Innovating in The Time of Corona(virus)

The exponential spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe led to overwhelming demand on supply chains and disruptions to traditional manufacturing and distribution systems. Because of societal lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, a dire need quickly arose for locally fabricated, specifically focused and creatively sourced solutions to equipment shortages and emergency supplies. At home and across the globe, designers and engineers quickly mobilized into online, open-source prototyping groups to solve the challenge of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and medical device accessories. 3D printing and additive manufacturing was an obvious go-to, with the ability to rapidly prototype and iterate on the fly, teams could utilize 3D printers to supply healthcare providers with equipment now, as soon as there were designs to print. The intention and needs were obvious and clear – to aid humanity and fill the gaps in supply chains – however, organizing volunteers and streamlining the process to avoid duplicate efforts was a daunting task.

As a company with a wealth of R&D project experience and long used to working as a distributed team, re:3D put out the call that we would prototype – for free – any life-saving devices or PPE in order to expedite review by medical professionals. We are conscientious contributors to the open source design community for COVID-19 response. We take a First, Do No Harm approach to any design work we do for this effort, meaning that it needs to be designed with input from, and in partnership with, the individuals who will utilize any equipment we prototype. We will not create anything that gives a false sense of security, but is ineffective or harmful. Our medical providers on the front lines are in need, and we are honored to take on the challenge.

Face Shields

In two overlapping efforts, we prototyped a design for a 3D printed face shield with full visor coverage and an adjustable zip tie style latching mechanism. The inquiry started in Puerto Rico. Vicente Gascó, our friend and colleague from Tredé and Engine-4 shared he had a supply of 4000 clear plastic lenses for face shields, but no visor to which they would attach to the head. Armed with only the measurements of the lenses and aided by an idea from assembly guru and NASA technician Andrew Jica in Houston, Brian Duhaime, our mechanical engineer in Austin, and Alessandra Montano, our graphics designer in Puerto Rico, pumped out five different iterations of a face shield in only 48 hours.

Vicente and Luis Torres, co-founder of Engine-4, pulled our Puerto Rico Gigabot out of Parallel-18 and added it to the existing Gigabot at Engine-4. Gigabots in Austin and in Puerto Rico printed out iterations of the designs for testing.

In Houston at the same time, CTO Matthew Fiedler, mechanical engineer Helen Little and community liaison Charlotte Craff were meeting with doctors from a local hospital to discuss their needs for a face shield. Knowing that vetted, open source face shield designs were already available, the group reviewed designs by Prusa, Lazarus3D, Budmen and Professional Plastics. The Houston team 3D printed existing options for the doctors to test, but the designs didn’t meet all of the doctors’ needs:

  • Lightweight, fully closed top
  • Reducing the air gap between lens and chin
  • 180 degree lens coverage
  • Limit number of parts to reduce need to source materials in short supply

Knowing that supply chains were disrupted and very little raw materials were available in a timely manner, re:3D conferred with Professional Plastics and determined that plastic sheeting supplies were well behind schedule, but that there were excess pre-cut face shield lenses available. Again, re:3D opted to prototype to existing, local supplies, keeping stress off of traditional supply chains and getting creative with what was available.

Over the next week, Helen built on the work done for the Puerto Rico design, integrated the needs of the doctors and iterated ten different versions of the face shield while working from home and rarely getting to hold a print in her hands. The result is a single print, face shield with an adjustable latching mechanism. It’s designed for 180 degrees of protection and comfort without the addition of foam padding.  It has the approval of the hospital’s Infection Control and  is currently available at the National Institutes of Health 3D Print exchange for COVID-19 Response. https://3dprint.nih.gov/discover/3dpx-013504

Hands-Free Door Pulls

Eliminating unnecessary shared contact surfaces is imperative, especially in buildings where essential workers are operating to continue necessary services. Our team includes multiple military service members. One of our reservists was activated when she sent out a call back to our team to make some hands-free door pulls to use on the base. Aided by Matthew Fiedler, Mike Battaglia, our designer in Austin, and Brian Duhaime went to work prototyping hands-free door pulls for lever-style and bar-style door handles.

These designs were drafted before we had dimensions for either of the door styles, so had to be modeled in such a way to enable incremental dimensional adjustments while preserving the models’ shapes. During her free time, the service member sent feedback on the first versions via pictures and notes, and Brian and Mike iterated the changes remotely, melding organic shaped and attachment options into single print solutions.

The hands-free door pulls are now successfully in use on base, protecting our military personnel as they work to respond and aid COVID-19 efforts. These models are available for download here https://3dprint.nih.gov/discover/3dpx-013825 and here: https://3dprint.nih.gov/discover/3dpx-013822

From Intubation Box to Drape Stands

As a 3D printer manufacturer, we are understandably advocates of 3D printing use in manufacturing. However, we recognize that not all innovations require, or are best served by, an exclusively 3D printed solution. As we do much of our manufacturing in-house, including machining parts on our CNCs, we can apply rapid prototyping principals to traditional manufacturing methods. Take the example of an aerosol or intubation box:

We were contacted by an anesthesiologist based in Austin about modifying such a box, used to protect doctors and nurses from aerosols released when intubating a patient. The doctor’s main concerns were ability to clean and the need for a “helper” hole. This equipment needed a curved, clear surface rather than sharp corners where germs could hide. We offered to prototype using polycarbonate sheeting and an aluminum framework available in our machine shop.  In this case, the request for aid evolved before we produced a prototype. The anesthesiologist reported that the existing boxes were unwieldy and took up too much space, so instead requested a solution for supporting clear plastic drapes to achieve the same purpose and be easy to store. Matthew Fiedler proposed a combined 3d printed base and a bent aluminum frame for the project. Design work is ongoing and we will update this post as the prototype develops.

Are you a healthcare professional needing a COVID-19 related equipment solution? Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org to begin coordination. Should you wish to purchase any of our COVID-19 designs. They’re available in our online store: https://shop.re3d.org/collections/covid-19

Interested in supporting existing efforts to fight COVID-19? See below for how to help in Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico.

There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here.
 
Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 
Drop off boxes can be found at:
 
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
 
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
TXRX and the amazing maker-community continue to organize face shield collection around Houston.  We are donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  To date, over 1600 face shields have been donated from the Clear Lake area –  keep it up!
More information and the design file is available here.
 
The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D, Inc.
1100 Hercules
STE 220
Houston, TX 77058
The maker community, including a few Gigabots have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunities to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon and additional efforts. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shields to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
The Mayaguez drop off box can be found at:

Maker Chris’ house at:
76 Calle Santiago R Palmer E, Mayaguez PR 00680


If you live outside of these areas and/or are seeking ways to contribute, A Form to Volunteer is Available Here. We will be responding to inquiries this weekend and doing our best to facilitate introductions:)

Global Gigabot Community Rises to the Challenge of COVID-19

As we all face our new normal and adjust to the realities of life during a pandemic, our 3D printing friends and colleagues around the world have stepped up to provide much needed personal protective equipment, filling the supply gap for everyone on the front lines. This isn’t just for doctors and nurses, it’s also for the police, EMTs, grocers, gas station attendants, and every other essential worker who suit up to keep our societies’ services going during this crisis.

More close to home, we couldn’t be more honored to count many of these selfless volunteers as our customers. re:3D’s social mission to democratize manufacturing and 3D print with purpose tends to attract like minded individuals and businesses whose first instincts are to be the problem solvers for their communities.  Featured below are our friends’ efforts in their own words.

Engine-4, Tredé, Parallel18 & Daniel Varela

Bayamón, Puerto Rico

Tell us about the design you are printing.

After learning about a need for PPE, we started printing a derivative of the 3DVerkstan visor design for face shields that could accept pre-cut shields that had been donated. We chose that design because it was the fastest to print. It was nice to see along the way that it got NIH endorsement. Our expanding print farm of Gigabots & Prusa printers is located at Engine-4, and includes local Gigabots that Parallel 18, Daniel Varela, and Atlantic University (once it clears customs!) loaned to help bolster production.
Design Inspiration: https://3dverkstan.se/protective-visor/

PR Variant: Link to .stl file direct download

What material are you printing with?

We are currently printing with PLA.

Who are you printing this design for?

We are donating face shields to health professionals across PR. So far we have donated 1400. We’re also helping a doctor with 3D printed splitters. Just today we got a tightly fitted design and are doing further testing.

This fabulous group of makers who combined forces can be found online:

@engine4cws @tredeprinting @p18startups

https://engine-4.com/

http://tredeprinting.com/

https://parallel18.com/

Bill Albertini

New York City, New York, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

When I heard about a potential shortfall in PPE supplies at New York area hospitals, my first reaction was to research mask/respirator models but soon realized they were not an ideal candidate for FDM printing. Face shields are also in short supply and there were a couple of designs that looked promising. I downloaded and tested several candidates before I found a design on March 26th by Swedish 3DVerkstan which they had just released in the wild, I soon I discovered that Weill Cornell and several other institutions had adopted this model because of its simplicity and ease of assembly. It consists of two components, a 3D printed head strap and a clear plastic shield which can be easily fabricated using letter size acetate sheet .005 or thicker and a standard 3 hole punch.

Download Site: https://www.youmagine.com/designs/protective-visor-by-3dverkstan
Design Site:https://3dverkstan.se/protective-visor/

What material are you printing with?

I am currently printing with PLA but I am going to switch over to PETG as soon as I can set up better ventilation. This is an old fashioned New York loft work/live situation.

Who are you printing this design for?

Most of this first batch was donated to DIY Shield Project through connections with nycmakesppe.com, and they have been pretty much distributing to (public) hospitals with severe shortages like Elmhurst and Lincoln. I am also giving 50 kits directly to someone I know at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. I have also been in contact with Jenny Sabin who is running a site for Weill Cornell https://www.sabinlab.com/operation-ppe

Bill Albertini can be found online:

@bill_albertini

billalbertini.com

Efes Bronze | Serdar Erol

Yalova City, Turkey

Tell us about the design you are printing.

It is a simple face shield design that can save lives. The design came from 3BOYUTLUDESTEK.ORG platform. There are thousands of volunteers in this platform with 3D printers. “Sizi seviyoruz” is located on the shield and means that we love and thank you to all struggling with COVID-19.

What material are you printing with?

PLA

Who are you printing this design for?

All sanitarians, policemen, and some other officials that have to contact each other everyday.

Where can people sign up to assist with this effort?

WWW.3BOYUTLUDESTEK.ORG

Efes Bronze can be found online:

@efesbronze

Metabolic Foundation | Christie Mettes & Tony Sevold

Aruba

Tell us about the design you are printing.

We started working with the design from Prusa, which looked like it was carefully researched and tested and approved and it worked well, so we printed about 400 of those in total. We’ve recently moved on to the 3DVerkstan design, which takes half the time to print so it helps us increase our production. In addition to these, we’ve also designed a copy of some safety glasses they use at the hospital, which print even quicker and use less material. The different designs and files are linked on our wiki page here: http://wiki.brenchies.com/index.php?title=3D_printing_face_shields

What material are you printing with?

We’re printing mainly with PLA because that’s what we have, and it’s easy to work with. We’ve also used a bit of PETG and some ABS because that’s what we had, and it should work fine according to the Prusa and 3DVerkstan websites.

Who are you printing this design for?

We’re printing for the two main hospitals on the island, Horacio Oduber Hospital, and ImSan (Instituto Medico San Nicolas), as well as the department of health who are doing the testing (DVG, Directie Volksgezondheid), the psychiatric hospital organization (Respaldo), the union of family doctors and dentists, as well as individual health workers including nurses and family doctors who ask us specifically.

Where can people sign up to assist with this effort?

If you’re in Aruba, and have a 3D printer or can sew, you should sign up. Best way is to email us at lab@brenchies.com, or WhatsApp us at +297 630 2475

Metabolic Foundation can be found online:

https://www.facebook.com/brenchieslab/

https://www.instagram.com/brenchies/

Plodes® Studio | John Paul Plauché & Roya Plauché  

Baytown, TX, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

We are printing a head banding component of a protective face shield. It is based on a design by Prusa, and had been approved by the Czech Ministry of Health for use to help fill the void of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The version we are printing is a redesign by TXRX Labs and part of a volunteer effort that they had organized to help with our own local need for PPE during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. We are excited to see local additive manufacturing step up to a shared worldwide call, where intellectual property and design ego take a back seat to provide real time evolving, useful, and needed objects for humanity.

What material are you printing with?

We are printing with PLA from re:3D, always our first choice for on hand reliable material. We are printing 24×7 on our original (but upgraded a little) Gigabot #21! Each part is around 1hr and we are doing at least 6 units at a time.

Who are you printing this design for?

These prints are for our Houston area doctors, nurses, and staff on the front lines of the COVD-19 pandemic in hospitals and stations that are in need of PPE or anticipate a need in the coming days/weeks. Our parts are delivered to TXRX labs in Houston and are assembled with laser cut shields and elastic bands to complete the product and are distributed from there.

Where are you located?

We are located in Baytown, TX in our home office. My wife (Roya Plauché) and I (John Plauché) make up plodes® studio. We are a Texas based multidisciplinary design firm that draws from a coalescence of art, product, and architectural design. Our products are varied, authentic, minimal, and distilled with rigorous process to a balanced purity. Currently our best sellers are fire pits, so check them out and make a backyard escape for yourself while we are in this ‘Great Stay’. Help flatten the curve and please stay home as much as possible! 

Where can people sign up to assist with this effort?

We could use local area volunteers to pickup parts from us and drop to TxRX labs when we get 50-100 units at a time. Please email info@plodes.com with subject “TXRX pickup”. And please everyone visit TXRx’s go fund me at https://www.gofundme.com/f/txrx-manufactures-protective-medical-equipment and give what you can!

plodes® studio can be found online:

http://www.plodes.com/shop

@plodesstudio

CM Welding & Machine | Corey Mays

Midland, TX, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

We were printing a prototype ventilator splitter designed by Texas Tech and UT Permian Basin to allow up to 4 patients to use one ventilator. The first run has been sent for testing and we are waiting to hear back on that part. In the meantime we started reaching out to local medical personnel and some of the rural areas to see what needs they might have. We found the biggest need was for face shields. We chose a simple open source design and have been printing these 24/7 to fill these needs.

What material are you printing with?

For the ventilator splitter I chose PETG material and we are printing the face shield headgear out of PLA.

Who are you printing this design for?

Any medical personnel in need of face shields. 

Where can people sign up to assist with this effort?

I encourage anyone with a 3D printer to contact your local medical personnel or local universities of schools to help fill immediate needs there. Also, go to www.matterhackers.com and sign up for the COVID-19 response team. They will send out requests and files.

What has it been like for you working on this project?

It’s been exciting to be able to work on this project. As a manufacturer and mechanical designer I’m a problem solver by nature so being able to have the capability to help has been really fun and exciting! The Gigabot has been absolutely rock solid through this project. The larger print bed allows us more freedom to run different part arrangements so that we do not have to have someone here 24/7 to watch the machine. With the face shield head gear, we start a run of 6 in the morning and that run is ready to be pulled off by 5 pm. We then start a run of 8 that is ready when we come back in the following morning. I don’t think it has been off in almost 2 weeks and still going strong!

CM Welding & Machine can be found online:

Facebook: CM Welding & Machine

@cmayswelding

Pamton 3D | Pamela Szmara

Youngstown, OH, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

The headband design is PRUSA stl file. It is an existing design.

What material are you printing with?

We are using PETG from Village Plastics in Barberton, Ohio.

Who are you printing this design for?

We have supplied masks to Hospice of NY, the Ravenna Fire Dept in Ohio, and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Pamton 3D can be found online:

http://www.pamton3d.com/

The Kinkaid School | Jeff Diedrich

Houston, TX, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

The design is from TX/RX, a non-profit makerspace here in Houston. My first prints were based on a single design where I could fit 9 on the bed. Then Patrick Ferrell @PBFerrell told me about a stacked design with 9 high which meant I could do 81 at a time. This was a 110 hour print.

What material are you printing with?

PLA

Who are you printing this design for?

These are being printed for TX/RX

What has working on this project been like for you?

I am fortunate to work at a school with a Gigabot, and our head of school, Dr. Ed Trusty, was more than happy to allow me to use the school’s equipment and material to give back to the community.

Jeff Diedrich can be found online:

@misterdiedrich

Qrint Studio | Qumar Mirza

Toronto, Canada

Tell us about the design you are printing.

The designs we printed are our own design for non-medical grade face shields for local business and restaurants. Due to this reason, we made it so it could have a minimal cost.

What material are you printing with?

We printed with PETG.

Who are you printing this design for?

A local community non-profit.

What has working on this project been like for you?

We started just to help the community, but we end up applying for a health certificate so we could produce medical grade face shields.

Qrint Studio can be found online:

https://www.facebook.com/qrinting/

@qrintstudio

Doug Mockett & Co | Paul de Leon

Manhattan Beach, CA, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

We started printing designs a friend of mine sent to me – all from Thingiverse. After printing for a few days, I realized our two Gigabots weren’t going to be able to catch up with the demand, so Carlos and I played with the settings and got the print time down to 28 mins per visor for open visors, 35 mins for closed top visors (some hospitals preferred closed visors) which still wasn’t enough. I saw a post by a company from another country which did in house casting. That was clever so I thought we should do the same. I contacted our local silicon and plastic supplier for molding instructions and to buy materials to make silicon molds. I designed a closed visor that could work with molding and casting. I printed a few versions using our Gigabot 3+  and used that print to create a silicon mold.

We are also printing ear savers (mask extenders). These seem to be quite popular.

What material are you printing with?

PLA

Who are you printing this design for?

Local hospitals and nursing homes:

  • Torrance Memorial Hospital, CEDARS SINAI & Providence Little Company of Mary (earsavers), Long Beach Memorial Rehab, and other local clinics.
  • Delano Hospital, VA Palo Alto and other smaller clinics in other states

What has working on this project been like for you?

It has been a privilege and an amazing team experience to be able to create something to help in this time of need. It means a lot to our team to be a part of this project and donate to healthcare providers.

Doug Mockett & Co can be found online:

@dougmockett

https://www.facebook.com/dougmockett/

https://www.youtube.com/user/dougmockett

https://twitter.com/dougmockett

https://www.pinterest.cl/dougmockett/

Compendium Federal Technology LLC | Stuart Langford

Lexington Park, MD, USA

Tell us about the design you are printing.

Originally, we were going to make frames and donate them to Makers Unite in Baltimore, MD. At the time, they were asking us to use the Prusa v.RC2 face shield design.  In the meantime our CEO was communicating with local first responders, and Medstar Saint Mary’s communicated that they were running low on face shields. We used the Prusa v.RC2 face shield, but we made some minor changes so they would print faster. The straps are our design. We tried several designs including the strapless, but we received the best feedback from the modified Prusa v.RC2.

What material are you printing with?

PLA for the frame. NinjaFlex TPU 85 for the straps. The clear screens are made from clear acetate or PVC sheets.

Who are you printing this design for?

Medstar Saint Mary’s Hospital, Charlotte Hall VA Clinic, several nursing homes and private practices.

What has working on this project been like for you?

It has been busy, but rewarding. I wasn’t the only person contributing. My CEO John OConnell did the leg work, and my coworker Cedrick La Marca assisted with the CAD designs and resin printing. In addition to the face shields, we also printed spare ventilator parts for Saint Mary’s Hospital. Everything was donated free of charge.

Our story was featured on WJLA-TV Washington DC ABC affiliate.

Compendium Federal Technology LLC can be found online:

https://www.facebook.com/compendiumfederaltechnology.llc/

Are you a re:3D Gigabot customer working on COVID-19 efforts? We’d be happy to add your work to this blog. Email us: info@re3d.org 

Gigabot Engineering Updates – February 2020

Over the last few months, our engineering team has made some iterative design changes to both our Gigabot 3+ and Gigabot X 3D Printers.

Parts modified are:

Gigabot 3+

  • 10063  GB3+ Bed Side Plate
  • Z-Axis Stepper Motors
  • 11907 GB3+ Acme Flange Nut Cup
  • 11093 GB3+ X/Y Upright

Gigabot X

  • 11377 GBX Stepper Driver

 

View the video below to find out how they’ve changed!

Gigabot 3+ Updates for Fall 2019

re:3D’s Research and Development team never stands still, and while we’re developing the next generation of your Gigabot® and Gigabot® X 3D Printers, we’re continually looking for ways to refine the current iteration’s user experience, precision, and quality. As of October 1, 2019, all new Gigabot®3+ 3D printers ship with the below enhancements. Current Gigabot® owners can order these as replacement parts that are fully compatible with previous versions.

Major Changes

LED Light Cover

To enhance user comfort and safety, we’ve created a full length 3D printed cover that fits over the top of the front-mounted LED light strip.

Printed Extruder indicators and part numbers

Our Unibody Extruder design, which was released this past spring, as well as our Filament Detection units now features numerical hot end indicator labels for a visual aid for filament loading. Additionally, these and many other 3D printed parts now include part and revision numbers. Not sure what a part is called? Search our store using the part number or share the part number with customer support to help streamline troubleshooting communication.

FIRMWARE RELEASE VERSION 4.2.3

Our newest iteration of Gigabot®3+ firmware has been posted at wiki.re3d.org along with instructions for how to flash your firmware. This firmware update includes the following changes:

  • Increased electrical current to X and Y motors to prevent layer shifts.
  • Decreased filament feed rate during the Filament Change routine for easier purging.
  • Minor Bug Fixes

Fit and Strength Adjustments for Polycarbonate 3D Printed Parts

The following parts have had material added for improved strength and durability:

  • 10870 Extruder Tensioner Left 
  • 10871 Extruder Tensioner Right 

The below parts have had their designs modified for better fit or print quality:

  • 11157 Gigabox Magnet Bracket 1 
  • 11245 Gigabox Magnet Bracket 3
  • 11158 Gigabox Magnet Bracket 4
  • 11159 Gigabox Y Support Magnet Bracket
  • 11238 Gigabox Enclosure Corner Cap
  • 10511 XY Upright Cover
  • 11251 Filament Detection Cover Right
  • 11252 Filament Detection Cover Left
  • 10599 Filament Tube Connector

We’ve upped the durability and longevity of our head cable and added 3D printed wire separators inside the cable carrier to protect the electrical wiring as it rolls and unrolls during normal Gigabot® operation.

Under the category of non-3D printed parts, we’ve thickened our bed plates to improve strength and rigidity. The square, left and right leveling blocks attached to the bed frame have had fit adjustments. We’ve also adjusted hole spacing for Gigabox Enclosure panels and split the top panel on the Gigabox Enclosure into two pieces. This improves manufacturing quality as well as increases modularity, as one piece can now be removed for venting or other customizations.

Do you have an improvement or a design change you’d like to see for this or future versions of Gigabot®? Fill out our New Feature Request form and share your ideas with us!

D&D Helps Kids Level Up Their Social Skills

“But will you guys be mad at me if I don’t?”

That earnest and open-hearted question was posed by a student participating in D&D@CLCE, an after-school skills group at Clear Lake City Elementary School (CLCE) in Houston, TX. They were role-playing a situation with a difficult choice: should I give up something I own and care about in order for the whole group to benefit? As the student contemplated his decision, his peers, in turn, responded with how they felt. This form of social skills group therapy has been around a long time, aiding those who struggle socially to learn and develop those skills in a safe and moderated group setting. Kari Euker, the Counselor at CLCE debuted a program this year to combine skills training with the tabletop fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Those unfamiliar with D&D may have seen it recently reflected in pop culture on the TV shows Stranger Things or The Big Bang Theory. In a nutshell, one plays by gathering a group of people who then create characters with certain sets of skills, be they wizards or rogues or fighters, and together they explore an imaginary world narrated by the game’s lead storyteller and referee, the dungeon master. It’s improvisational storytelling on steroids.

In the case of the student’s conundrum, he wasn’t mulling over the consequences of keeping a football to himself in the schoolyard, he was trying to decide whether to give up a sparkling magic crystal by placing it on a wall with crystals belonging to the rest of his adventuring party. If he placed his crystal, the wall would absorb the crystals and open a portal leading the team onto a new escapade. If he kept it to himself, the magic wouldn’t take hold, the team would be stuck, but he’d still have that beautiful crystal. What to do?

Ms. Euker didn’t discover D&D on her own. It was her high-school aged son Christopher and his friends who caught her on to the idea. Christopher’s enthusiasm for D&D opened Ms. Euker to the possibility that D&D could provide a fun and imaginative setting in which to practice life skills in a low consequence environment. As she wasn’t an expert in playing the game, they worked together using the older boys’ experience with D&D and Ms. Euker’s knowledge of skills training to craft artful scenarios where the CLCE students could flex those social skills muscles. The older boys served as dungeon masters, the younger kids were the explorers, and Ms. Euker was there to facilitate each session. What they discovered is that the fantasy elements of their role-playing helped the kids contemplate the consequences of their actions from a safe distance and therefore allowed for critical thinking and deep conversations that are hard to achieve in real-life scenarios.

Ms. Euker approached re:3D about helping the students’ characters come to life, and re:3D was more than happy to support the team’s innovative problem-solving. In D&D, dungeon masters will often use real maps and tokens to help keep track of where adventurers and their foes exist in relationship to each other. The students designed minifigures in Hero Forge, selecting the race, armor, weapons and accessories that best fit their whimsical characters. re:3D took those 3D models, and with a little bit of slicing manipulation and custom supports, printed out the whole group of minifigures in one batch.

Though we at re:3D are known to Dream Big, Print HUGE, in this instance we made an exception. Utilizing Gigabot’s highest resolution of 0.1510 mm layer height, we printed these tiny 48 mm tall figures, miniscule accessories and all, with PLA and water soluble PVA supports. After an overnight bath, these creative creations were ready to join the fray.

The older boys were so invested in this project that they took the time to paint the minifigures by hand, and the CLCE students were thrilled to see their hard work rewarded with a physical representation of the character they built from their imagination. And the kid who was hesitant to give up his treasured crystal? He listened to his peers and then chose to add the crystal to the wall. Away they journeyed, onward to the next adventure.

*This project was supported through re:3D Houston’s Community Engagement Team. Are you a school or non-profit with a passion to explore 3D printing? Reach out to us at discover@re3d.org to schedule a tour or workshop!*

FFF1: Our FFF1rst Polymer Derby

On April 9, 2019 re:3D hosted the first annual FFF1: Polymer Derby!  You may be wracking your brain trying to figure out what we are talking about here, so let me explain:

We challenged each other to a gravity car racing competition.  Quite similar to a Pinewood Derby (in fact we borrowed a pinewood derby track from local Cub Scout Pack 595) – each competitor designed a car, printed it on Gigabot, attached some wheels – and we were off to the races on derby day!

As a distributed team, with competitors in Houston, Austin, Puerto Rico, and New York – we established a rule from the start that you must design your own car  and if you require help with your design (since not everyone is a 3D design wizz) you had to reach out to someone in a different location from your home office.

We thought this was a great opportunity to not only get everyone designing and printing in 3D – but to also make sure that our distributed team members interacted with someone from a different office on something fun that wasn’t just work related.

Almost immediately after announcing the competition, (in mid-January) we had questions, everyone wanted to know the rules, which admittedly didn’t yet exist, and our engineers were particularly interested in finding loopholes in said rules so that they could cheat the system.  I promised the team that I would write-up an entire tome of rules and got to work, we started with the basic size parameters (borrowed from the pinewood derby to fit their track), and then added layer upon layer of bureaucracy and ridiculousness on top of what should be a relatively straightforward idea (I will post rules examples at the very end of this post).

The cars had to:

  • Weigh no more than 5.00 oz
  • Length shall not exceed 7 in
  • Width shall not exceed 2.75 in
  • Car must have 5/16″ clearance underneath
  • Wheels must be unmodified (we gave everyone a standard set of wheels)

Ultimately the designs were up to each individual’s creativity.

Come derby day, there was an amazing diversity in designs.  The track was setup in the front showroom of our Houston HQ.  We had an official weigh-in and measurement period to check that all cars conformed to the rules.  We made up t-shirts to memorialize the day.  And then we started the competition.

Each competitor chose a number from a hat – to get randomly assigned a place on our competition bracket.  We then competed best out of 3 heats, with racers switching sides (there were only 2 racers at a time) after each heat. As the day went on, the biggest determining factor in the fastest cars was the weight.  Any racer that was below 5.00 oz was at a distinct disadvantage, and all of the cars in the quarter-finals and beyond were at the target weight exactly.

When all was said and done we had a winner! Technically we had two winners – the Fastest Car – won the racing piece of the competition.  The Flyest Ride – was voted as the best looking car by all of the competitors.   Congratulations to Samantha (fastest car) and Mitch (flyest ride).

Stay tuned for more Polymer Derby fun, as this will definitely become an annual event at re:3D, and perhaps across the world?!  Sign-up for our newsletter to always be up-to-date on what’s happening at re:3D.

Looking forward to next year's competition!

International Polymer Derby Congress Rules & Regulations (These are just a small sampling of the rules for this competition):

  1. Cars shall be 3D printed – in any material that is currently able to be 3D printed.
  2. The majority of the car shall be printed on an FFF/FDM style 3D printer, but does not have to be printed in one piece.
  3. The car must be free-wheeling, with no starting or propulsion devices

Inspections:

The day of the race, while style voting and race seeding is taking place, race officials will open the Inspection Zone:

  1. Cars will be Inspected individually for conformity to all rules of the IPDC and the Polymer Derby Championship Racing Series (PDCRS).
  2. Each car will be weighed (see weight requirements Sec. 1.2 A-I. above)
  3. Each car will be measured for length, width, ground clearance, and wheel clearance (Sec. 1.2B – I-IV).
  4. Each car will be thoroughly inspected for any potential safety or hazard violations
  5. Each car’s wheels will be gone over with a fine tooth comb, as modification of stock wheels is strictly prohibited (In accordance with Sec. 1.2 C – I & II)
    1. Any car found to have illegal modifications to the wheels is subject to being gleefully smashed with a hammer by a race official (viewer discretion is advised)

Failed Inspections:

  1. Any competitor’s car that is found to not pass inspection will have an opportunity to adjust/fix their vehicle and have it re-inspected. An explanation of why the car failed inspection will be given to each competitor and the racer will have 10 minutes to make the proper adjustments to bring their vehicle into conformity with the race rules.
  2. If the racer fails to bring their car into conformity within 10 minutes, fails to present their car for re-inspection before the 10 minute time period is up, OR fails the inspection for a second time – the car is no longer eligible for the Fastest or Flyest awards (Sec. 8 Subsec I-III.), but is eligible for the Junker award (Sec. 8 Subsec. IV.).
    1. Cars that fail the secondary inspection may still participate in the tournament for fun, but will not be eligible to win.
    2. If you make illegal modifications that go undetected by the judges, but manage to make your first run before judges take notice, you may continue using your illegal car without reprimand. Gamble at your own risk.

Style Voting:

While the fastest car down the track is the ultimate winner – there will be style points given out for the car that looks the best.

  1. Subjective voting will take place by each competitor at the beginning of the competition.
  2. The voters/competitors may use any method of determining the best “looking” car that they see fit.
  3. Each competitor will fill out a secret ballot to determine their favorite car.
  4. Each competitor will vote only once and can not vote for themselves
  5. Bribes for style votes, while not illegal, are harshly discouraged.

Grievances:

Official grievances may be filed.

  1. For a grievance about a particular heat/race the grievance will only be valid if:
    1. Filed within 180 seconds of the race ending, in written form, adhering to the following parameters:
      1. Printed, in landscape orientation, on standard sized paper (8.5”x11”)
      2. Comic sans font
        1. font size = 17.5pt.
      3. The grievance must follow the standard limerick format
        1. Five lines – 2 long, 2 short, 1 long,
        2. Rhyme scheme AABBA
      4. Sent via USPS standard mail, postage paid to:

International Polymer Derby Congress
Department of Rules, Grievances, and Dispute Resolution
re:3D, Inc
1100 Hercules Ave, Suite 220
Houston, TX 77058

Or hand delivered, with a bow/curtsey, directly to the Rules Czarina or Czarina designate for an immediate ruling

Awards:

  1. Fastest: Fastest car to win the final race, wins the Polymer Derby Champion Award
  2. Flyest: Top vote getting car for style wins the “Best-in-Show” – Flyest Car award
  3. Little Miss Fly-Ride Should the top style car and top speed car be one in the same – the title of “Champion of Champions” or “Little Miss Fly-Ride” will be bestowed upon the winner along with lavish praise and an award of at least one but not to exceed 100 cheap beers.
  4. Junker: The “Junker” award goes to any car that fails to make it down the track, or breaks at any point during the competition.  It is quite embarrassing.
  5. Flunker: The “Flunker” award goes to any car that fails the pre-race inspection, and is not eligible to win awards I-III of this section.

3D Printing Sustainable Energy Solutions After Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria left nearly all people in Puerto Rico without power for months, some places never to have access again and others on a minimum of a five-year timeline before reconnecting to the grid. It also exposed an even deeper problem – the lack of renewable energy alternatives fueling the island with less than 1% of all power coming from renewable sources. A particularly troubling statistic considering Puerto Rico is a place that sees sun and wind all year round. A problem that manifested itself as people waited in 18-22 hour lines at gas stations for Diesel fuel for their generators, cars, and homes to reboot their energy essentials. And for those without generators, lack of power meant lack of refrigeration for necessities like insulin, a major contributor to the 3,000 casualties of Hurricane Maria. The only silver lining is that this tragedy has motivated new renewable energy legislation in Puerto Rico announced this week.

Our team in Puerto Rico decided that Gigabot and 3D printing could get started on making a dent on this problem and set out to 3D print a portable wind turbine with the gusto to charge a cellphone. re:3D hired local maker we met through the Parallel 18 community, a 3D printing enthusiast, founder of MadEra and former Ice Blast HVAC technician, Jean-Yves Auguste Chapiteau, with the knowledge and the know-how to design and 3D print a solution to this challenge.

An Initial Drawing of the 3D Printed Wind Turbine

After 5 months, this 3D printable wind turbine takes 200 hours to print with PLA and costs $200-300 including the electrical components, a cost that is 70-80% less than similar sized turbines on the market. Not to mention, it’s designed for easy installation, it doesn’t require maintenance, and its unique vertical axis design optimizes for capturing omnidirectional wind flow and unpredictable wind patterns common to Puerto Rico. It has the power the power up things such as a tablet, cell phone, and small devices.

This 3D printed wind turbine takes 200 hours to print with PLA and costs $200-300 including the electrical components, a cost that is 70-80% less than similar sized turbines on the market.

While still portable, Gigabot’s large format, human-scale 3D printing capabilities expanded this wind turbine’s boundaries of what was possible to be created and empowered the creation of a bigger, more powerful wind turbine.

Watch the wind turbine in action!

Compared to his past experience 3D printing with desktop printers, Jean shared it was an impactful difference to print with such bigger parameters which led to bigger opportunities to 3D print not just a bigger solution, but a better solution for a difficult problem. But as Jean says, “There’s no difficult job if you have the right tools”.

“There’s no difficult job if you have the right tools”.
Jean Auguste Chapiteau

Convening Global Community: Thank You CES 2019

CES 2019 was jam-packed with activities and innovations that sprawled throughout Las Vegas with over 180,000 attendees, exhibitors, and speakers. The conference and exhibition activates across giant venues in Las Vegas including The Venetian, Sands Expo Center including startup innovation arena Eureka Park, and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Companies and innovators on the spectrum of industries and size exhibited their latest work, from life-size drone helicopters, robots beating humans in ping pong, pretty much anything “smart” you can imagine or yours truly, showing our large scale 3D printer printing from plastic waste. We posted some insights on our schedule and first day at CES and here is the remainder of our insights, adventures, and recap of our first CES experience. All in all, CES was about convening community from around the world to showcase and connect over their latest innovations and we wanted to write a recap and thank you note to our community who have supported ours.

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Gigabot X @ CES

Our debut at CES 2019 wouldn’t have been possible without instrumental partners who gave us platforms to exhibit our new technology, Gigabot X. Gigabot X is a large scale (or large format if you prefer), affordable 3D printer printing from pellet or flake plastic. Pellet printing in and of itself drastically lowers the cost to 3D printing 10 times and prints up to 13 times faster than other printers. Even more so, after various peer-reviewed research with Michigan Technological University – Gigabot X has been validated printing from multiple types of plastic waste in pellet and flake form. To showcase these developments almost exactly a year after we won the WeWork Creator Award and received funding from the NSF SBIR Phase I grant as well as launched Gigabot X on Kickstarter, it was a huge privilege to have our hard work on display to the global community who convenes at CES – meeting industry leaders, makers, fellow creators, and enthusiasts from all over.

3D printing Caribbean coral on Gigabot X at CES

We also exhibited some Gigabot X and Gigabot  prints such as 3D printed coral (straight from 3D scans of the Caribbean), a skateboard 3D printed from recycled plastic, vases, trashcans, architectural pieces, our infill educational tool, 3D printed medical devices, coffee picking baskets, prosthetics, replacement parts and more real-world examples of the innovations around the world, across industry, all with the commonality of solving problems utilizing Gigabot and 3D printing technology . While we’re putting the final touches on Gigabot X before it’s commercially available, the positive feedback, inquiries, and pre-orders of Gigabot X were a major accomplishment of our time during CES. However, as a community-driven organization, this latest accomplishment wouldn’t have been made possible without a world of supporters (yourself included) and some of the major supporters who have gotten us to where we are today. This gratitude was proudly broadcasted across Gigabot X’s headboard (see below photo). Beyond that, we wanted to write a recap and thank you note to CES and those who made it possible for us to be at CES, get to CES and showcase our vision.

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Gigabot prints at the U.S. Government Startup Connection booth

Thanks to National Science Foundation, Small Business Innovation Research, and Small Business Association not only for making the NSF SBIR grants available like the Phase 1 grant that helped make Gigabot X a reality but also for the support and partnership to showcase Gigabot X at the U.S. Government Startup connection booth in Eureka Park and ongoing support. We also got to meet other amazing organizations co-exhibiting in the U.S. Government Startup Connection booth like Ampaire on a mission to provide the world with all-electric powered commercial flights that are affordable, quiet and environmentally conscious, and Hivemapper, Learn With Socrates, and Gen X Comm. Despite the government shutdown which created some curveballs, our partners at NSF and SBIR were integral to our CES presence and getting to debut Gigabot X to the community. Thanks to USPTO for being there!

Gigabot X's headboard thanking WeWork, Bunker Labs, MassChallenge, Alice, Chase, SBA, SBIR, Unreasonable, USAA, Startup Chile, PRSTR Trust, Parallel18, NSF, America Makes, Kickstarter & others who made it possible!

Connecting with WeWork and their Senior Construction Partner, Brian Ringley, at CES was another major milestone. The one year anniversary from when we won the $1M WeWork Global Creator Award occurred during CES and on the same day at CES, Brian met his new Gigabot X heading his way, one of the first to be delivered to Kickstarter backers from the successful launch last year. It was an amazing time to connect with Brian and celebrate this full circle collaboration: from winning the WeWork Creator Award to launching the Gigabot X prototype on Kickstarter to working together on Gigabot X’s the evolution from a beta bot to delivering it in person on perhaps one of the biggest platforms and convenings for electronics. We also got some great snapshots with Brian’s first print and his kickflips on our 3D printed skateboard from recycled plastic!

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Samantha Snabes pitches at the Extreme Tech Challenge Finals

Taking the stage as a top 10 finalist in Richard Branson’s Extreme Tech Challenge was another major highlight of our CES experience. We have so much gratitude and admiration for Richard Branson, the other companies in this competition, the judges who gave us feedback, and the team from Extreme Tech and Actai who have supported us along the way. Making the top 10 of this global competition was a huge honor for us and we extend a huge congratulations to the top 3 winners from Lynq, Elevian, and Active Protective who won a trip to Necker Island as well as other semi finalists who received a surprise invite to Necker along with us! We look forward to future collaborations with this community and grateful for the stage and the setting to share our vision and demo Gigabot X.

Judges: Dave Hagan, CTA; Lisa Andrews, Ignite Alliance; Veronica Serra, Pacific Investimentos & Innova Capital; Shankar Chandra, Samsung Catalyst Fund; Larry O'Connor, OWC. #XTC2019 Companies: re:3D, Last of Ours, We Walk, Liven, Nyx Technologies, Active Protective, Elevian, Lynq, Einride, Bitlumens, Civic Eagle

Techstars likewise gave us a great platform on their #StartupStage to share our innovations in the robotics pitch competition in Eureka Park. After being selected as a top 10 from a number of applicants, we competed with a 60 second pitch and were humbled to take home 1st place and meet creators of cutting edge robotics and judges from Misty Robotics and Lynq.

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re:3D wins 1st prize at Techstars Robotics Pitch Competition!

If you know our story, you know it begins with Kickstarter – and Kickstarter continues to be a key community partner and powerful platform that supports us as we launch new evolutions of the Gigabot family such as Gigabot X last year to its first beta users. We were grateful to meet with the Kickstarter team, like Clarissa, and community at some amazing meetups after hours with a global network of creators and partners like Hackster and Dragon Innovation.

We are forever grateful for our friends and supporters who have gotten to where we are today! Arguably one of the proudest highlights of CES was reuniting with one of the first Gigabot owners, Doug Mockett of Mockett, who came to say hi to us at CES from California. Still to this day, their two Gigabots run around the clock and they lovingly call them their “workhorses”. We met up with some other customers (like one using Gigabot to 3D print entire life size inventory robots) and even suppliers like LDO Motors.

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Startup Chile fellow entrepreneurs Waverly Labs exhibits at CES

We got to catch up with friends from former accelerators like Waverly Labs from Startup Chile, our first accelerator we joined when we launched in 2013. We met up with one of our mentors from Parallel 18, Alicia Syrett. We also said hi to fellow Unreasonable Impact alumni on a mission to create solutions and jobs in the green economy such as the teams from Heatworks and Breezometer exhibiting in Sands Halls.

We spent one morning getting to tour the local Afwerx office in Las Vegas, an organization creating innovative and crowdsourced solutions for the most critical problems affecting those in our Air Force and an organization especially close to our heart with two teammates Samantha and Kara actively involved in the military and Air Force. We also got to see our partners at IEEE and Finn Partners at an evening event, some great partners who share aligned values with their mission to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.

A huge thank you as well to partners and press who acknowledged us in their pieces, we can’t say enough how grateful we are for your recognition. Alice’s Elizabeth Gore included us in an Inc article with a major announcement on the bright future of diversity in tech, Jean Baptiste Su noted us in Forbes top 22 innovative technology startups to watch at CES and Beau Jackson’s 3D printing round-up at CES in 3D Printing Industry gave us a nod. Thanks for these platforms and writers for sharing our story! We hope to continue to share more on our developments, diversity, and problem solvers around the world breaking limitations with 3D printing.

Read Elizabeth Gore's Inc article
Read Elizabeth Gore's Inc article
Read Jean Baptiste Su's Forbes article

We are so grateful to CES for giving us a big platform to jump off of in 2019 as we dive into a year filled with new innovations, stories and leaps forward toward a world empowered by sustainable and locally driven manufacturing. Thank you and stay tuned for some more updates and footage coming your way. Don’t forget: #ReduceReuseRe3D

p.s. If you were following our road trip to CES and are curious about the adventures of re:3D after official CES festivities, we packed up Gigabot X in our beloved Uhaul and headed back to Texas the way we came: 1,500 mile road trip. We traversed from Las Vegas to Tucson, then on to El Paso where w dropped off a Gigabot at the University of Texas El Paso's W.M. Keck Center for (extremely rad) 3D Innovation in partnership with America Makes. We then took a break to rock climb at McKelligan Canyon in El Paso before heading back to Houston, Austin & San Antonio.

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.

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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