Innovations are coming in at a rapid rate in the 3D printing industry. Right now, state-of-the-art high precision printers can reliably produce threads as fine as 50 microns. This ultra-precise 3D printing technology is the specialty of Russell Singer, the Design Director and Director of Development at MAKEiT Inc. MAKEiT is an innovation leader in the 3D printing world, producing dual extrusion high precision printers at relatively affordable prices. Russell describes the capabilities his company is putting out to market as he joins Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard on the podcast.
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High Precision 3D Printing With Russell Singer Of MAKEiT Inc.
We’re at SoCal Maker Con with Russell Singer from MAKEiT Inc. We’ve taken a look at your 3D printer and it seems like a highly precise 3D printer. It’s doing high-quality work with even fine threads, which I find amazing. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the company and some more about your special printers.
My name is Russell Singer. I’m the Design Director and Director of Development at MAKEiT Inc. I started in industrial design. As I was finishing my Master’s, I ended up building an open-source 3D printer because I wanted to have the function of it. Through the process of building it, I met the cofounders of MAKEiT. I started working with them as a product tester on their products and they brought me in for my experience with design testing to help develop and test the printer as it moved forward. We’ve been developing that printer for a few years. It’s only been on sale for a while.
We spent a long time with beta testers, early prototypes placed at high-level institutions. We worked with the mechanical engineering lab at Caltech and the model shop at ArtCenter College of Design. We spent time with them for about 4 to 6 months in a beta program with them getting lots of feedback, hundreds, thousands of hours of testing on our machines, but it’s been a good ride. We’re getting to the point where we’re in good demand for our products. We’re trying to scale up. We moved into a larger space in Alhambra. We have some in-house assembly, testing space, as well as room for our own design and development work.
Who’s the focus customer for this? Who do you see as the right person for this printer?
We’re looking at high-level users. Our machine is priced where it’s viable for a home user, for a hobbyist. If you’re a home user and you purchase our machine, you’re going to be the person who goes out and gets an expensive DSLR camera as a hobbyist user too. We’re mostly looking at engineering houses, professional designers, professionals where they rely on the 3D printer for their livelihood, as well as even manufacturing. We think that our printers particularly, but printers in general, are capable of manufacturing end-use products.
We’ve started focusing on functional quality materials, materials like polyethylene, nylon, polycarbonate, that can make strong, usable parts and people who want to start taking 3D printing and use that to then the manufacturer and use high-quality parts. We’ve sold to a number of print service providers as well as a number of industrial companies. We even have one customer who works in mining, heavy mining machinery. They use our machines to make prototype gear trains and intricate assemblies to test before they have it milled or custom forged.
I touched on threads briefly before when I introduced your company. I want to emphasize this point for our audience because to me, we’ve used, tested, and reviewed a lot of 3D printers. We’ve done some things where we needed threads in a part for assembling parts and we tried. The typical desktop 3D printer cannot produce threads that are fine. They’re only coarse large threads. Your printer is quite amazing to me. It can do fine threads. The only way I’ve been able to do that is to print a cylinder that’s got a thick wall thickness or it’s solid and use a conventional dye or a tap to create these threads. You guys are printing these threads legitimately and you don’t have to do anything to it. It comes off the printer ready to go. What is the resolution of layer thickness that it takes to do that?
I brought one of those with me. It’s small, but this is a metric four screw with an actual metal metric four knot that threads right on it. This is unfinished. It’s straight off the printer. We can go down to metric three, but that requires using a smaller nozzle size. This is as small as you can reliably print with the default nozzle size on our printer.MAKEiT's high precision printers can print thread-thin threads. Click To Tweet
Which is what?
It’s 0.4 millimeters. It will work down to 0.2 millimeters, which lets you get high resolution, fine layers. We’ve tested all the way down to ten microns. Ten microns in FFF printing is fine. It’s fine to the point where it’s not practical. If you go below 50 microns, there’s a diminishing benefit to going that fine. When we talk to our customers, we say we can reliably do 50 microns. Fifty microns will work with pretty much all the materials that we print with. If you’re going down to ten microns, you can only get away with doing it in ABS and maybe PLA. A lot of the resolution is getting fine-tuned with your materials and spending a lot of time. For something like this, where the tolerances are tight, even the dye that’s in the plastic can adjust how it swells or shrinks as it cools. For something like this, you have to carefully tailor your temperature settings based on the exact filament that you’re using. Some of it comes in the experience of printing the parts, but a lot of it is in the detailed engineering of the printer as well.
That is quite remarkable in our experience anyway in 3D printing. You’re making a high-quality machine. That’s impressive. You don’t see that every day. What else is your company doing? Jonathan mentioned something about the content. What is your focus there?
We’re looking for people who think 3D printing is a viable manufacturing method. There are a lot of people who are designing parts and putting them online for free on online repositories so they can be distributed that way. There are also a lot of designers who are trying to start their own companies or want to make some extra income, distributing downloadable files by sale. There are even still people who make niche market products where they don’t want it to be downloadable, but they need to adjust to their market fast. They need to make a small to mid-quantity of product, something on the order of 10 to 1,000 units where you need more adjustability and more ability to react to your market. We’ve been looking for people we can partner with to work towards production.
A friend of mine, he’s a Los Angeles based product designer, his name is Sharif Mcginnis. He designed a first-person view racing quadcopter. It’s a quadcopter. You wear a headset and you fly it from a first-person view on a sanctioned racecourse. He designed this thing where it’s part carbon fiber sheet and part polyethylene 3D printed plastic. We’re working with him to print all of the plastic parts that he needs to then take his product and sell it as a saleable product. He’s 100% on board.
That specific market of drone users and racers love the idea of 3D printed parts. They get excited when they see it. On top of that, it’s a field where you have a lot of crashes. They can make their own replacements. He thinks that our printers make higher quality products so he sells our parts, but he gives people the files. If they need to replace them, they can print them themselves. He started taking preorders. We’re filling his preorders, but we’re looking at scaling up to probably about a few dozens, maybe 50 units for him.
We’ve explored this because we’ve been looking at taking our 3D printed tie and it’s supposed to be on Amazon. The issue with outsourcing it for us, we haven’t found a machine that does it the way that our machine does. You can’t quite dial in the settings right and get it to look this right quality. That’s the first problem. The second problem is the materials and colors because it needs to be colorful. It has to come off the machine with the right colors and everything. The third issue is that it takes longer to print. How is the speed on your machine? Is it better? If you’re going to manufacturer it, that’s important.
Speed is relative. Most 3D printers that are based on the relatively common control boards, based on your Arduino type control boards, they’re all going to top out at the same print speeds. Max speed, you’re going to be getting maybe at most 100 millimeters per second and that is limited by the capabilities of the processor. Below that, you start getting into the details of the design of the part. If you have a finer part, you have to go slower. Most of the time, even if you set your printer to go at something high, like 80 or 100 millimeters a second, it’s not moving that fast because there’s acceleration time and it doesn’t get to those speeds.
The way that we talk about speed is we have a designer printer where we have two nozzles. All of our printers have two nozzles. They have a separation between them where you can duplicate parts simultaneously. If you have a large volume of parts you need to make, you can print two at a time. In addition to being able to fill a whole print bed, you can do it in half the amount of time because you have two nozzles working. We’re developing the idea to have two nozzles. The next logical step is, “Why not more?” We’re developing that too.
It’s like Thomas Jefferson’s device that would duplicate letters. Obviously, it’s much more technically complicated, but the same principle makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much for spending some time with us. We appreciate it. Thanks, Russell.
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