We got an interview with a 3D print service bureau for the first time, it’s a big one. This is one of the big guys. This is Sculpteo, and international company starting in Europe and they now have a presence in the United States. They started over in France and their management is still over there. Their San Francisco office just opened up last year. That is really exciting and they were really excited with it because enabled them to make a more localized reach into the US, and shorten their lead times. That extended lead time is kind of prohibitive if you have to get it from overseas. They are building a business here. Sculpteo is becoming more competitive by manufacturing 3D printed products on demand here in the US, and then having the support staff to do that.
Our guest today is a community manager, named Jessica Hedstrom. I met Jessica in the first month of starting this podcast, I think. Or maybe even before that. She had a podcast called Printing Everyday, which she has not updated in a really long time. It was great as it had interviews with designers. It was a lot of fun. She did it in Google Hangouts in Periscope style, before it was popular in doing that all at once. That was how she produced her podcast. She has been 3D printing a long time, she has a design background and experienced with 3D print designing. She really is out here telling people about getting excited in 3D printing and utilizing service bureaus as needed to do that. We certainly have got a lot to ask about Jessica.
Listen to the podcast here:
How a 3D Print Service Bureau Expands Options with Jessica Hedstrom of Sculpteo
Thanks for much for joining us Jessica, we’ve wanted to have you on for awhile. We want to talk about today how wonderful the new materials that a lot of 3D print service bureau are offering, especially Sculpteo, and what it can enable a designer to do?
If you are referencing to TPUs, this is the most recent material that we came out with. We announced it and we are very excited about it because it has a lot of properties that we feel is applicable to the fashion industry, to the wearables industry, and more.
I think this is the biggest problem that we have. We say that we are 3D printing designers and people will say that it is all about plastic. It is actually more than plastic. That is what I want to dive into. We have been talking a lot on the show as to how 3D designers are using it in their process, and that there is a place for both FFF and service bureaus in that format. One of the great ways is to be able to dial in your design and get it right on your desk, and then to be able to print it out in great materials. Why don’t you just touch base on some of the more popular materials, and then let’s dive into the features of them.
Without a doubt, our most popular material is plastic. It is a nylon based plastic, and we utilize the powder. You may want to think of SLS printing, rather than FDM or FFF printing. What we do is that we have this massive batch of powder, and then the laser actually melts the plastic to the specific designs and to be specific to your 3D model. That is the most popular kind of work. It provides a surface feel and a texture that we really like that is usable and polished down in many different ways. They can actually be applied to items that you would wear or functional items that need to fit inside of something, or perhaps to be used to create an enclosure on something. It also yields a little bit of depending how you design with it and how thick your walls are. It is a little bit flexible, but I would not say that you can just go and bend it. But it does some have flexibility tolerance on it, which helps.
What kind of other materials are popular?
The second most popular is probably the Carbon Printer. We are creating a lot of materials with resin. Not only the clip carbon technology that we are using with the printer. We are doing a lot of materials in resin that actually need fine details, is the best way that I can explain it. The multicolor is another popular material, just like the full color sand stone. Our full color sand stone is utilized for selfies, figurines, and items that are utilizing a full range of colors. That is another really popular one that we like to showcase.
And then there are these items like TPU, which is a material that we have just released last year. TPU stands for Thermal Polyurethane which is a really dynamic material. It can give you many different things. It is oil resistant, it is not necessarily oil resistant but it is super flexible as well. It can be combined with different types of design, so if you are designing in a way that allows it to be flexible, you can see that the materials is coming in on your design as well. An example of this is s skirt that we created and showcased. It had a lot of flex to it. The material and the designing really went into it.
What about metals, ceramics, and glass?
We do not print it in glass as well as ceramics at this time. However we do have a Sterling cellar and we are super proud of that material. We have a lot of people creating jewelry items in that material, along with mainly aesthetic items.
Glass and ceramics are popular materials in the marketplace and I am sure that you know enough about them to at least talk about them. These are available at 3D print service bureau somewhere. Could you tell me more about the range of the materials that are out there?
There are tons of different materials out there. We talked about glass and this is something that caused as to why we received an exclusive interview with one of the members of the team that created the 3D printer that is able to print with glass. I recommend visiting our blog and checking it out because you can go into it in detail. It is also absolutely fascinating the fact that we can print with glass. There are also others that provide ceramics and although currently we still do not, there are other companies that do. Typically, the way of doing it is SLS technology. As I was talking before about the powdered plastic, it is the same exact concept except that it is powdered ceramics, and it is essentially a melting process. Once you receive your finished print it glaze in a way that is very similar with the way that you would glaze if you were hand modelling some pottery or if you are just molding it by hand.
Do you know if the glazing process is only available in white, or are there other colors that are available?
There is a variety of other colors. There are a lot of colors that you can glaze in, and you can do that with ceramics as well. I have seen fuchsia, pink, cyan, blue, and a ton of different colors.
Could you really make a plate that way? And would it be fine?
Absolutely yes. Just like any other ceramics, it has a breaking point. If you are considering a coffee mug or something like that and you would drop it, it would break.
Is it comparable to conventional ceramics in terms of its strength?
I believe so. Because we don’t operate, I don’t know the actual properties of it, but I do believe so. I don’t want to misinform but what I would recommend is definitely checking out sunset view, because they have guidelines and structural information. I would definitely recommend checking that out and research it. But unfortunately, I may not have that information.
I am assuming you can print large things with it, like the sand stone machine. It may be cost prohibitive, but you do have a lot more space to work with, which is really great for a designer. What is the largest print that you can make on some of those machines?
I have the benefit of pointing it to one of our items, but you can assemble anything. You can print multiple pieces and make something that is 6 feet tall. But if you would try to print something in one go, I would say that the tallest would be about 12 inches. We do have several items that were printed in one go and they were roughly that size, and around 12 to 14 inches.
That is not that much bigger than your typical desktop build plate. Some of them are 12 to 14 inches too, which is why they are comparable to knowing exactly from what you have to your machine and that is good to know.
What do you think is the real innovation and changes that are coming from Sculpteo and the service bureau side of things? Where do you think things are going as having more materials, faster speeds, larger costs? Where do you think it is really going?
I think that the range of material is definitely widening, which is really exciting because people are able to innovate and push the boundaries of what they have been able to create. We are also testing the boundaries of the materials that are currently on the market so we are trying to push it and seeing as far as we can go. What happens after that is maybe it will be coming with additional materials that would fill those gaps. But in terms of prototyping and incorporating, I think that that is the areas where I find it most fascinating because you are able to not only go from concepts, to holding an actual item in your hands in a shorter period of time, but it also helps you to validate and test the idea and see how people receive it. It actually gets feedback and tweaks based on what your audience is looking for. It creates this customized and personalized experience for your audience and for your customers.
Let’s talk about what you do at Sculpteo? What is your role there?
I am the community manager here at Sculpteo. I have essentially the ability to go out and speak on behalf of Scuplteo. I go to events and talk about how amazing our service is and what things we are coming out with. In addition to that, I also write for our newsletter as well and create blog posts. It is something between our company and our community and the groups that we have in both offline and online. I also facilitate our social events here in the US.
Are you finding that the community that you are speaking to most often is new or just starting 3D printing, and seeing you guys at Sculpteo to test in seeing if 3D printing is really worth it? Or do you find that they are really pros and this is one area that they will really push through?
In m experience, the people that I have spoken with on behalf of Sculpteo are not typically new. There are engineers, entrepreneurs, and others that come to us with very specific questions that aren’t necessarily like “How does this work? How long will the turn time be? How long will this print?” We do get a lot of people who are new to 3D printing in general, when we go out for events. But typically, the people that come to us and the people that I have noticed that come to us are entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, and others that have an item that they want to make. They know 3D printing is probably the most economical and fastest way to do it.
Do you have any idea how many of your customers have their own desktop 3D printers? Is there any kind of information that you could share with that?
Unfortunately no, because I am not that quite sure and I don’t want to take a shot at the dark. I am not sure if you are familiar with 3D Hubs, that they have a survey that they do monthly. That gives a pretty good idea.
We were trying to gauge the idea that a lot of 3D print pros and a lot of designers really are doing that finished good work. Are still using a desktop to get it really right, and then using a service bureau. This shows that there is a great relationship and collaboration between the two sides of FFF and SLA.
Some of the hardware accelerators that we work with and the school that we work with, things like that actually typically do have a desktop printer. They are reaching out to us because they have a need for more access. They wanted to make their prints to be created faster. From a business perspective, I would say that there are several people that worked with us that have desktop printers as well. There is an overflowing need to reach out to us to do their higher volume stuff.
Do you have a relationship with Harbor Accelerators? Is it like a partnership or is it just a client relationship?
We do partner with schools and accelerators as well. But we do actually have them as clients so it what I would have to say is that it is both.
What way do you help schools in a partnership situation?
We actually help in a couple of different ways. Sometimes we sponsor their tech programs, sometimes we sponsor their events that they have going on. Another way that we actually help out is by discounting printings so students get a specific discount rate through us which is really cool. That is not just in the US, because we do that in Europe as well. Those are just some of the ways that we do. I myself have actually gone and spoken to different schools and students. Not necessarily teachers that are guiding their curriculum, but I do inform schools and educate them on the technology itself, and why Sculpteo can be with them.
You are indeed giving them a broader brushed education on that portion.
Typically they are not working with that volume. They communicate with us and tell us on how we can help. We provide workshops on how to design.
This is especially important with school having desktop 3D printers that are printing in some form of plastic having the understanding ability that that can be just for working out your design and then going out and having it made in a different material like a Sterling silver, if it is a jewelry piece or a different kind of plastic for different properties or colors. If it is not working out, you are not getting enough detail to try out a resin but you just don’t have one.
It is great that you guys are doing that because I think that there has to be this great partnership with the prototyping, engineering, and design process. This is where we learn both because there is a place for both, for having that kind of large industrial machine that can output different materials. You have different processes that you can use and access. But then, you can’t have anything. You can just concentrate on the designing or in the engineering, or whatever it is that you do well.
Let’s talk about the future. Tom and I keep talking about how we think that the future of 3D printing is worlds away. I know you guys have a partnership with Staples. You would go to your regular store and there might be a certain amount of stuff in store. But there might be a while lot of stuff online that is available to be printed out from a place like Sculpteo and is shipped to you.
That is currently something that is happening. You could go on Staples.com and you can order something that is customizable for them, and those orders come directly to us. It is something that in the future we will see more frequently, but that is something that is definitely happening now when we consider things that are going to be available in the future. I get excited about the range of materials that I probably have already said. In addition to that, I am really excited about more people integrating this into their manufacturing process. Instead of automatically thinking of traditional manufacturing techniques, I think people will start to immediately start to consider 3D printing as a viable option, as a cost effective option, and as a really reliable one.
This is one of the strategic reasons why you now have a facility in the US, and that is so critical and technically relevant to deliver this properly.
It really is extremely important. We can pride ourselves on the quality of our work, but also having a factory in not only in California but in the US in general has really helped us shave down time. It has helped us into becoming more of a physical presence in the US. This is why people in California have come to our offices to pick up their items. They see us fact to face and they see the office. Some have seen the factory as well, and we also do tours occasionally of which we are super excited about. It just shows that we are more tactile and more personable kind of view. Regarding your potential visit to our facility, unfortunately, we cannot assure that you can take photos, but we would love for you to stop by and take a look and see the factory.
You have been in the industry a while. What do you think is the real next horizon for the industry in general?
Thinking about it, there is so much. There are people that are creating jewelry items, fashion items, engineering parts, and other things that are being put in other items. Modifications of GoPro cameras and all of these things are part of it. Regarding what I have learned in the evolution of the industry, I think it is going to become a little bit more everywhere. The best example that I can use this is in the wearable. You have so many people that have these brilliant ideas, because we are here in San Francisco and there are so many people that are creating innovative products. I see the objects that people are creating and it blows my mind that 20 years ago, people would have to actually sit down with Voodoo prints and come up with these items like hand drawn. They would then take it to their place and make bulk versions of these items, or maybe just one. In terms of the industry and how I see it evolving, it is just going to get more and more accessible. It is going to be more and more accessible, and I am very excited about that. Whether it is in the servicing bureau or in the actual desktop printer or whatever form it comes in. It is extremely exciting to see it moving forward.
How a 3D Print Service Bureau Expands Options with Jessica Hedstrom of Sculpteo – Final Thoughts
I want to take photos and shoot videos in the facility. I want to see what is going on. That is what is going on behind these scenes. The thing that we don’t understand with a 3D print service bureau is that we are really setting up prime manufacturing processes, such as good processes in order to process flow quickly and to be able to finish quickly. Some of these 3D print service bureaus are even developing special finishing techniques from what I have seen in terms of how their materials feel. So it is not just their material that they have access to, but it is how they process that material. There are lots of them that can come out polished, and there are lots of them that can come out with a great texture. That is where there is a lot of differences between the service bureau.
I am excited and personally motivated to have some designs in mind that I want to do for things that would be printed out at 3D print service bureau with different materials. I realized that other than sending a couple of parts that we have done for testing, I haven’t done anything that is intended or needs to be printed out a 3D print service bureau. I have been designing things specifically for printing in FFF.
She also mentioned that a full color sand stone is a popular material. The reality is that it is the most popular material on 3D Hubs as well. The real reason for this is that it is the lowest cost option on every 3D print service bureau website that I found. If you are going in and just trying an entry print for the first time, that is what you are going to choose. We wanted to try a service bureau early on and I materialized it. They came back to me because I put it into full color sand stone and they said, “Is the color missing?” because it is white. I then said, “No, I wanted it white.” Then they said that it is full color sand stone. I then said again, “Yes, but your other option is for printing a white plastic.” We had this email trail about it and I think that they don’t understand why full color sand stone is popular. Somebody putting it into print wants the least expensive option regardless of what the color is, especially if you don’t have a printer at home or in your office to be able to check it out. This is going to be the first round of many, and you have to make a lot of it, which is why you might have to keep it low cost and that is what you do. I actually loved the material. It is one of my favorite ones. It had a nice thing to it which I really liked. There was a great surface quality to it. Whenever you handed it to someone, they thought that it was plastic. They would then touch it and they would then say, “Wow! 3D printing is so amazing.” This is a precursor as to how fantastic the materials there are.
There is indeed a much wider variety available now at 3D print service bureau, and that is a great thing. I’m excited to see that continue. We have to dive a little bit deeper into this TPU. We really need to understand those flexibility properties and talk about what kind of design can utilize something like that vast. That is a new material to us, and I want to know more about it. I have seen it, and some of the local folks that carry the filament that you can buy locally are in California. I have seen it and definitely have some nice qualities to it with the touch, the colors, and other things are really nice. I would like to work with that too. I wanted to see how far we can take in and what it can do for us there. Just to mention that I remember that skirt that I didn’t totally love the feel of it, but we could see the potential for what you could do. We just need to think a little bit harder about how we can really utilize something and create a design that optimizes that material.
We need to be thinking that this stuff is the future and that it will become a really accessible material in many of these 3D print service bureau. This is really a good case for why 3D printing is not just plastic. That is going to be the way for ourselves and for our kids, and it already has become that way. I think that when it gets to that stage, it would really become a fantastic opportunity for design possibilities, material possibilities, and the overall projection possibilities, as well as the ability to produce things. This is why the future is indeed exciting for me.
Jessica is a Community Manager at Sculpteo as well as a fellow 3D printing podcast host at Printing Everyday.
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