it a little tiny miniature for a role playing game, or we can make it a 25-foot-tall monument to go in front of a casino in Vegas.” There’s no need to make a new mold for each varying size of a sculpture – it’s all done digitally – and the only storage space being used is on a hard drive.

Clint’s sights are set on the future, on the next generation of bronze casters.

“The artists that that are coming up and the artists that are going to be doing these monuments in 50 years, they’re all sculpting in the computer right now and they’re playing video games right now and they’re going to embrace that technology and that process.”

Clint has a profound respect for the age-old casting tradition, and he’s also a businessman. It’s his forward-thinking vision and willingness to dive into unknown territory that has helped him grow Deep in the Heart over the last nearly two decades.

“It is an amazing shift, and I definitely think that for the art foundries in the country to stay on top of it, they’re going to have to be embracing this technology and watching what’s happening and paying attention to all of these changes.”

Learn more about Deep in the Heart and their work on their website: http://deepintheheart.net/

Skating on Water Bottles

This post is a follow-up to this one on the Gigabot X pellet printer. If you haven’t checked it out or watched the video, start there!

We know you’ve been dying to know what on Earth our Gigabot X pellet printer prototype was printing in the last update video, so we’re here to deliver!

Without further ado, the reveal.

The slick design was dreamt and drawn up by one of the students working on Gigabot X material validation at Michigan Tech University. Our team was really excited about the idea of printing the board using one of our favorite new materials we’ve been testing: recycled PET.

Giving water bottles a second lease on life as a fun, functional object? As Robert put it, “You know, we had to do it.”

We went through a few trials of the board, snapping a couple of the earlier prints due to the design being a little too thin or not printing it with enough infill. We thickened up the design and increased the infill percentage to make the board a little sturdier, leaving us with a roughly six and a half hour, five pound print.

After popping on some trucks and wheels, re:3D Engineer & Resident Skater Jeric Bautista took the board for a spin behind the Houston office.

Jeric gave the board his stamp of approval. “The skateboard was really fun to use,” he said. “It was smooth to ride and the PET made it nice and springy, which is similar to normal skateboards. Seeing firsthand the functionality of recycled plastic was definitely very cool.”
 
Keeping plastic bottles out of landfills by giving them a new life as functional objects? That’s something we can roll with.

Gigabot X Update

Hot off the 3D printing press, it's a Gigabot X update!

It’s been about four months since we closed out a successful Kickstarter campaign for our pellet printer, Gigabot X, on April 23rd. Since we last touched base with you, our engineers have been hard at work making improvements to the design for our Kickstarter backer beta testers.
 
The main focus of the redesign has been the extruder, which has been completely overhauled over the last several months. There’s a new metal extruder body, improved wiring of heaters and the external motor driver, and a redesigned screw for more consistent extrusion.
Some previously 3D printed components within the extruder body were switched to metal for the purpose of durability. Originally printed for ease of testing modifications, our engineers found that some components weren’t lasting as long as they’d like to see due to the tremendous forces being generated within the hopper as the screw extrudes pellets. Now that the design of certain pieces is more final, we started machining certain components in metal to better deal with wear and tear.
 
The modular, 3D printed hopper has also seen significant changes. With the previous design, our R&D team found that the amount of pellets being pushed through by the screw was much higher than they expected – and wanted. They increased the size of the hopper to slow down the rate, which also provides the dual benefit of not having to replenish the pellets as often.

The first Gigabot X prototype took a trip up to Michigan and is currently residing at Michigan Tech University, where a group of students are performing material testing research as a collaboration supported by our NSF SBIR Phase I. Some of the materials they’ve been validating include PLA, PET, polypropylene, and ABS, in both recycled and virgin forms. One of our favorites we’ve been printing with is recycled PET, better known as the common disposable water bottle.

Michigan Tech has also done us the incredible service of creating improved Slic3r profiles for these materials. The profiles are working fantastically on the new Gigabot X in the Houston office, and we’re seeing improved quality of prints thanks to them. Backers will benefit from these profiles, which have improved the overall printing experience greatly.
 
Another thing our team is particularly excited about is that the MTU students were also able to 3D print with multiple sized pellets and have also been experimenting with printing directly with ground-up plastics with success. These results were then submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, and we would love to invite the community to check out the research in Materials. You can also share questions and comments with us on the Gigabot X forum by creating an account and logging in.
 
Testing of Gigabot X is still ongoing and small tweaks continue to be made, but things are moving along well. Over the next three to four months our team will be rounding out testing, cleaning up and finalizing the design and documentation of the machine, and getting the first bots ready for backers. Our team is really excited for the moment that we get to put this technology into the hands of our early adopters.
 
As re:3D R&D Intern Robert Oakley put it, “I’m really looking forward to seeing what people make with it… It’s really cool to see when people start figuring out how to use our printers to make cool objects that we haven’t thought of before.”
Stay tuned for an upcoming post about what Gigabot X was printing in the video above!

3D Printing Sparking Innovation at Stellar Industries

Have you ever walked by a construction site, looked at a massive piece of equipment that completely dwarves you, and wondered, “How do they change that massive tire if they get a flat?”

Stellar Industries has the answer to that question.

Stellar designs and manufactures hydraulic truck equipment – cranes, hooklifts, tire service, and more – for the construction, mining, and utility industries. In other words, they make the equipment to change those 12-foot-diameter tires, as well as perform a lot of the other service on hulking pieces of industrial machinery. It is interesting that 3D printing could be use to do something as intriguing as this. Luckily there are mark downs for those who are interested in finding computer systems that might be able to help.

A Gargantuan Operation in Garner

Stellar is based in the small Iowa city of Garner, and driving through downtown feels a little like driving through a Stellar Industries ad. Every other building seems to have a Stellar sign on its facade; the employee-owned company employs some 400 people there and sprawls across town.

Hydraulic truck manufacturing is a massive industrial operation that requires a lot of space, and the Stellar warehouses that dot the landscape each contain some portion of the truck-manufacturing process.

There’s the shop section, replete with engineering toys like enormous CNC machines and laser cutters, huge press brake machines that bend pieces of steel like putty, sparks flying from plasma cutting robotic arms and human welders alike. Another gargantuan building houses just the paint portion of the process, where truck bodies receive their coats on a journey along a carwash-esque track. The final stop of the trucks, the assembly building, is where everything comes together and the trucks take shape, workers flitting around the lifted rigs with tool boxes.

In a slightly less hectic area of the assembly building, a large wooden crate on wheels has arrived. It’s Stellar’s second Gigabot.

The Road to 3D Printing

“It was quite a journey.”

Engineering Manager at Stellar Industries Matt Schroeder recounted how they got to the point of having their second in-house 3D printer. “About 5 years ago, we looked at 3D printing, and it was just really expensive and very limited.”

What they were interested in doing was creating tools to help the folks in the assembly portion of the Stellar Industries operation.

“When we first started getting into the 3D printing realm, we needed some assembly fixtures.” Scott Britson is the Assistant Engineering Manager and has been in the Design and Engineering Department for 16 years.

Scott explained that different clients get differently configured trucks: different bodies, different components – sometimes customer-supplied – mounted in unique ways. They wanted to make the assembly team’s job easier in doing these custom setups, so that, as Scott explained, “when we repeat a truck for a customer, they get the same exact truck that they ordered from the first build to the eighth build.”

Stellar had in fact been creating these assembly fixtures themselves pre-3D printer, but their only option was to make them using what was available. Matt recounted, “Before our Gigabot – and before we would even contract out 3D printing – it would be a very intensive process of working either internally or externally with the machine shop to painstakingly make a prototype.”

The fixtures they made were heavy, costly, labor-intensive pieces which also had the negative effect of pulling their machine shop away from actually producing truck components. “We were using aluminum, we were using steel, we were having to machine stuff, we were having to weld stuff,” explained Scott. It was amounting to be too much of a labor, cash, and time sink to produce the tools.

Their attention turned to 3D printing.

“With 3D printing, we knew we could get lightweight, we could go into certain areas and cut places out of the part that we needed to go around,” Scott explained. “It’s a lot easier than sending it to our machine shop.”

They began by outsourcing their 3D print jobs to third party service bureaus, but they reached a stopping point where they were getting quoted longer and longer lead times. “We realized,” Matt recounted, “this is a core competency we need to develop in order to be able to have faster response times and control our own destiny.”

Thus began the hunt for a 3D printer of their own.

A Big Machine for Big Manufacturing

“When we looked at 3D printers a few years ago, you were limited by the 8 x 10s, the smaller, more toy things that sit on your computer desk,” Scott explained, “which really didn’t fit our needs.”

Stellar manufactures big, industrial equipment to service even bigger industrial equipment. They needed something to match that. “We needed to go to something that we could build bigger things, bigger fixtures for the types of trucks that we build,” said Scott.

Stellar prioritized a few important features to them: first on the list was size. Another deciding factor, Scott explained, was “the ability to upfit your 3D printer to the newest advancements and not be stuck at a version one, version two, version three.” They wanted something that could evolve with them and stay current with advancements in the industry without them having to buy an entirely new machine. And lastly, they were looking for a company that would come in and teach them, to help make their team 3D printer-literate.

“That’s where Gigabot came into our eyes as the clear leader,” said Scott.

“Right around the first of the year, we received our first Gigabot,” Matt recounted, “and we immediately put it to work that day, printing some prototype parts and things that were in a backlog that we really needed to get a project back on task.”

They completed most of that work in about two to three weeks, explained Matt, and then an interesting phenomenon occurred. People from other departments got wind of the new toy at the office and started coming by to check it out.

Igniting Innovation

“It’s kind of a piece that everybody wants to come up and see, everybody wants to take a look,” said Scott, of their Gigabot.

It didn’t take long before projects that weren’t originally on Stellar’s radar began springing up.

Scott recounted, “We’ve had our assembly department come up to the Gigabot and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing that part, do you think we can get something like that for this?'” The Stellar engineering department works to draws up the idea in CAD and print out the design on their Gigabot. Within a matter of days, they can have the part in their hands.

The increased creativity and innovation sparked by the in-house 3D printer, as both Scott and Matt described, is palpable.

The whole Stellar team is, as Scott explained, “constantly thinking of new ideas and new things to help them improve their throughput.” As Matt put it, “Once we brought [Gigabot] in, it excited people’s ability to think outside the box; it got people thinking about innovation in ways that we originally we weren’t intending.”

Their Gigabot was suddenly awash in a steady stream of projects coming from all angles.

“Things that we wouldn’t have initially thought of,” Matt explained, “like, go/no go quality tools.” A common misconception about 3D printers – that they’re really only for prototyping – was quickly dispelled once Stellar got their hands on their Gigabot.

“I think something that was very eye-opening to me is the range of materials that we could print,” Matt mused.

“I was of the mindset that we could just print something in PLA and it was just this hard plastic proof-of-concept,” he explained, “but we’re printing very tough and durable materials, we’re printing things that can bend and stretch and flex. We’re printing gaskets. Things like that are not what we had originally envisioned, but we’re leveraging those now. Being able to print those large varieties of materials is really helping us.”

In Stellar’s weld shop are large 3D printed tack fixtures used for cranes. These fixtures are 70-85% cheaper than traditional metal fixturing, and let them keep their production equipment focused on end-product parts. 3D printing them also allows Stellar to keep their lead times down; depending on the size of the part, they are often able to deliver fixtures or tooling with just 24 hours’ notice.

Also in the welding area is an assortment of colorful, 3D printed rings used to designate the holes used for specific tool models. Using the 3D printed collars allows them to match the collars with any additional plastic parts, and are much more durable than denoting them with markings in paint or tape.

Their maintenance department has taken a liking to the new 3D printer, finding ways to cut costs on expensive replacements. “We had a small component for a paint system that was several hundred dollars to replace, and you had to buy the entire kit to do so,” Matt recounted. “We were able to look at the small part, we created it in 3D and printed it over that night, and they were up and going the next day. So it was very fast and it was very economical.”

And, of course, there are the assembly jigs and fixtures that originally spurred the Gigabot purchase in the first place. The lightweight, low-cost 3D printed pieces are night and day compared to their first-generation, machine-milled and welded metal brethren, and they’re helping the Stellar assembly team become more efficient and effective with custom truck builds.

“We’re able to keep spacing on parts, we’re able to drill new holes in the fixtures for the mounting,” Scott explained. “We’re able to do a lot more for our shop to make it more consistent – they’re not having to get the tape measure out and make sure they’re not getting mis-measurements. They have the fixtures there so that they’re getting the exact location that they need.”

Stellar’s mind has been firmly changed since their original belief that 3D printing was solely a prototyping tool. Matt mused, “I think there is going to come a tipping point where we will produce more and more production parts on our machines versus prototyping parts.”

Bringing in Backup

“I don’t think in the beginning we knew that we would be running the Gigabot nonstop,” said Scott.

“From the day that we got it to about 45 days down the road, that thing was running 40 days, day and night,” he recalled. “The only time that it was down was because…we didn’t have it running through the weekend, or we were letting the bed cool to pull the prints off the Gigabot.”

Matt also recounted the early days, ping-ponging between projects they originally intended for their bot and new unexpected ones that came out of left field. The two angles kept their machine plenty busy. “In short, we were able to keep the machine running non-stop for about six months,” he said. “There were just a couple of times for some minimal preventative maintenance that we had the machine down, and it’s still running around the clock today.”

“In fact,” Matt continues, “we have been so busy we’ve had to get a second machine going.”

In the quiet side room off the main assembly floor, they pry the wooden boards of the crate apart with the excitement of kids opening up a new toy, unveiling Stellar Gigabot number two.

Within minutes of getting it uncrated and into the office, it’s already begun printing.

Learn more about Stellar Industries on their website: www.stellarindustries.com

The Mannequin Challenge

The Greneker office strikes me as a place you wouldn’t want to be stuck wandering at night, what with the bodies lurking around each corner. I scheduled my visit for early afternoon.

Greneker is a mannequin manufacturer based in Los Angeles, California. They’ve worked to stay cutting-edge in their industry since they started in 1934, always keeping pace with the latest groundbreaking materials and manufacturing methods, like moving from plaster to fiberglass around World War II.

They’re proving that even an entrenched player in the game isn’t too old to learn new tricks: their latest foray is into the worlds of digital and 3D printing.

Steve Beckman is President & COO at Greneker, and he’s been a part of the evolution of the company over the last 2+ decades as they’ve set themselves apart in their industry.

When I started with this business, we would get together as a group, we would look at the trends in the marketplace, and we would develop a line based on what we saw happening in the marketplace at that time.” It was a big gamble – the process was both costly and time-intensive – but that was just business as usual for them. “That was done with clay sculpting, so we would start with armatures and clay, go through the process ourselves, create an entire line of mannequins, and really just kind of rolled the dice and hope that it would sell to that market.”

Whereas they began by working independently from apparel manufacturers, Greneker found themselves doing more and more custom work for specific clients. They found their niches in the athletic wear and plus size markets, and working with big-name clients like Under Armour and Adidas in the clay design process provided its own set of challenges.

“It was a very long process to develop a line of custom mannequins,” Steve explains. “We would have to spend a great deal of time upfront with a client trying to figure out what they were looking for, what the poses were, what the dimensions were, what sizes these pieces were. The armatures would be set up by hand, the sculpting would be done by hand in clay. It would require several visits of the client on premises before we got an approval to move into the molding process to begin production.”

When working with athletic apparel clients, the challenges multiplied. As they started to get into sports-specific activities, posing came to be of utmost importance. “The poses are either accurate or they’re inaccurate,” Steve says. “If you try and put a golf mannequin in a golf shop and he is not in the proper position, the mannequin will be ripped apart by patrons.”

If you want to talk with someone about whether Greneker is in fact a creepy place to be stuck at night, Daniel Stocks is your man. As Senior Sculptor at Greneker – or Sculptor Extraordinaire, as Steve tended to refer to him – he’s the one responsible for following through on all those client requests.

“A lot of the time I would work late at night making all these adjustments and changes while the people are in town so that they [could] see it the next day,” Daniel recounts. And that was after starting from scratch on the figure: constructing a metal armature and building up the clay by hand.

True to their trailblazing past, Greneker began searching for ways to update their process and make themselves more efficient.

“We started to look at digital as a way of creating these pieces, and creating them precisely and accurately,” Steve recounts. “We’ve now moved from clay sculpting to everything being 3D printed, which has helped us in a myriad of ways.”

The 3D Printed Mannequin Challenge

Greneker dipped their toe into 3D printing with a smaller-scale CubeX and quickly realized the potential of the technology.

“We felt as a company that this was the direction that we needed to take, and we needed to go full steam ahead before some of our competitors became aware of the technology and started utilizing it,” Steve shares. They wanted to gain the competitive advantage before others caught wind of what they were doing. “And that’s one of the things we have done, we’ve positioned ourselves as the experts in this type of mannequin design.”

They purchased a few other small 3D printers, and then Daniel began the hunt for a large-scale printer with the right price tag. He came across Gigabot.

“Well, there was really nothing else on the market within a reasonable price point that would make pieces big enough for a full body,” Daniel muses.

“We selected the printer based on, again, the human body,” Steve explains. “We’re a mannequin manufacturer. We wanted larger printers to be able to print torsos and legs.” Their 3D printer arsenal includes a range of machines, from small-scale printers good for the details on hands and faces, up to the large size of Gigabot for cranking out large pieces.

“The challenge for us and my challenge to Daniel was to get a full-sized mannequin printed in one day,” Steve smiles. “It takes about 250 hours of print time to print a mannequin. In order to print it in one day, it was going to take a bunch of machines.”

Take a stroll through their office and you’ll come across the realization of this dream: a separate room tucked within their main sculpting area which they built specifically for 3D printing. “The Gigabots work fantastic for large-sized pieces, so we bought a bunch of them,” Steve recounts. Greneker is now up to four Gigabots – stacked two-by-two and suspended from the ceiling – which they house in this room along with their smaller-scale machines so they can run 24 hours a day.

“Before 3D printing, it would’ve been just unthinkable to make a mannequin in a day,” Daniel muses. “Now it’s actually possible.”

“A Myriad of Benefits”

Steve explained that the benefits that came with moving from clay design to digital and 3D printing have been numerous. The biggest savings may be from a time standpoint – they’re cutting from every aspect of the preproduction process.

“We save time throughout the entire process,” he shares.

Because everything is now digital, they no longer have to bring clients in to see mock-ups in person during the design process. “Instead of having clients visit, we can have video conferencing now, which accelerates the initial consultation period greatly,” Steve explains. “The client can sit on the other end – whether they’re across the country or across the world – and in real time we can make those changes and those tweaks to make these pieces exactly what they’re looking for.”

Daniel is particularly happy about this aspect as well. He still sometimes has to work on a time crunch, he explains, but “it’s less physical and it allows a lot more flexibility,” he explains. “If I have to, I can work from home on the computer and makes adjustments. It’s a lot quicker.”

“What,” you may ask, “does he mean by ‘physical?’” Miniature, scaled-down models of a mannequin to show clients weren’t possible before 3D printing, because the mini and full-scale versions can differ so much when working by hand in clay. So, as Steve recounts, the sculptors had to work in full-size clay as they went through the tweaking process, often while the clients were there in person. He explains, “We would bring the client in and then the sculptors would wrestle with the clay in front of the client until we got it to where it needed to be.”

No more mannequin manhandling. “With 3D printing, we take the digital model and we’ll produce a scaled model, usually about 18 inches tall, and then we can send that to the clients,” says Steve. “They can make sure that all the measurements fit where they like and that the posing is what it needs to be in. Once we get the sign-off at that point, then we produce a full-scale 3D print.”

Greneker will print a full-size version of the mannequin, which, with a little sanding and painting, will function exactly like the final mannequin, albeit not in the final material. That gets shipped to the client where the stakeholders can review the piece exactly as it will look in production.

This is immensely helpful for another portion of the process: the sign-offs. In the past, Greneker had struggled to get all of a client’s decision-makers in the room at once. “We would have a group of people come visit us that may or may not represent all of the stakeholders involved in the development,” Steve explains. “Ultimately, whatever approvals or opinions we received at that point could be superseded by someone else that hadn’t been here.”

That frustrating portion of the process is completely removed now. “With this new process,” Steve says, “the model goes in front of everybody, so it’s there for everyone to look at. You get a much, much tighter buy-in much more quickly.”

And of course, in the actual design process itself, the digital realm has also proven itself to be a clear winner over clay. “If you do something in clay, you do it by hand,” says Steve. “You can’t necessarily repeat that.”

No one is likely a bigger fan than Daniel. “It opens up a lot of new tools,” he explains. When designing a head, for example, he can take advantage of the symmetry tool in CAD. The work he’s done on one side of a face is automatically mirrored to the other. “Before, working in clay, we would have to try to make adjustments – ‘Which ear is higher? Are the eyes straight?’ Things like that it makes much simpler.”

It also aids with consistency and continuity if different sculptors are working on the same body. “If I have a large project and I have three sculptors working on it, because it’s three sets of hands, it may not look identical,” Steve explains. “With the digital design, we don’t have to worry about that. The design is the design and you can move it, change it, scale it, but it’s always the base design and it’s always obvious what it is, no question.”

The slashing of time from every part of the preproduction process goes hand-in-hand with cost-cutting. “Internally for the business, the change has been much more cost-effective,” Steve shares. “When I started, we would create lines based on – when it’s all said and done – it’s spaghetti on the wall. It’s our best guess of what was going to sell. We don’t have to do that any longer.”

That gamble used to be a risky one.

“When we did it in clay, you had to commit to it. Clay’s only got a very limited shelf life,” Steve explains. With CAD replacing clay at Greneker, there’s no more wasted effort and materials going into a design that doesn’t sell. Now, Steve says, “We can put a design that we think is cool together digitally and it can sit there as a model until there’s a market and a place for it.”

An Industry in Flux

“The apparel retail industry is in a great deal of flux right now,” Steve explains. “Online sales have really started to affect their brick and mortar sales. I don’t foresee some of the large scale roll-outs in malls in the near future, but what we do see is the need for smaller runs of more specific posing.”

And this – thanks to their calculated research and work – is where Greneker excels.

“What we see going forward is we need to be much more nimble, much faster, and much more cost-effective on the development side so that the retailers can afford to bring in specific mannequins for specific markets,” says Steve.

Greneker’s hard work to modernize and streamline their mannequin production process has paid off. “The marketplace is requiring speed to market. Everything has got to be done sooner rather than later,” Steve explains. “When we would sculpt and create a new line by hand, the process could take upwards of six months in preproduction. In 3D printing, now we’ve reduced that process to where it can be as short as just a few weeks.”

The tedious parts of their old process -the gambles on trends, the risk of botched posing, building up new armatures and clay bodies by hand, the endless on-site client visits to make tweaks and get approval – all of that is now off their plate.

“Right now, we’ve just finished realizing our first set of goals with 3D printing,” says Steve. “Our future goals: we’re going to bring in as many printers as it takes to be the absolute fastest to market as we can be. We want to stay ahead of our competition.”

Learn more about Greneker: greneker.com

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