Our guest, Mark Trageser, has been embracing and taking advantage of what 3D printing affords designers in the realm of 3D printing toys. His strong opinions on the 3D print industry and different companies with in it are a breath of fresh air. With his impressive background in design, working with Fisher-Price and Mattel, he has extensive experience in manufacturing toys and shares key consideration points on the complexities of bringing these products to the shelf.
I really hope you’re going to enjoy this as much as we did interviewing Mark Trageser, who is a professional toy designer with more than 20 years’ experience. He has worked for the likes of Mattel and Hasbro, some of the other big toy companies as an employee for many years. Now, he’s independent. He’s now an outside designer that does work for them on contract basis. A lot of gaming companies as well and things like that.
He’s just got an amazing resume and amazing portfolio of work. Not just that, his toys are cool. The toys that he makes personally are just cool. What I really think the reason I was so excited to get him on the show was because he has this sense of what you can really optimize and utilize that is really 3D printable. It’s what makes it unique. He definitely is a heavy 3D print user. He is someone that really has embraced and taken advantage of the opportunities that 3D printing affords.
It’s a great example for other designers that are out there. He’s pushing really the edge of what you can do with 3D printing, but also he has very strong opinions about what should be done with 3D printing and shouldn’t. The companies that are really out there doing good work and others that aren’t, he’s got some strong opinions, which I rather enjoy. He’s got a lot of passion for the industry as a whole, I greatly appreciate that. Let’s hear from Mark Trageser from InsaniTOY.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Printing Toys with Mark Trageser of InsaniTOY
Mark, thanks so much for joining us, excited to talk 3D printing toys today.
You have been working in toys for quite some time. You worked with Mattel and other companies. How did you get started in 3D printing in conjunction with toys?
I stumbled into both of those things. I went to school in Cleveland, at Cleveland Institute of Art. That happened to be near Fisher-Price. I made a relationship just through alumni and they did a project. It was perfect for me. I’m a design student and I liked to mechanically build things. It’s toys, who wouldn’t want to work in that? It was a natural fit. From Fisher-Price, Mattel was there for a couple of years and Mattel bought Fisher-Price. Mattel’s in California versus Buffalo, New York. I was single and I thought it was much warmer there.
I went to the job. But all along, I’ve been getting digital fabrication training. Even from my very first time at Fisher-Price 25 years ago, I was using CNC to cut really complicated objects. I might not run the CNC but we were cutting really big forms of the prototypes. You had to shop with a bunch of guys who would run it for you. The same thing happened at Mattel’s. For ten years there, I had access to every brand new machine that came out. Mattel would buy them because companies wanted Mattel to buy them and Mattel had the pocketbooks for the good toys and it made us faster, it made us more efficient. Corporations, as soon as they get them, they improve. Any corporation that has had one buys another. Mattel’s always been dabbling because they’re smart and because it’s the newest thing that makes you more competitive. When you need to get the sculpture of Harry Potter’s face just right, you need some crazy technology to do it. It’s not a square thing. Technology is a big deal in toys in general.
You need to really rapidly iterate because you just don’t know what’s the expression going to look like that’s going to work, what positioning should this arm be or whatever those things are that you really need to rapidly do. Sometimes you can do that digitally but it’s not the same.
Also, it’s hard to get sculpture approved because people don’t believe it’s them. For example, Mattel did Oprah, the Olsen twins and things like that, they would sculpt these Barbie figures of these characters. You try to get those approval through license, that’s really difficult. People themselves would look at a sculpture and say, “That’s not me.” The artist would get out their little micrometers and be like, “It’s this big and this big. We measured it. If you put it like this, it really is you.” They’re like, “Nope, I don’t think so.”
They don’t see themselves that way.
You put it in a scanner and they can’t lie. It’s hard. Toys are always deceptive because honestly if you take a normal person and you shrink them down, they don’t look good. He-Man, he looks good because he’s got big funny muscles. A normal person sized down, kind of looks dumpy, you actually want the proportions to be odd for a toy to have that toy-etic look.
You have to have that exaggerated larger than life. It doesn’t express personality without going through those iterations.
Also, I’m a mechanical guy. The requests from a toy person are really bizarre. Somebody will say in Hot Wheels, “We need you to have the car jump through the volcano, then hit the dinosaur, the dinosaur falls over. That makes that ramp pop up.” Your answer has to be, “Okay,” then you have to build that.
“Okay, do it.”
That’s a weird challenge that you get thrown, that’s your normal day’s work. For me, it’s awesome because in the machine, I can very easily build a mechanism. I’m good with my hands doing this but the number of machines, the number of tools, the amount of plastic, the screws, all those things that you need, you need a big shop and I don’t have a big shop. I got a 3D printer. In that 3D printer is everything I need.
The example I like to use is you have a drill press and drill because you want a hole, who cares about the machine or the drill bit? You take a lot of drill bits to get the hole you want. In a 3D printer, you got a square hole, you got a triangular hole, you got a rectangular hole. It will drill all those holes perfectly next to each other. It’s amazing. Coming from somebody who’s built stuff their whole life, it makes me a lot more precise, a lot faster. It’s amazing what it does.
It’s interesting that you say that. I’ve been thinking about, stylistically lately, I’ve noticed there’s a big shift, you can see the 3D print design process influence. I can at least because we’re so meshed in the world ourselves. My daughter has Monster High dolls. Their accessories, their fashion, their shoes, everything has this more lattice-y, open scroll work and there’s a lot more cutouts and other things than would have been done in the past. You can really see the influence of 3D printing in the design process and in having developed the characters and their costumes at that point through that process. I can see it from the other side. I can imagine the manufactures going, “What the heck? This is mass produced at the end of the day. It’s got all these holes in it. You’re making my job more difficult.” I think that’s so funny, that a process that’s come to design it may make manufacturing actually more complex.
It actually makes it easier because if you’re a good model maker when you build things, you can build it more accurately faster. Yes, you can have those lattices but they’re built in a correct angle of draft. You didn’t to have to try to figure that out using clay, guessing and hoping you didn’t have any undercut. You can run an algorithm to check.
That’s why they skipped it before.
I’m not exactly sure that’s perfect. It just would’ve been a lot harder. It would’ve been a lot harder, it would’ve cost a lot more money. They certainly did beautiful complicated things before, just sculpting and all that took longer. Honestly, it’s probably more on the tooling side than on the sculptor’s ability.
I think that lattice stuff shows up more already like in prosthetics, you’re seeing a lot of that. If you look at Thingiverse, there’s a lot of dinosaur heads that have that cool mesh on it. I think we’re seeing the digital computer doing the art and that coming more there first. Certainly, all people that are making anything, any designed product, they’re using 3D now because they have to, because it’s better and because that’s just the way it needs to be now.
We were fascinated by your InsaniTOY line, you have a Shapeways store on that. We were perusing it. I love the wheels on the vehicles. I just love the look of them because it’s really re-imagining tread as well as just being a very cool 3D print.
It’s an interesting challenge because for me, number one, complexity is something I try to do. The crazier, the more complex I build it, the better. As you said before, at Mattel, they would’ve been, “Please stop doing that.” The factory would’ve been like, “This is beautiful but you’re really making our lives far more difficult.” It’s not that they can’t do it, it just makes it harder. It might make it a little less safe. I’m always all for safety, believe me. Sometimes they just want to make it easier. When you use the technology, it definitely allows you to hit more accurately. Again, be more sculptural and even just from the technical end. I have big fumble-y, Fred Flintstones fingers so when I make a prototype, I’m just not as accurate with the drill press. I think I got off course in the question there.
That’s all right. Don’t worry about that. I’m interested Mark, when you were talking before about being at Mattel or Hasbro and those big corporations can easily buy the new toys, the new 3D printers, the new tools that are out there. How have you found it different now, no longer being with that big corporation, being a little more on your own, not only in terms of the 3D printers, but more I’m thinking on the CAD software side of things? Are you able to use the same tools you used there or did they use such high end systems and you’ve had shift?
For me, I always suffer from not working with a big company anymore. I can go to Shapeways though and get the same quality. It’s just the ability for them to print big objects and be able to make mistakes at high resolutions. I run FDM machines and that’s all I run because that’s what I can afford. When I want to make something and try to sell it online, then I’ll have Shapeways print it for me out of better material. In my own shop, my own prototypes, right now I’m only running FDM. I’ll probably get one of those UV, kind of like the Formlabs ones in the near future. Right now, I’ve always had a love-hate with anything that’s UV cured SLA or whatever.
We do too.
It’s very often brittle so I can’t make a good prototype with something brittle. It has a great resolution but sometimes they don’t cure it right. There’s all these little details that make it not perfect. Plus also, it just cost you a darn much money.
We have the same issues with the resin printers. Don’t misunderstand my question. It wasn’t a criticism of being on your own that it’s a disadvantage that you don’t have those toys. Curious as to how you adopted. I was more wondering about your CAD programs that you’re using, because some corporations have these really high end CAD systems that you might have used in there. What are you using to build your models that you’re going to 3D print now?
As it comes to software, I specifically use Rhino 3D. That’s just because, I think the easiest way to describe it is if you look at the world of 3D modeling, one end is Maya and we’ll call that art because you want to make a bunny and you want to make sculptures and that’s what takes our users. The opposite end is CAD because they want the gears to be perfect. I need to have a bunny with gears inside of it. Rhino’s the middle. ZBrush is more towards Maya. Solidworks is more towards CAD. I think Rhino lives in the middle. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what you use but I use Rhino.
You should see the grin on our faces right now. It’s like gigantic. You are talking our language. This is exactly why we’re passionate about Rhino as well. It’s just because of who I am as a designer. I need the best of both worlds and the options to be a little more free form at times and then to be a little more rigid at others. Rhino, as far as what I’ve experienced, has the best of all those worlds. And being able to buy plugins that can also expand the capabilities, I think it’s a great feature for Rhino.
Honestly, I think I make very pretty models but I’m a fumble-y modeler. I use solids and that’s about it. I’m pushing and pulling with Boolean and Boolean and stuff. At my work, I don’t do a lot of vector stuff. If you hired me to make a perfect Mustang, I probably couldn’t do it. But I can make a good car and I can make a cool looking dinosaur. I use it on the prototype end. I’m less good for the high detail. But that’s what I need. Like I said, I work in solids so I never have a leak in my model and I never have to worry about that.
People will hand me this Maya model and say, “Here you go.” I’m like, “I’m starting from scratch here, people. These are beautiful texture maps, but nothing’s here.” I have to build all this stuff that isn’t in the model. That’s why Rhino I think, Rhino makes a round wheel and I can call it a size and it stays that size. I wish it had, what is it? Solidworks has history which allows you to go back in time. I wish Rhino had that. But again, that’s just what I like. I don’t think it really matters.
I agree. It doesn’t really matter.
There are some pretty cool stuff from AutoCAD, where AutoCAD has a lot of things that are trying to help engineers figure out 3D printing. That’s where you get some pretty impressive stuff. If you look at what Airbus and GE are doing with their airplanes and AutoCAD, it’s pretty nutsy because they’ll design an airplane but they won’t make a shape. They’ll say, “We need a tube. The wings need to attach here with this much force applied. The wheels need to have attached here and then you have to pull with this much force applied. It need to not brake under this and that.” They run an algorithm and the machine designs what the shape of the plane should be. It looks like coral. That is insane, but technically speaking, it is the best, strongest thing that you could do. That is mind blowing and very cool because that opens up a whole door of what’s going to happen to our lives in the future. This is just the very beginning of it. That alone is mind blowing.
And a whole aesthetic that we’re not completely exposed to yet. That’s what you’re talking about that, more natural organic. There’s a reason why nature is the way that it is, it’s because, it’s stronger, more efficient and better. It’s grown that way. We have the ability to do that now. I do think you’re right, it’s opening a whole new viewpoint on what aesthetic is, what style is and also then what function and form is.
There’s a logic to it. You’ve got the bio mimicry and what you are talking about there. MIT and a lot of people like that are working with AutoCAD specifically. I don’t mean to try to sell their software, but they’re doing a very good job with it, of having it where that figures out the best process. That’s great from one standpoint. The other standpoint is though, engineers are looking at this and there is no gut check. I’m an engineer and I know have to build stuff and I’m looking at this spider web and I’m going, “It seems like it ought to work. It’s reasonable.” But I literally have no gut check for this. When you make an airplane, that’s a problem. The people at Airbus are like, “We love the pretty picture, we love how cool it looks, but it could kill people.” They’re very aware of it at Airbus. They’re moving in tiny steps, but they’re moving.
I think going back to one of the comments you made about toys and safety, that’s a big concern for us here as well because we’ve been designing consumer products for over 25 years. We get the same thing, we understand what happens when you make something unsafe, the CPSC recalls. You can’t always imagine how somebody is going to misuse your product. Having that experience level means something. You can’t just go with what comes out of the computer and hope no one’s going to get hurt. You have to have that perspective that you have obviously, in the toy world already, which is of great benefit.
Look at Mattel coming out with ThingMaker, their new 3D printer. It’s supposed to be out for this Christmas, they missed that. That was a very ambitious goal probably set by somebody in the marketing department, not by somebody who understands what needs to happen. Checking at a year is reasonable. Now, what they have to accomplish is an insane amount of work and they have to do exactly what you said. This is Mattel. They have to go to the utmost quality. I guarantee, and this is just me talking, I don’t have any inside information and I wouldn’t give it to you if I had it, but just generically speaking, you can look at Fisher-Price and Mattel and you can say when they make a product, they make a good one. They test the heck out of it. There will be limitations to it. For example, my guess is the door won’t open until the temperature sensor says, “The nozzle’s cool.”
If that was my 3D printer and my shop, that would drive me crazy and I’d immediately get rid of that because I don’t want to wait fifteen minutes for my nozzle. But if you’re designing it for your kid, you absolutely must do that, you must. The age grade on that toy should be thirteen plus, just ask any safety engineer. Most people want their five year old to play with it. I’m sorry, no toy company in their right mind should sell it and design it to be for younger. Safety experts will say that to you. That’s not my judgment call. I can sell you a chemistry kit when you’re thirteen plus, which is chemicals, glass, and X-ACTO blades. At thirteen plus, you’re pretty much covered from the safety standpoint. They’re going to do the right thing because they’re smart and they don’t want to get sued and more importantly, they don’t want to hurt kids. If it happens, it’s going to be because it’s an accident.
They’re out there at the forefront so they’re even more scrutinized than everybody else. It’s interesting, they’re going to be trying to make something that’s as safe and easy to use as an easy bake oven but is achieving a whole heck of a lot more than what that kind of product could do. What about the safety of the items printed on the ThingMaker?
There’s a whole other safety issue to go after. My guess would be, and I have a little bit of knowledge about it, but if they’re smart is they would make parts that they test the heck out of. They would make parts that would pass standard toy industry safety specs, which should mean certain things can’t fit in certain size tubes, certain things shouldn’t be designed to break in certain ways, you shouldn’t have pointy things, all those safety stuff. They will try to build that in. They’ll also try to build in good principle parts. They’ll try to print things that you don’t need supports because supports take extra time and kids don’t want to pick them off. They’ll try to build smart parts, parts that print well, parts that are printed in the correct direction so they don’t break. That’s what any smart company would do. I think you can expect that from them.
Look at the complexity of that. That’s why they’re behind.
Tell me about it. That’s my life. Exactly. Because they’re going to do it right. When the library comes out, people will complain, “There’s not enough parts.” It’s because the parts are done with quality and with respect and tested. You can put on a million parts and we can have Thingiverse where anybody can post something but those parts are garbage. They’re nice, some of them work, some of them don’t. Mattel can’t play that game, that would be the wrong thing for them to do in their product. Anything that the consumer will complain about will be for the wrong reasons.
We so agree with you. Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing with InsaniTOY. You’ve put them out through Shapeways for a couple of good reasons I would imagine. Is your mission here to really make things that are 3D print only or on demand manufactured?
I dabble in several things because I work in the industry. Part of my life is making prototypes for the toy industry and for my own inventing business. That’s where I generate some of my product. The other is I am putting items out on Shapeways just because I love to do this and because it’s another platform. I’m testing the waters to see how many people are interested in buying a metal robot cheetah at $100, $200. It’s printed in metal and it’s gold plated, which is amazing.
But how many people, first, know that Shapeways exists? And second, find my cheetah on that site? It’s the Etsy problem. I think that there’s a lot of that to come. I am dabbling in and I don’t think a lot of people even know what Shapeways does. That is my attempt to start looking at the industry to see how it’s going to happen. I also have InsaniTOY.com, but basically right now it’s linking you to Shapeways for safety reasons. I don’t want to produce toys, sell them to somebody and then get sued. Right now, I am not manufacturing anything myself because of the unknowns. Other people are. I’m just choosing to walk a different line, plus also I’ve got a lot of businesses going on in that regard. Shapeways is an amazing thing.
It’s really interesting Mark, because we’re almost walking the exact same path. It’s like, wow, it sounds like the conversations we have all the time here as we’re looking at where our 3D print business is going. We’ve also chosen not to sell our products out on the marketplace because there’s just not enough controls over the quality of how it gets produced. For us, we design specifically for our end products to be made on an FDM. It would come off of there.
To print at Shapeways isn’t always viable for the way that we’re making our products. We design with the idea that it is the end product, it’s on demand manufacturing. It could be the way to go in the future. We love that it’s helping the invention community be able to test market and do some great things. For us, the system isn’t viable. You’re right. It’s like, who knows who Shapeways is if you’re not in the industry already? If you are in the industry, do they really want to buy the stuff that we know how to design, which are much more mainstream consumer based?
Toys specifically is a challenge to talk about because you couldn’t choose a worse category to be in. Everybody loves it, everybody wants it but everybody thinks a toy should cost five bucks which would be given to their infant. That’s a pretty high bar to work on with an FDM printer no matter how good you are. It’s unrealistic, honestly. I think that’s the problem, is right now the public has unrealistic expectations. I don’t understand it. The way I like to talk about it is, you’re complaining about your pile of gold. It’s like, “FDM is so slow. It costs money and it’s not rigid.” It’s like, “Listen, again, your complaining about your pile of gold.” “My gold is too heavy, my gold is dirty. I can’t eat my gold.” “Shut up, it’s a pile of gold.” If you have a problem with it and if it’s dirty gold, start a business cleaning gold. If it’s heavy, start a business lifting gold and stop complaining because this is magic, it’s amazing stuff. Anytime anybody grumbles about it, I always get really confused. But there are challenges. There are absolutely challenges, huge challenge.
That’s the thing. That’s what we’re here to do. Every day that we do this podcast, we’re out there going, “You guys don’t realize how great it is. Stop sitting on the fence, go out there, do it. It’s great.” But I was the one who was skeptical from the get go. Boy, was I. I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into this industry. But once I saw its potential, it takes people like you and like us to be passionate about it, and like many of our listeners out there, to be passionate about this, to keep the industry pushing so those things go away, and they will.
You need a time for this to mature. Bill Gates said it best. I think people overestimate things in the four year period but they underestimate things in the ten year period. This is like that first bubble of the internet where people are like, “We can’t all sell dog food online, what a surprise?” Amazon dropped from a hundred to seven but now it’s a 300 so get over it. There’re absolutely problems and people are misinformed. They look at a printer, they think a metal printer should be $500 because they saw it somehow in Kickstarter. That’s just not true.
We’re at that point in the hype cycle where it’s really hard to get through when you’re in the midst of it and you’re trying to build a business or you’re trying to make things go. But the reality is that those of us who are in it for the long haul, who’ve been in it for a long time already realize that this is just that part of the cycle. We’re all going to be in a better place in a couple of years.
It’s a bigger challenge than just the internet and computer because you have so many different challenges to solve. Plus also, the big corporations, and I hope I’m not cursing myself by saying this out loud, the big corporations screwed things up. 3D Systems has self-imploded. They had some really cool technology, they were buying interesting things but they bought like 60 things for too much money. They have really self-imploded by bad business as far as I’m concerned. Stratasys does not understand the consumer market so they bought MakerBot and destroyed it as far as I’m concerned.
They did everything that the person that wants that machine doesn’t want. They closed the machine down, they made it more expensive, they locked the filament. They did all these things that make it safer, that make it more consumer friendly. It’s like when I’m talking about the Mattel side, they did some reasonable things, but I don’t think the early adaptor of 3D printer wants to have a locked machine that’s more expensive. Plus also, Stratasys are a bunch of jerks honestly. I have one of their printers and they were rude to me. I gave them $15,000 for a uPrint and they’re just downright rude to me. I’m like, “Guys, I gave you some money. Good business.”
I was pretty critical of 3D Systems getting rid of the Cube because I thought the Cube had long term potential that they were just making a short sighted decision on, making a pocketbook decision instead of a long term investment decision by cutting out the Cube. I think the Cube had a lot of things that would have helped ThingMaker for instance to be a better printer. There was a viability for the future there that they just … Because they bought too much, because they made some overzealous decisions in how they invested. When the market dipped, they got themselves in a bad position. I agree with you on that one.
I just think they were juggling too many balls. The Cube never improved. The Cube was a sucky printer that was built by somebody else which a larger company bought off them. When you have a bunch of money, then the next step is you make a better printer.
They never made a better printer. Then they got distracted like, “We’ll make this one for …” They made a plastic one for Will.I.Am. They made eco-friendly one for Will.I.Am, which is a cool fun project. But come on, really that’s not good business. Let’s start with the viable machine. Bless Will.I.Am for <a href=”https://www.dezeen visit here.com/2015/03/06/will-i-am-interview-future-3d-printing-people/” target=”_blank”>all he’s doing and for the eco-friendly printer, but that’s not where you start a business that’s as weird and as complicated as this. I honestly just think bad engineering. If they would’ve put money in the engineering and made the Cube better, it would’ve been fine. But everything I ever heard about that printer was it sucked. There’s the bottom line.
But it had a good market angle. That’s what I look at.
Doesn’t matter if it’s not a good printer.
That’s the thing, is market access to the right type of community or the community who’s attracted to it. The other things can be fixed, the features can be fixed, the printer could’ve been fixed. To me, getting that market access is so hard to go from the other direction. They had already started in that way. They had this perception that it was a startup printer. It just never got better. You’re right, that’s absolutely what happened. They got money into it and then it didn’t change.
I think the corporation internally was a beehive. It was a good machine that is needed in the world that got lost because the corporation was fumbling. Let’s look at MakerBot. Remember, I’m all pro on this. Even when I’m being negative, I compliment anybody who has started an industry, a giant corporation because I haven’t. They’ve been visionary and they started a lot of things. I see issues. With MakerBot, he sold out. Bre sold out and it’s like, back in the day, if Steve Jobs would’ve sold out the IBM and then took a vacation. It’s like the big company bought the little guy but then no passion, no better printer, no vision, it got to be a worse printer and no changes. That machine is sad because when MakerBot was purchased, I’m like, “Great. Here we go. This is really going to happen. It’s going to stop being laser cut stuff made in a factory by some people. It’s going to be in a real factory, with real machines and robots and laser cutters.” I’m from the toy world where big factories make things cheap and they make them better.
But the whole laser cut wood thing just never works for me. When you step it up, like when HP got their new printer, they’re going to do amazing things. They’re not looking at FDM printers but when HP turns on the knob, things get good. I just feel like FDM, that could’ve happened and I feel like it didn’t because of bad business. I feel like they didn’t know what they had, they didn’t understand the consumer. We can guess at it all day, but as far as I’m concerned, MakerBot should’ve taken off, it had all the money, it had all the right backing, all the marketing. But from personal experience, I can tell you why I didn’t buy it and I can tell you, a lot of other people, why they didn’t buy it also. It’s mostly cost and how dare you lock a machine and how dare you get rid of ABS when I used to have ABS. Again, it’s one of those consumer insights because I would say that they probably did it to make it safe or somebody in the business department said, “The consumer ones will have PLA only. The industrial ones will have ABS.” Somebody at a desk made a bad decision. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But I can tell you what I see.
Usually, it’s that, “The marketing study says,” which is only a study on their current consumer base, not the future one they want to have. We all know that from, what are we projecting? You’re making toys that are going to come out … How far is the time cycle at a typical company? Is it like eighteen months or longer?
It used to be that when I started at Fisher-Price, we took two years to make a toy. Now, you can do it down to six months if you’re in sync and you have limited manufacturing, like it’s an action figure you just plugged together and it’s like every other action figure. Really, you want to be about a year from the time you’re starting up to the time you’re shipping. That’s a reasonable time, more would be better. But it’s pretty much burnt down two year with most companies because it also just lines up with the way the rest of your world works. You have Toy Fair, you finish that, then you say, “What’s next year’s?”
That’s the same thing in the rest of the consumer product world for us, is that used to be about two years, eighteen months to two years, depending on the product line. Now, we typically do it in about nine months, including all the testing. Nine months from conception to out on the shelf.
I’m laughing because of the way you phrased it, it’s perfect because I will often argue with people that nine women cannot make a baby in one month, no matter how much you pay them, no matter how much you are passionate about it and how much they are passionate about it. It takes a certain amount of time, it takes one woman nine months to make a baby. Sometimes, you can will and want things, but you can’t have it. If you do, you’re probably going to end up with a freakish baby so I don’t suggest it. If you start injecting hormones to make it happen fast.
That’s right, good products take time.
I think certain things take a certain amount of time. This industry will take a certain amount of time, certain products will take a certain amount of time. Toys again, I think Mattel is very brave for going down that road. I think they have a lot of challenges to conquer but if anybody, the big corporation with the know-how, can do it. As much as I love the concept of Kickstarter and me being an inventor and being able to start a small business, I love that. But the big person can do the printer best. However at some point, I hope we’ll talk about the manufacturing into this because 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing for the small person. That’s also one of the things I’m super excited about. The Rust Belt is coming back alive because of technology. I’m excited by that too.
Gosh, we are too. We do talk about that quite a bit on our podcast. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much time to delve into that more today. Let’s talk again.
It’s a whole other thing.
I think that’d be fun to have that conversation at some point in the future. Distributed manufacturing and zero inventory models are a big passion of ours. That’s because we come from the same place you come from, from a lot of waste, a lot of investment, a lot of time that frankly isn’t employing a lot of Americans and our local businesses are suffering because of it. We would like to see some of that change as well.
Another way to wind it up back with toys is, if I want to make a toy, because you asked how long, if I want to make a single action figure, we’re talking about eight months to really make the figure itself once you get design out of the way and shipping out of the way, but to make the figure itself and to get it to you. If I was doing that, it’s eight months and it’s probably about $100,000 in tooling. Plus, you have to have a factory that exist, you have to have ships that exist, you have to have forklifts that exist and people in all these factories. You give me eight months and $100,000, I can do a lot of stuff. I can buy a whole lot of printers and I can make a whole of parts. I think one of the things HP just published recently that their break-even speculation on their new printer is that 50,000 parts, if you use their printers, 50,000 parts is better than doing injection molding.
That’s pretty exciting because again, all the things you talked about, from a toy perspective and from somebody who can make my own stuff now, I have a huge lead time. I don’t have to do all the inventory, I don’t have to have all the stuff. That’s amazing. I can order only when I want. I can do the things that they can’t do. In fact, I’m doing that on purpose. You mentioned my cars before, and we’ll go back to that because those cars, no one else can make. No matter how many tools Mattel has, they can’t make them the same way. Those are printed assembled. They have rolling wheels, the chassis actually is split in half and has a spring in the back. It has a spring to suspension that functions that is one piece with all these weird back and forth, the way the parts are knit together but it prints assembled. That’s nut. As a prototype maker, no molds, no CNCs in the world can make that, only a 3D printer. I’m playing that direction. That’s why the car has also had so many holes. One is just to make them lighter and to make them less expensive. Two, sometimes I have to get the powder out of the axle hole. I’ll put holes in there just to make sure it functions. I can do things that no one else can do. That’s fun.
We’ve analyzed it from our perspective and we’ve done a lot because we, just in the last eight years alone, done 250 products for mass market retail. We have a broad perspective on product types. We’ve been analyzing and $100,000 investment is very typical, plus a couple million dollars on the retailer’s end of buying inventory to put it on the shelf. We looked at that and we said, “What would it be on average in a model of just 3D prints?” You’re just really making the model some minimum amount of test product, things like that. We looked at it and we think we can get it down to close to a $20,000 minimum investment. That would be break-even. That’s a huge difference, really huge.
But it does depend on the part, depends on the toy.
It does. It depends on the part of the product, the size of it. There are a lot of variables there. I think that there are a lot of products that wants retail … Retail is not going to easily change. They may practically have to be on the brink of death before they really change their ways. When retail really understands that you don’t have to invest several million dollars in inventory, carrying all that for a long period of time, then the digital on demand model may make sense for them. Plus they can all have much more unique assortments and have their own designs that companies don’t have to leverage selling everywhere to justify the tooling. The opportunities become clear. I think ultimately, the consumer will benefit from it.
I think what I meant to say when I was saying that it depends on the part is I think you have to walk backwards from the printer. What is the technology capable of? With an FDM machine, I can make a pretty cool looking vase, I can make a pretty cool looking lampshade or bracelet to a certain extent because it’s single colored, single material. As far as action figures go, if I print that out, whatever I print out is going to be like ten bucks and uglier than what I can buy for five bucks and no paint ops and no moving parts. In a lot of ways, it does fail. It’s just plain not as good. That will change, all of that will be better. Right now, I think you have to say, what is the machine capable of and is there a market for that thing? Because like I said, toys are a challenge.
However, dental equipment, no problem. Airbus and Boeing are already putting plastic 3D printed parts in their planes. They’re just not going to put important metal ones in for a long time. They’re already putting plastic stuff in. It just depends on what. I think that that’s the best way to look at this, is what machine and what is actually ready now and then speculate out a few years of where it’s going. Because I want everything to happen but you got to be realistic about what this technology is. A normal action figure is not one piece of plastic. It’s usually like three or four different types of plastics with a whole bunch of weird paint and a bunch of screws and glue. It’s not as easy as most people think, but you would understand that from a product design side. We actually know what it takes to make things. The public thinks it’s a lot easier than it is.
That’s why it will take a long time to evolve. I think you were right on there with your thoughts there. I think that’s a great place to end the interview. I wish we could go on for another hour but unfortunately we can’t. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today and sharing your thoughts and insights on this industry. Mark, maybe after Toy Fair, you want to come back on the show and give us your report on what you thought was going on and what’s the scoop on 3D printing in the toy world.
Fair enough. It was a pleasure. I appreciate what you’re doing, because like I said, the more people that know about this, the faster this industry will happen and the quicker I’ll have better toys. Anybody that’s chanting the chant, I’m happy to help because I’m out there yelling as much as I can. Because this is great stuff. We just need to get people playing with it and accepting of what it is.
3D Printing Toys – Final Thoughts
I really enjoyed that interview. I also would like to say, after we did this interview, we had the opportunity to meet Mark in person at a local event in San Diego. We’ve gotten to meet him and get to know him a little better. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. He makes some really good points in that interview about how consumer products, especially toys, are a lot more complex than most consumers think. He’s so right about how complex they are. I have to say, we mentioned these Monster High dolls that Lannea has and their shoes look more like 3D printed designs. You could tell that the designers are influenced by the machines that they have on the edges of their desk in how they’re prototyping and designing in the process. You can see the influence there.
I keep thinking about the complexity of all the little parts. As I see these things, it just is so apparent how complicated they are. Sometimes, when I buy these toys, I think to myself, “Wow, I really want to pay double for this because I really feel like …” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not paying double for it. But I really want to pay double for it because I feel like somewhere, somebody’s getting exploited in the process, whether it’s the 3D print designer, the labor that’s making it, it’s there somewhere in that process. They just aren’t, should not be that cheap.
I think most consumers would be shocked at how inexpensively something has to be made, what the multiplier is that gets up to the retail price that they pay. First of all, if they realized how little it actually costs to manufacture it, they’d think they’re getting cheated, but the reality is there’s a lot more involved in what they pay for a product at retail than just the cost to manufacture. There’s so many other factors and real costs. There’s huge amount of research development and engineering, testing, just a whole bunch of background of things that you just do not realize are embedded in the overhead structure that is in the cost of those goods. Not to mention, the transportation, sales and marketing. The retailer, often, when they buy a product, will almost double the price of a product. Some retailers in some product categories might triple it. People may think, “Oh, that’s insane.” At the end of the day, the retailer is lucky if they’re coming away, after all of their overhead of their stores and their personnel and everything that they had to deal with it, if they’re making 5%.
This is why our other business is booming right now. It’s booming because there’s a large private label community who is basically going in and they’re shopping for these kinds of items. They’re starting to realize how they cost, what the cost structures are, but they also are also realizing there’s the high risk involved. When someone like Mark Trageser gets involved in helping you bring your toys to market or we getting involved in helping you bring your other types of consumer products to the market, we cut out a lot of those mistakes that you made and increase the margins.
We’ve had it where a lot of comparisons, and I guarantee you Mark’s clients feel the same way about him, is that where at the end of the day our cost is free because we saved them so much time and money to market and the volume is so much higher because of it, because we can cut the cost down for them. We have a client who’s got a $350 fitness product that’s going to be 100 bucks of cost when we’re done with it. It’s $350 today of cost. We’re going to cut it down to $100. It’s amazing. That is a big impact. He does the same thing. He knows where to optimize, where you can cut things that people don’t know about, that they can’t see. He knows that from 25 years of experience doing it. That’s the reason you bring in a designer like Mark.
Isn’t it wonderful to see another designer in a different industry though? He’s in the toy industry where we’ve been in the consumer product and the furniture industry for our careers. To see another designer in a different industry whose career has been also so positively affected by modern manufacturing and prototyping techniques involving 3D printing among other things. It was fun for me to hear how he has seen it and how he’s experienced it. He has some different opinions than we do on some of the 3D printing machines and capabilities where he sees FFF as definitely more of a prototyping tool with a lot of limitations than other machines that are more full color and multi material and all that. We see opportunity, even within the FFF limitations as we also, we’re going to have an upcoming interview with Feetz, a company that makes shoes entirely FFF 3D printing. We see there’s opportunities there, not just limitations.
He does too, that’s why he’s so excited, that’s why he gets annoyed when they aren’t doing it right. I get that. I do see so often that we are in this world where they think they need to make this more like a copy machine. We are not a copy machine, 3D printing is never going to be a copy machine. If it is, then you’re wasting your time doing it. A copy machine is what we do in our consumer products in China. You want to make the same thing again and again and again and again, that’s where you go. But if you want to make something unique, make it on a 3D printer. To try to make it so simplified that it does that is just not the point. A replicator name hurts everything. It really does.
I think it’s a little bit of a misnomer for what people believe a replicator is because of watching Star Trek, that you can just make anything, any food or any objects or clothing. That it’s just instant. I just think that that’s not the point. These are wonderful tools. I am thrilled that they’re here. It gives us fodder to talk about on the podcast every day.
I can’t wait to hear a Toy Fair update and more from Mark. We’re definitely going to have him on again. I just think there’s so much for him to talk about. We didn’t even touch on and talk about the Mattel machine. Because we can’t, because it’s not really out yet. There’s nothing to talk about in detail of it. We didn’t really dive into it. He talked about how it obviously is taking longer and it makes sense that it has, about the testing. But we can’t take a deep dive. I love the idea of us doing a three way review episode of that. That would be really cool, to get his opinion on it especially because it is so toy focused, that would be great. And our opinion as parents and users and give it from all those perspectives. I think that could be really cool. Of course, that’s going to be quite a while in the future because I don’t think it even comes out until maybe the third quarter, if not fourth quarter of 2017. We’re going to have to be patient for that.
I did get a response back from my Amazon message. I put it in my Amazon Wishlist. When they finally took it off and made it so that it’s currently unavailable instead of it had a date of when it would come out. When it passes that date, then they have to notify you or do something about it. I got this email back that said basically like, “We’re really sorry but it’s not going to be ready yet.” That one said, “In anticipation of October 2017,” said in that message. That would be fourth quarter, October. Anyway, we’ll definitely have Mark on to talk more about those things.
There will also be some posts on Facebook and we’re @3DStartPoint there as well, as well as on Pinterest, we have Pinterest boards going on. Maybe we should start a toy board with Mark, that would be fun. I think that’s a great idea. We should do that. Let’s start a Pinterest toy board with Mark. We’ll invite him to add pins to it as he’s going through the internet and finding things. That would be a lot of fun. Wonderful.
Hey, hope you enjoyed that as much as we did. We will back with another great episode, every day. We’re still doing some of the replay of the most popular episodes on Mondays and Fridays. We’re looking at maybe doing a little bit different format as we go forward in 2017. We know we have a lot of newer listeners. That’s really one of the main reasons we were doing that. I had somebody comment recently, it’s not because we’re trying to juice the numbers on old episodes. No, because it doesn’t work if you guys don’t listen. It doesn’t matter to us how many plays each episode gets. We’re not trying to push more than others. It’s just really trying to make it, because when you get this many episodes, over 400s, the first 100 are no longer available on iTunes. You can’t even go to them. After 300, they go away.
Of course, if you’re missing anything and you really are looking for something, we now have a search bar on our 3D Start Point site. It took us a while to get it on, I don’t know why. We have a search bar there and you should be able to find what you’re looking for that way. Absolutely, all 100 episodes, you can play the podcast there if you are looking for them, if you were missing them. You can absolutely still play them, they just are no longer on iTunes. You can come to our website at 3DStartPoint.com, go to the podcast page and there is a player there where you can go and scroll back through every single episode.
- Mark’s Shapeways Store
- 3D Print Games and Toys
- Mattel’s Thing Maker – Is this a 3D print game changer?
- Inside 3D Print Show San Diego 2016 Recap
About Mark Trageser
Mark Trageser has a25 year history in toy design, most of it creating odd prototypes using digital fabrication, including 3D Printing. He has 15 years working for corporates- 10 years running a private invention and design studio and runs 5 FDM printers daily. Mark consults and speaks in the 3D printing industry on the past, present and future of the tech, and how it will improve everyone’s life. He has a broad spectrum of understanding of all 3D print technologies, and has worked directly with many industry leaders.
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