This is Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast. We’ve got an interview today with the CEO of Collider, which is a company we’ve talked about briefly in our episode about the Inside 3D Printing show in San Diego. They were one of our favorite companies that we met on the show floor there. Just a really cool machine, and what their vision is and where they come from. We were just fascinated by the whole team there. We really were. There’s a lot to talk about. This is a really good interview. They’re doing a very different kind of 3D printing to achieve a different result than pretty much any other in the industry. Rather than us explaining it to you in more detail now, let’s go to the interview and then we’ll follow up after.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Printed Molds, with Graham Bredemeyer of Collider
Graham, thank you so much for joining us today on WTFFF. We’re really excited to speak with you. We might have raved about the Collider already.
We very much appreciate that. I appreciate the interest and that you guys are having me on.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you got started with the Orchid printer. Collider is the name of your company, but Orchid printer is the name of the printer. Tell us how you got started in that?
There are a lot of things it led up to it. The biggest thing was I was working as a Head of Additive Technologies in residence at a program here in Chattanooga, Tennessee called the GIGTANK Accelerator. Starting back in 2014, that was the first 3D printing focused business accelerator program in the country. That’s part of the reason why I ended up moving here. I worked in that program. I was also doing quite a bit of consulting in the side with additive manufacturing technology, particularly on the industrial side of things with some of the manufacturers in this region and outside of the area as well.
It just started to really occur to me that it’s really the same issues everywhere I went. When we did find use cases where it made financial sense for them to adopt additive technology for maybe, let’s say, low volume fraction application or even supporting traditional manufacturing process, oftentimes they were still not adopting the technology. They were afraid of the materials. A myriad of reasons that they were afraid of adopting the technology.
Sometimes you’ve got to take baby steps.
Yes, you’ve got to take baby steps. Aside from that, the other take away that I had constantly was, these folks that I was working with, they really didn’t complain about the ability to make parts or make parts in great materials because the world is filled of parts and a lot of them are made out of pretty fantastic materials. I thought it was pretty interesting that so much of the 3D printing industry was focused on trying to develop new materials. Really, my take away from that was it’s largely 3D printing trying to solve its own problem. That doesn’t really solve a manufacturing problem.
Right. We want it in the material we want it, why do we need to change that? It doesn’t need to be re-engineered, except that it doesn’t work in the 3D printer. Now, we have to re-engineer it.
Exactly. Tooling was the thing that everybody complained about. It’s expensive. If you mess it up, it’s going to be even more expensive to get it retooled or to get a second mold made. I thought the combination of those two things was pretty intriguing. I thought, “Hey, what if you could adopt additive technology to address this tooling issue that’s at hand?” I was familiar with the fact that obviously, companies like Stratasys and 3DSystems, they print low volume tooling, but often times those don’t last even ten parts. Those still might cost you 800 bucks or two grand or whatever, depending on how big it is and if you’re getting it from them as a service.
I thought maybe there’s a sacrificial version of this tooling and automate the whole thing into one device. It started out with an early stage test. It started out with just a consumer FDM 3D printer actually. The first time that I did this test in my apartment, I printed a shell of a part on an FDM machine using like a HIPS plastic. Did injection of a two-component resin into that and then dissolved the way the HIPS using Limonene. That was pretty interesting because the time it took me to get to a solid part was about 35 times less than if I had just printed the part in its entirety. Here, I had this really cool material. It was a machine-able that had great mechanical properties, no directional mechanical properties. It wasn’t a layer built part. It was natural to want to take the next step from there.
That’s exactly why we were excited about what you’ve done there. It’s cool. It solves a lot of manufacturing issues. First run, test run. It solves a lot of those problems.
Yes, that’s definitely what we’re aimed at. If you want to make a million of something or hundreds of thousands of something, going out and cutting the tool is obviously probably your correct course of action today still. Injection molding is really good at that. Traditionally, injection is really good at that. 3D printing is really good at this one to ten range. Making the cost effective at that range and you can work with it. It might not have all the properties you want it too because of the materials, but for better or for worse it will fit that form. It doesn’t need the form that I need it to be. The problem is when you want a few hundred of something or a couple of thousand of something even.
We also see the problem of it being this issue where you do want a couple of hundred of it to test it out. You’re not ready to tooling from this standpoint. You also need it to not be additive manufacturing and then shifting to subtractive manufacturing in the sense that it’s injection molded or whatever, that you need it to have synergy with how the final parts will be made when they’re made in hundreds of thousands of pieces.
Exactly. With our technology, let’s say your part was going to be manufactured and reaction injection molded for instance. You could use our process, use the same materials that you’re going to be using in your final production process. Do it all with this low cost sacrificial tool, and that’s going to teach you a whole lot about what your actual part is going to be because it is the actual part. It’s the same materials and whatnot, with the same low cost advantages to those materials.
There’s definitely a need there for those pilot runs, falling into that category for automakers and companies like that. Additionally, there are actually more applications than what I think a lot of people know where you do want a couple of thousand of something. That group is totally ignored to a certain degree by injection molding and 3D printing does not really address their issues. A lot of the injection molding houses; either one, they might not take your work at all, or two, brings us the work but you’re going to spend $50,000 for that tool. Even fully amortizing that tool out across the number of parts, it’s a pretty high per part cost. That’s the void that we fill. Absolutely, pilots fall into that category. Some low volume production falls into that category. Lots of unique goods fall into that category.
I know this is new. I know you guys have done a lot of work in developing and getting where you are, and your machine looks very ready for primetime, at least from what I saw at the tradeshow. It may not have been running but it did look ready. It was impressive. Do you think that for someone that was going to do a run of a hundred, like you said, 3D printing is great for one to ten, I agree with that. If you’re going to do a run of a hundred of a new silicon part, that this your system, because it looks like a very serious machine, it’s a commercial machine. It’s probably going to be one that’s at a service bureau. Maybe GM and auto companies might buy one and have it internally, but I understood your model of business was more of maybe a service bureau model in terms of placing them there.
Do you think though that the economics, have you guys dialed in really the cost enough to say that it’s going to be more cost effective to use your process, essentially 3D print one off mold for every piece that’s made and gets dissolved, than it would be to even go over to Asia and do a cheap tool to run a hundred. Because that’s, in our core business in product design and development, what we would have done prior.
Absolutely. We wouldn’t be setting down this pathway in building the business based on the technology if we didn’t believe that that was the case. We have spreadsheeted all those things out. We’ve gotten quotes for silicon molds and for metal molds. Looked into what all the costs look like and then figured out what is the pricing of this machine going to have to look like, what might the service bureaus markup look like, what is the volume that’s going to make sense for people.
When I talk about doing a hundred things, I can talk about that pretty confidently. Even compared to making silicon molds, it can be as high as a 90% plus cost savings from some of those processes, even when you’re considering the cost of the machine built into things. It is a pretty significant thing. A lot of that also adds to the fact that the photopolymer that we use is something that we’ve had to develop ourselves. We’ve had some small outside influence on that but it’s largely a chemistry from within our company.
Scaling the production of something like that and pricing something like that is largely within our control. Would it be cost effective if I was selling this photopolymer for $1,000 a kilogram? Definitely not. At least not for near side volume. We’d probably pigeonholed ourselves down into the low volume range, like traditional 3D printing. A large part of this has to do with understanding that need in the market and what it’s going to take to get there and address those customers? A big part of that is going come from appropriately bracing that water soluble photopolymer and making sure we don’t price ourselves on that range. Then also long-term, being intelligent about how we use the photopolymer in a print process, being more materially efficient when it comes to things like support structure and shell generation.
3D Printed Molds: A breakthrough manufacturing process using Collider’s new machine, OrchidThat’s fascinating. You mentioned your experiment early on using HIPS, which is not a photopolymer of any kind. It’s a thermal plastic. Using FFF 3D printing, molding within it, dissolving it away because that’s what HIPS is. It’s typically a dissolvable support material. You developed a photopolymer resin because your 3D printer technology for printing the shell, which is the mold that then you’re going to cast the resin in, that is printed in a resin photopolymer sense, like the Formlabs printers.
Absolutely. That’s been a long time in the making. We’re still constantly iterating on that chemistry because traditionally, when we look at soluble chemistry in the 3D printing space, immediately my mind goes to photopolymer jetting and what we see from Objet machines or 3D Systems machines. 3D Systems usually uses paraffin, but more of a wax-type material. But the Objet machines and things have soluble chemistry involved. Largely, those are hydro gels.
There are some companies out there manufacturing that, but unfortunately for us, hydro gels wouldn’t solve our problem because we have to have a nice rigid structure to work as a mold. That was one of the big barriers for us and has been. Like I said, we continue to iterate on this all the time because we are such a young company improving on that chemistry and testing out different variations of it and working with different monomers to get something that is a nice rigid. We cure things that are nice rigid things but will still break down in water. It was definitely a tall task to get there and unfortunately it’s not something that the industry had readily available. At least the 3D printing industry doesn’t have these things readily available. We had looked a lot to other fields that do soluble work and what some of the base monomers are that they use and work our way from there.
The whole thing is really just outside of the box of additive manufacturing, the way anybody has been thinking of it. I want to paint the picture for our listeners first. In your machine, instead of 3D printing the positive object, it’s going to 3D print the negative of that which is the mold around the outside of it. You’re going to inject either a polyurethane, urethane rubber or a medium soft silicon or a flame retardant polyurethane. I’d love to know the thoughts behind why you went after that one. Then, it’s going to dissolve after the resin is set. It’s going to dissolve away the mold. All that is done in the machine as a linear process, or do you actually remove it from the machine at any point to start a next one or something?
We can demystify that a little bit for you. What we do is we do an inverted SLA but with the DLP technology. We’re doing that continuously, like the carbons and whatnot, to produce the shells in the part, just like you said.
When we saw it, the shell is really thin. This is the mistake that most people think you have in mind what a mold is and you think of this big structure or big square thing around it. It’s not like that. It’s just a thin skin almost around what your part shape is.
Yes, it’s definitely been a confusion point. It’s part of why I try to, as much as I can, use the language that it’s a shell versus the mold, just because when I say shell, people tend to grasp it a little bit quicker. It’s on average about a three millimeter thick shell that is a negative of what your part would be. We print traditional mold-like features on to that. That includes your gate location for the material injection and venting for air. There’s a lot of complication around how you pipe all that back up to the build plate. That’s also printed structure, we print that piping. That gets into some of the secret sauce of how we do what we do, because it isn’t straightforward and it isn’t an easy thing to overcome. We do those things.
Inside the same machine, the injection process occurs. We use both a material injection system and an air base system. We can push positive air pressure. We can pull it back in. The combination of those two technologies will allow us to ensure that we end up with a void for the parts that don’t have large quantities of bubbles inside of them, so you’re actually going to get a nice solid part all the way through.
What happens after that is the material cures. Most of the chemistries that we’re working with, a lot of the two component chemistries that we’re working with. For instance, the polyurethane that you see on the website, that’s about a ten minute cure. That cures up inside the machine within about ten minutes. Then you remove the build platform from the machine at that point. That’s the point in time at which the build plate gets removed from the machine. Then, you take that build platform and you place it inside of a heated ultrasonic bath. That heated bath is what dissolves away that shell material and leaves you behind with what are basically cast plastic parts. You do have some low volume of post-processing involved at that point in time, which is just basically clipping gate locations and vat locations.
Which is very common in injection molding and other molding processes anyway.
Exactly. This is more of a traditional manufacturing process from that perspective. You’ve got cast plastic parts, it’s an identical cast plastic parts to what you’d have if you would have gone through the trouble of making yourself a silicon mold. If you’ve ever done a silicon mold yourself, it’s not the funnest of activities to do and likely you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for. Your other option is obviously pay a professional company to make you that silicon mold. The price point on that isn’t extremely low.
We have a client who spends close to $4,000 for the mold and now it has a problem. You’ve printed a hundred parts and you’re done. Not only that, I’m excited about this. I think I’m going to end up being a customer of yours, honestly, because we actually develop parts that are silicon molded products. I’m not talking about silicon molds for other resins. I’m talking about molding silicon, which is one of the materials you mold. We develop products in silicon and we would typically do that over in China and develop it in CAD, then have to pay for actual tooling to get a real sample that is reality to prove out that everything is what it needs to be. That’s a very time consuming endeavor, going across to Asia, as well as costly.
I think what a lot of people don’t realize, especially those who have never spent a time to develop a mold for anything, whether it’s an injection mold, silicon mold, whatever type of mold it is. When you develop that, there’s a lot of rework that happens. You were talking about the gating process, where the plastic flows in. Part of it is engineering but part of it is art. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. You have to then rework your mold or start again. The time, you say, “It will be four to six weeks before your mold is ready and your products are running.” Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes it’s 90 days or more because you’re redoing things.
I remember one of our first injection molding projects in our own business. One time in our past we weren’t designing for others. We actually designed and manufactured our own products. We learned what a knit line was in injection molding. I didn’t even know what that was before you learn the material isn’t flowing right. By the time it’s going around a core pin and sticking to itself it’s not hot enough and you’re going to get a crack there at some point. You have a chance to continually iterate and refine and make it better. That is really an additional benefit. Because so often we find that people are stuck with bad product, and they continue to run them. This happens in Asia all the time. We see the core buyer of it stops buying it, but the manufacturer continues to make it. You want to know why there are so many returns and so many defects. It’s because it was never quite made properly. It needed to be redone and they didn’t. That’s because it’s so costly.
Not to mention all the time.
All the time. Time is money. The time and I think even the air freight shipments from Asia to get the samples back here, all of that adds up. I was so impressed really just with the concept. I think most people get the idea that the biggest problem is prototyping. It’s really not prototyping. It’s that test run. It’s really making it right. It’s really making sure someone wants to buy it and then refining it. The cost prohibitiveness of that, you’re bringing that way down. You’re making it really viable. That’s very exciting for us.
I’m glad to hear that you guys are intrigued and are quite excited by it. That’s exactly what we’re going after it. You guys got a chance to meet some engineers from our team. I think that’s the reason why they’re here. They’re here because they’ve gone through some of these days before in their past. Our main mechanical engineering guy, he understands going after that short run. He’s had to do that himself. In a lot of ways, our team gets to build the technology that they wish they had. Also, the technology, I’ve definitely saw a need for it both when I was doing consulting work as well as at service bureaus. There are two different needs, depending on how you look at it there. This single technology solved both the needs there.
I want to touch on something that’s in your bio and information about you. You talked about briefly at the beginning, that you started an incubator program called GIGTANK, or were a part of its start. Startups like Feetz came out of there as well. We’ve interviewed Lucy recently from Feetz. What I found so interesting about is that you guys have three things in common that are pretty well done and advanced in terms of the scope of startups we’ve been talking to over the last couple of years. You guys have all decided that nothing is sacred. Nothing is untouchable. If you got to re-engineer materials, then you guys are going to go for it, as hard as it is. That’s the hard path and you guys are not accepting the easy way. You’re saying, “We’re not just going to accept the way it is, we’re going to change that.” I love that.
The second thing is team. You guys have good teams under you. You’re not doing it all yourselves, you’ve surrounded yourselves with a lot of experts and a lot of experience. The third thing I think that you guys have is, these are big plans you have. These are not small goals. You guys didn’t say, “Let’s go for this interim and we’ll engineer to here and then we’ll see what happens.” No, you guys went for the whole thing. That’s what you guys have in common. Did that come out of the incubators, is that the principles of it?
To a certain degree, we definitely promoted a go big mentality and solve big problems and solve real problems. It’s one of the keys. When I talk about this technologies publicly, maybe I’ll get criticized for this, but one of the things I often talk about is I just think we’ve got to solve the problems that manufacturing actually has in solving 3D printing problems, in the 3D printing industry. We promoted that kind of thinking. We also promoted taking advantage of technology for what it’s really good at.
For instance, Branch Technology, this is another company that came out of our accelerator. They have the large robotic free form plastic extrusion for doing large-scale structures. They’re actually in the same building as us. They’re in the downstairs floor from where we’re located. Another similarity that you can start to draw between the different teams that went through the program is Branch takes advantage of additive for what they also agree with us. They believe the strength is in geometry. Then they use traditional construction materials to fill in the scaffold. They print the scaffold of a wall, and then they fill it with traditional manufacturing materials. Or depending on what people want, they might leave it just as a printed structure for beauty’s sake.
You see us going that same route and saying, “We think additive is really great at geometry. We think traditional manufacturing is really great at material capabilities, at pricing, at surface qualities, all these other things.” We definitely promoted those things within the accelerator program. I do think, to some degree, there’s probably some of that, which just comes out of the culture that was part of that accelerator program. Also, Lucy and I, something that I know we have in common is we’re both incredibly ambitious. We would love it if we could go out there. For instance, the way we like to talk about the Collider is, imagine the world without tooling. We think that tooling in general is the Achilles’ heel of modern day manufacturing and that injection molding tools look a whole lot like 2D printing presses did. It’s our state of the art.
You can’t see me but I just raised my arms up. I’m like, “Ah!” You’re talking to two people who would love to see a world without tooling and we’d love to see retail without inventory. We think it would be a beautiful place then.
Lucy and I share that value of, “Hey, let’s solve this monster sized problem and take it head on.” For us, it’s tooling. For them, it’s inventory and also obviously, customization, I think is one of their big values and getting exactly what you want and need.
Of course, yes. When we saw your booth at Inside 3D Printing Conference, we were told the ability for someone to send a model to a service bureau or 3D Hubs or something and get a part made, we weren’t quite there yet. You could get samples of materials and stuff, which is great. How far away are you from a company like ours, and not because you like us and we’re interviewing you and doing something special, but I mean for somebody listening to this show who might have that need, how long is it before they’ll be able to use the service to produce some parts?
This is a great question, and the answer is very soon. In a very broad sense, it will be a lot more accessible here within weeks. You’ll actually be able to upload models to us at the current stage. We actually have been taking in some files from some people that were at the show and things like that and some people who reach out on the website right now via form. We are making sure we understand what everybody’s needs are first. We want you to get what you need.
Once we find out what the needs of the people are, we are generating some quotes on one-off basis right now. One potential route, if you’re incredibly intrigued and want to get involved today, you can just go to the website and fill out the form. You will definitely hear from us in terms of getting a part print. We’ll talk about the fit with you. Shortly, we are going to be working on getting our hub on 3D Hubs up and running to just start taking more and more part files. Additionally, we are also working on efforts to get other service bureaus on board with our technologies so that way, hopefully, you can go to some of the other service bureaus that you’re familiar with and find our technology there and get parts that way.
It sounds like by the time this podcast publishes, you may very well be able to upload a part and get a quote in the expected way you might think you could. If that’s not the case yet and someone is intrigued enough, persistent enough, and they have a part that is a good fit for the process, they just need to reach out and see what can be made to happen, it sounds like?
Yes, definitely. We’re also using that form to gauge what people are looking for as more of a long-term solution as well. What I mean by that is one of the ways that we are starting to interact with people is we know that for some people, particularly businesses, getting parts on-demand and being thrown into a general print queue like you would be at a traditional service bureaus isn’t a good option. Being constrained to certain design constraints and things of that nature isn’t what they’re looking for. They want something that’s more of a dedicated solution, but maybe their number one technology is still maturing, which is part of why we continue to keep things in-house. We want to continue to develop and allow the technology to mature.
We are also talking to people about more of almost an Amazon Web Services in the same way that you can spin up a full server or a dedicated server space or something of that nature. We are looking at and discussing with people actively about potentially getting their own dedicated machine. Now, at this point in time, those will live in our facility and be a managed service long-term. Also, companies will be able to come here and work with it and get familiar with it before they would look at bringing it in-house in the long-term.
You’re looking at a couple of people who might be in for that. The work that we do is so proprietary for our clients and other things that we would love to have a more managed service. We are also dialing it in. We frankly don’t use the service bureaus, except once we’ve already dialed something in and we know the material, we need a specific material we can’t print ourselves. Because there really is no point for us because it’s a feedback loop we require and they don’t give you that.
It’s great, they’re printing thousands of parts everyday for people all over the world. It’s an excellent service. But for some companies, even some really huge companies that we’ve been talking to, there is still also a barrier for some of these companies to say, “Okay, while we might have an R&D lab at our XYZ facility where we use 3D printing technology and we’re working with it, we’re not comfortable putting it in one of our other manufacturing facilities because we don’t think we have the skills or expertise there to pull that off.” That was an interesting thing for us to learn in early conversations they’ve been having over the last six months.
For those types of companies, this is also an opportunity to adopt that technology, get parts shipped to you on demand, control your own print queue, push the boundaries of the technology. Learn what the boundaries are for yourself and for your needs without really feeling like you have to have a staff internally that work with industrial 3D printing technology or knows a whole lot about that. It’s a little bit of a different service offering. It’s something that we’re trying out. It’s definitely different than how a lot of companies have gone with things.
I think it’s really smart, because there’s a labor shortage here. There’s an experience shortage. We see that going on. We know that from our world, that there’s a design shortage as well, for those who can design good 3D print products. We’re seeing that overall. In this sense, by offering the managed service, you make your product more adaptable. Then we get it into our company and we just fell in love with it. The next thing you know, we’re like, “Hey, can you guys train us someone. Bring him in.” You’ve got a fully manage service that you’re bringing in and now servicing machines on a continual basis into our facility. That is a great in-road. It’s a great building block plan for your business.
I appreciate that. We’ve tried to be really strategic in how we’ve laid all that out. Number one, we can control things in our controlled rolled out. We don’t want to get in over our heads. Also, at the same time, being able to offer the best service that we can possibly offer anybody that we’re working with is of great importance to us. That’s our way of dealing with that.
It is interesting that you bought up design. That’s not something that we really offer as a service at this point in time. Something that I would like to say about that and I think is an interesting thing, one of the things that we’re learning is if you have a part that you’ve designed with injection molding in mind, let’s say. Almost certainly, our process can work with it from a design perspective. We have our design constraints, just like in the other process that’s out there, but it’s actually an interesting thing where one of the big things that’s come up over the last few years has been design for additive. We hear a lot of talk about that in the industry. You can hear of some classes starting up and things around design for additive.
That is very great because there is obviously some design capabilities that additive manufacturing opens up, for light weighting and things like that, that is of great value. At the same time, in some cases I’ve seen design for additive being used as almost a crutch and a way to say, “The reason why it is not cost effective, the reason why your part is not strong enough is that you don’t take into account design for additive.” It’s almost like you’re trying to solve a 3D printing problem. To some degree, we have a little bit of an advantage here. We’re able to say, “Hey, design the way you’ve been designing that’s acceptable, it’ll work today perfectly and you’re going to get the materials that you’re looking for and whatnot.”
Optionally, when the time comes when you want to take advantage of some of the greater geometry capabilities that we have, you’re going to be able to take advantage of those. Don’t feel like you have to completely relearn something or hire new younger people who may have worked with that technology and understand design for additive a little bit better. We’re actually trying to lower the barrier a little bit for manufacturers by working off of a process that is a little more understandable for a lot of manufacturing houses, having to design for injection molding.
I think that’s really smart. We talk about that from the same thing, that it almost has to be a high breed model because not every part of a product is going to make sense in additive manufacturing, especially at the speeds at which the production of those things are today or the materials that they’re offered in. There’s no reason to hold back if you have the ability to do a combination of the two through using your system, and then maybe something that’s more of an FFF customized part., a single piece that then marries on to it. Being able to have that kind of flexibility is great and it’s also a gateway. It’s a gateway to getting to learn what you can do in the flexibility you can do and how much it can either add to the process for you, provide functionality, provide style, all of those things. It gives you time to get in and do it.
Absolutely. That’s our goals there.
It has been really fun to talk with you. Not only for our audience that’s very 3D printing focused and for us who are interested in 3D printing as well. I think the service you’re providing just happens to be a really good fit and there’s a lot of synergy with our core business. That kind of interview on WTFFF does not happen every day. It really doesn’t. We’ve been talking about how great it’s going to be when it changes our core business. Yet, our core business still hasn’t changed enough yet and that’s because things like what you have offering here haven’t come along yet. That’s why we’re very excited about this.
I appreciate you guys having me. It’s been a blast. You guys asked some great questions. I hope some of the listeners find it intriguing as well.
I’m sure they will. Thank you so much. We look forward to talking to you again sometime in the future as things continue to develop, and as we get the chance to try this out.
Yes, sounds great. I’ll be looking forward to an email from you guys or a part upload.
Thank you so much, Graham.
All right. Thank you, guys.
3D Printed Molds, with Graham Bredemeyer of Collider – Final Thoughts
I am just so excited about the idea of doing 3D print molds, the idea of actually getting to do the mold that way. This is a game changer for startup product development, it really is. I was not joking when I told Graham, “I think I’m going to be a customer.” I don’t think. I know we’re going to be a customer. We have these silicon molded products that we’re developing for some clients and it makes perfect sense. You can actually do 3D printed prototyping of them here in the US, but you’re not 3D printing the silicon, you’re 3D printing the mold. How brilliant is that? It’s just absolutely brilliant.
Even thinking just along the lines of a lot of what we do in terms of tooling development and other things like that. Sometimes it gets so scary that you’re just handing off this 3Dimensional drawing, and you hope that the toolings have come out right. While we have of course made a prototype, we’ve made it in a completely different method. We’ve not actually molded it. It’s always a scary thing. Just to even to be able to do that on our smaller parts right now sounds like it would really be a more confidence booster to getting the tooling dollars going.
I found it also is fascinating how Collider, along with a couple of companies that we’ve come across and interviewed in the last couple of months, have all come through the same incubator, with Feetz, Lucy Beard and I think also guys at Wiivv, they all know each other. Collider, I think for sure, in the same incubator as Feetz. Talk about incredibly different companies. But what’s similar about each of these companies is how they’re attacking a market in a completely different and disruptive way to others.
I think it’s how they’re attacking the market, but also the emphasis that they have on team. They also have those two strengths at the same time. They’re not afraid of reinventing something such as, in this case, reinventing the idea of how you would go about putting in gates and the process in which you’re tooling and going about that in a completely different method and a completely different direction. You’re essentially looking at tooling in reverse, which is a cool idea. Who thinks that way? The same thing on Lucy Beard in the Feetz side, and we talked about this on our interview with her, is that she was not afraid to reinvent materials if needed. “Let’s just completely reinvent the material. Let’s just make our own. Let’s modify the machine. I don’t care if the right machine to do it isn’t available for me to buy today, we’ll hack the machines. We’ll modify them to do what we need.”
In this case with Collider, this is in no way a hack machine. This is a very finely engineered machine and process. It’s really impressive when you see it in person. Even at their early stage of business, this looks like a very well-thought through and engineered machine. It’s an industrial machine. This is definitely one you want to have in your shop, you would have in a service bureau. They’ve definitely thought that through. This is a professional machine. Definitely not your home machine. The pricing of this stuff and although it’s still in the early stages it’s very clear to us that the cost of getting prototypes made using this process is far less than traditional methods of prototyping silicon or other resin molded parts. That is within reach of every business in a prototype sense.
That’s really where I see this game changer that I’ve said at the very beginning of this discussion here. This is the problem that we see so often, that there’s this level of, “I’m ready to dive in and spend all these money on the tooling.” We get so many clients who are so afraid to actually pull that trigger because they actually have no confidence in the design and engineering. I can’t tell you how many I’ve reviewed where I’ve said, “You shouldn’t have confidence in this design and engineering. It’s that bad.” Many people have been burned by doing tooling and finding out it’s not working. It may not be working just not only from the design standpoint, that the design isn’t working for what you intended it to do or you had an amateur designer or you hacked it together, whatever you had to do.
It also might not be right for the market. Being able to actually test that is so critical. Spending all those tooling dollars to do it, it’s so hard to pull that trigger. This hampers the product development speed. That speed to market is the greatest asset you can have in your business, getting to market faster. Speed to market, and getting through that proof stage. We’ve always talked about how important that is, to prove that the product is going to work. You could actually make a small run using this and sell it and prove it, before you really tool for large scale production of a silicon molded part.
Thinking about it this way, and this is the mistake that most people’s mindset are in and that’s the problem. You don’t need to make money on your first run of anything. You should lose money on your first run. You should look at it as marketing, market testing, market proof. It is the fastest way for you to get where you want to go though. If you’re trying so hard to make it make money for you right at that stage, that’s a mistake. That’s where it’s easy to dial in and ask for dollars from investors when you say, “Look, if I could make this in a 10,000 piece run, now that I’ve proven that the market wants it, and I could go for that real hard tooling and I already have access in the market. I’ve got all these things in line.” They’re going to say, “That makes total sense.”
That’s an easier ask than it is of, “I have a drawing. I have this idea, and I’m quite sure it will sell.” No one’s going to believe you. You’re quite sure, great. But you’re not the consumers that are out there. I think you can do it in a breakeven sense. I don’t think it always has to cost more money. I think you shouldn’t be afraid if it did. If you’re net positive, sending a dollar out the door negative with every one that you make and you make 500 of them to do a market test. You sell all 500. You’ve spent $500 more than you made. That’s the cheapest marketing and market proof expense you’ll ever see. It is so valuable.
I, actually, am not watching it that much more these days, I used to in the early years. I just don’t like where its gone. Shark Tank, as a show, what is it that the sharks always want to know about your product and your idea? How much have you sold? Do you have any sales proof? Really, it doesn’t matter how great an idea this is unless it’s incredibly high tech. There are some exceptions to it that have come through there. For the most part, they only care about sales proof. I think Collider is a great machine, a great process, an intellectual property really of a new process using 3D printing, additive manufacturing, in part, not in whole. It’s a part of the process, but an integral one, to help you achieve actual produced products in the end-use material and in a one off sense.
It’s so brilliant, outside of the box thinking. While the rest of the industry is chasing little incremental improvements in how to print something or how to slide something and all these stuff in a common market and marketplace. They’re all trying to split market share. These guys went and created a whole new market. It’s amazing. I’m really impressed by them. I’m impressed by their entire team and their company. I can’t wait for us to do a trial on their machine. I’ve been thinking through a couple of potentials products at which we could do that. One of them has to rise at the top here pretty soon.
I’m interested to hear what any of you think of this. Give us a comment. Let us know what you think. Do you find this of interest? What does this tell you about the potential of the 3D printing industry? We’ve been getting a lot of comments @3DStartPoint on Facebook and some people have pointed us to some new sources that we’re going to be bringing some episodes on in the next month or so. If you have any suggestions, that’s a great way to do that. Also you can go to 3DStartpoint.com and make a comment or send us a message through there.
We hope you enjoyed that as much as we did, or at least half as much as we did. We’re super excited about it. Thank you for listening, everybody. We’ll talk to you next time. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
- GIGTANK Accelerator
- Lucy Beard
- Branch Technology
- 3D System
- Interview with Lucy Beard
- 3D Hubs
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