Tom and Tracy Hazzard first met Taj Chiu, then of Toy Builder Labs, at the first SoCal MakerCon. They sat down with her again to learn why she was exhibiting at this SoCal MakerCon in a Raise 3D booth. In this WTFFF?! episode brought to you live from the show floor, Tom and Tracy learn about the recent Kickstarter campaign and printer advancements coming to the American 3D printer market by Raise 3D. Listen to Taj’s explanation about their recent products and how they are producing it.
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Raising The Bar With Taj Chiu Of Raise 3D
We first met Taj Chiu, then of Toy Builder Labs, about 18 months ago at the first SoCal MakerCon. We sat down with her again to learn why she was exhibiting at this SoCal MakerCon in a Raise3D booth. In this WTFFF?! episode brought to you live from the show floor, we learn how Toy Builder Labs and Raise 3D have joined forces, and what Raise 3D is doing with their new line of FFF 3D Printers to raise the standard for what you should expect from a 3D Printer, including a 10 micron layer thickness, or should I say thinness! Tom and Tracy learn about the Raise3D Printer Kickstarter campaign, and discuss making products in “old China” vs “new China” and what it takes to make the right product for the US market, regardless of where it is made.*Audio Quality Note: This episode was recorded live in a noisy trade show environment. There is some distortion in one one of the mics that we could not clean up. We apologize for the audio quality not being up to our usual standard, but we felt the information discussed is so valuable that we did not want to cut it.
We’re here at SoCal MakerCon with Taj Chiu formerly of ToyBuilders Labs but now with an exciting new venture with Raise3D. We’d love to hear more about that. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing?
ToyBuilder Labs has been in the 3D printing market for years now. Long enough to see this market changed and to see some companies struggle, appear, and disappear. There are lots of 3D printing Kickstarters. There are good and bad ways to do them and ways to fail in doing them. We’ve been working with the company behind Raise3D for a few years. We’ve been to a lot of trade shows. We’ve been to CES and SoCal MakerCon with them. The more we got to know them and the more they got to know us. They realized that if they strongly wanted to enter the US market, they needed to have an actual US presence. Not only people from China coming into the US and trying to understand how Americans do business. Also, what we need and what we, Canada or Mexico needs, and probably all South America.
They had the foresight to realize that they should not ask us to resell their printers, but that they should acquire our company and have us run the North American operations. After the acquisition is complete, I will be the president of Raise3D North America and responsible for all of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and running all that. We will be building out a resale network and we will be doing direct sales. That’s going to be our responsibility. We will also be running direct support right here in the United States. We never need to call back to China and deal with time and language differences. The printers will have a one-year warranty and that will all be supplied right here and we’ll have parts.
That’s smart because we work with many companies on the product design side who don’t know what to make for the US market and it’s not about the service. That’s important and all of that is critical, but understanding what the US market wants to use and how it works is critical.
During the design phase of the printer, while we weren’t yet part of Raise3D, we were part of the design process. There’s lots of discussion going back and forth about, “What should this printer work? What are all the differences?” Fusion Tech, which is the parent name of the company, had designed a previous generation of printers and we brought it into the US and helped them to sell them. It was a frustrating machine. There were some problems with it, but the thing is, what I appreciate about this company is their ability to say, “That wasn’t quite right. Let’s figure it out. Let’s take all that experience, and let’s listen to everybody and to all the advice that we’re getting and build the next generation.” Our motto is, “Raise with standards.”
We truly believe that we’re raising the standard of 3D printing. It’s a combination of things and things are always going to be aggressive. We have a build volume so we have three different sizes of printers, we have 8x8x8, which is designed for the educational market, somebody that wants small. There’s a little bit of something else there too, and because we have a series of printers, you’re not locked into, “I only want one build volume.” One of the ideas that we have is for a designer, for example, “I want to print out my test prints. I want that right on my desk.” It’s a little 8x8x8. I use the same slicer and the same interface. I know exactly how it works. It works the same with the same material. When I’m ready for the big guy and I want to print it 12x12x24, I don’t have to re-slice it. I don’t have to change anything. I don’t have to change my expectations for how the material is going to print. The exact same thing is going to print bigger on the other printer.
It could be a team of designers. They each have their own printer on their desk and there’s one big printer or a couple, depending upon their needs, but that’s cool. You don’t have to have two brands of 3D printers to be able to span that entire space. The 8x8x8 could be for that scenario or it could also be for a school that wants the smaller build volume. We have a 12x12x12, which is quite a significant build volume when you think about how big an object you can print.
We’ve done a lot with 12x12x12.
You need a big printer to do that.
We also have a 12x12x24 build volume. The nice thing is, on the bigger printers, they have dual Z-axis ball screws. There’s no cantilevering effect going on in the build plate. This is a beautiful thing to me, I never want another printer that doesn’t have this. The build plate is leveled at the factory.
It can’t move on you when it ships? How do you do that?
The way we do it is, we have screws on the bottom that have locked tight on them. They’re locked down. They can’t move. We’ve taken those printers all over the world. We have never changed the build plates. It’s been dropped by FedEx and it did not change the build plate.
I’ll try though. Honestly, I get frustrated sometimes having to recalibrate.
Our little printer does have a build plate that has to be adjusted. In that build volume, we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t lock it down. I wish we could and I’m hoping that soon that we will but that was a tradeoff we had to make in the smaller build volume.
Is the medium and large build volume more of a printer for an advanced person? How do you see the customer for that?
Our printers are aimed at somebody that’s already had a 3D printer and had some experience. Maybe they had some problems and some things that they didn’t like. Our printer is going to solve all of them. A little bit to see in the value proposition, you maybe have had a little bit of an experience that wasn’t positive in some other way and go, “You solved all of them.” I talked about price and build volume. The next is how easy it is to use. We have a touchscreen interface.
Which is big.
We looked at it and we’re going to show and have that in here. We’ll get some shots of that.
It’s a graphical user interface. We’re not only talking about turning a knob or symbol menus. This is a real graphical user interface. You can see a print preview of the object you’re going to print. One of the frustrations I’ve had is slicing your files and maybe you’ve got four different versions of it, you can’t remember when you’ve named it and you’re like, “Which one was I supposed to print?” You’re not required to use our slicer but if you use our slicer, we slice out to the front of the G-code file that print preview so all of that is displayed right on the printer. Our hope will be to simplify 3D and Cura will add our print preview information to their slices. We’ll give them all the API information they need to be able to generate that. For now, it’s our slicer. You don’t have to use it, “You’ve got a graphical interface? I press the button. That’s the one I wanted and out it comes.”
One of the things about your slicer that we’re interested in testing and we’ll test is the dual extruder. The slicing software is the biggest hold back to successful dual extrusion printing. The printers that we tried are all capable of it but the slicing software keeps us from doing what we want to do.
Especially when you’re changing from one color to another. There’s a lot of complicated issues in that and I’m sure you have gone through that. We’re excited to see it.
I’m confident that you’re going to like it. The nice thing though, about having this US presence and also having Chinese presence is, if you make a suggestion to us, I can talk directly to that guy who’s going to make the change. The printing software is developed in-house. It’s not somebody else and that software is about a few years old. It’s not in beta at all.
I understand that this FFF printer has an incredibly fine resolution that rivals SLA printers, isn’t that right?
That’s right. We have a ten-micron layer resolution.
That’s super thin.
If you go on our Kickstarter, one of the first updates that we posted is as soon as we came out with the Kickstarter, and one of the first questions we got was, “Ten microns, really?” We had fifteen-micron prints as a bunch of our sample prints that we had pictures of, but we hadn’t printed any of the ten so people were like, “Come on now.” We did a 10-micron and 100-micron print and took pictures of them under the microscope and posted them up on our Kickstarter page and that shut that whole discussion. We didn’t hear that question anymore.
Our readers need to understand that. You have a Kickstarter that’s been running and it’s already overfunded. Your printers are coming to market early in 2016.
We’re ready to go. All of the development has been done. We have a little factory. When you think about the factory, don’t think about FoxConn. It doesn’t look like that. This is a tiny factory but what I love about it is, I’ve been to other Chinese factories and they’re wide open and dirty because it’s expensive to put in air conditioning in China. We put up an update where we showed a picture of our air conditioner because in China, to get that is expensive.
We know. To put it in an office was ridiculous. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in China, too, and we’ve seen some of these factories. It’s scary that anything clean comes out of them but there are good quality factories that do exist there and are making fantastic products.
We’ve got our little factory and all the workers have to learn. They’ve been making the previous generation of printers so they need to learn how to make these. We’ve got parts from all the different suppliers and this is hand assembly so they’re building them. The day we were there, they were hand assembling N1s and each of the workers was responsible for building their own. They each had to build an N1 and they could help each other so they were all going back and forth. We have some parts from some suppliers where they hadn’t met our specifications like the driveshaft was too long. This was our chance to make sure that in the production version, all those are going to be right.
What I want to say to our readers is, this is exactly the difference when people always ask us, “How did you manage to make 250 consumer retail products successfully and 99% of them are made in Asia?” That’s because we go there and we make sure they’re right. That’s what it takes. You can’t shop on Alibaba and receive something and expect it to work. You need to vet your factories. You need to go there. You need to be there and watch your first run. Tom and I never make a product for a client that we haven’t babied the first round because that’s where everything can go wrong. It’s the reality whether you’re in the US or you’re in Asia. If you don’t go to the factory, that’s your problem right there.
Get a clear understanding and a clear specification for what’s going to happen. They have to try making it and prove out what works and what do we need to improve. It sounds like you’ve gone through all that.
This factory is the same one that was building the printers. It is owned by our company. We’re not farming out the factory. This is our company.
A lot of 3D printer companies subcontracted manufacturing.
They do but we’re not doing that. This is our factory. It’s our employees. We’ve got to go there and meet everybody in the factory. Every worker there, every week, we got to talk to all of them. One of the cool things I like as a woman is, the head of the factory is a woman who’s probably younger than I am.
That’s fantastic because that’s not all that often. We say that all the time that while we have a few female factory owners that we’ve met over the years, there are few women in engineering and design in China. It’s problematic for certain product types.
For a machine that’s not an issue. For a consumer product, maybe.
Probably what I would say about that, though is, I feel like I’ve dealt with what I call old China. This is new China. It’s different. I feel like in new China, a woman can be the head of the factory and that’s fine. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. If it’s a little tough for some of the men there, you’ve got to deal with it.
It is. I’ve seen more and more of that and it is changing the face of how things work in China.
I feel that’s a reflection of that. It’s not necessary, but it’s a reflection of the ideals of the company. I felt that in the past dealing with China, where there’s such a cultural disconnect. I feel that with this company, there’s certainly a disconnect but the disconnect is less generational than it is purely in the United States. We and the Chinese look at things in a certain way.
You’ve got to communicate that and find a way.
It’s not a generational difference. It’s easier to navigate and for us to understand each other.
That’s what we find too. We find that exact thing that they desperately want to do the right thing, but if they don’t understand it, how can they do it? That’s on us. We have to explain it.
It’s wise of this company to have acquired and hired you to run the US operations. You have to have Americans who understand the US market helping to communicate what’s needed here. You can’t know it unless you live it.
We’ve been seeing that disconnect not only from Asia, but we’ve been seeing it with the Europeans. They forced-fit their printers here and they’re not working and they don’t understand why. We’ve seen that with some European printer marketers.
I’ve seen it too. It’s interesting so we spent a week in China and that was all we had. We came back to do the show. I wish we could stay longer and I know we’re going back soon. As part of that discussion, “What’s the strategy in the US going to be?” The intention is, we will run North America, and we’re not going to run it with interference from China. We’re going to have goals, things that we need to meet, volumes, and all of those kinds of metrics, but essentially, it’s going to be, “You guys go and do what you need to do.” We were having a basic discussion about strategy. We started discussing maybe selling filament and different things like that. The way it would work in China and what made sense here strategically, is completely different. The CEO of Raise3D in China, a great guy named Edward. He’s a guy that we’ve known for a long time. He has an MBA, a smart guy and he’s not American. He hasn’t lived and breathed this market here in the US so it’s different. I was able to sit down with him and he finally got what I was saying. I had to get into it and explain it. He was like, “You are exactly right.”
He sounds like a wise CEO. Eventually, he’s like, “You know your market. Tell us what we need to make, because we want to be successful.”
“Run it the way the US market needs to be run, not the way we would do it in China.”
We can’t wait to test your printer. When we test your printer, we’re going to have you on the show. We’re going to do a whole episode. We’ll have the whole video.
We usually do a time-lapse video and tons of photos of the things we print. We do that. We have a 600-millimeter height. It takes about 100 hours usually.
We’ll do that and we’ll have you on the show. I can’t wait to talk to you because there’s so much more we can discuss that would be great for our audience to learn.
That would be great.
Thank you so much for that. Thanks for spending some time with us here while you have a booth you’re trying to run. That’s kind of you.
Thanks, guys. I appreciate it.
About Taj Chiu
ToyBuilder Labs sells 3D printer filament of many popular varieties in a wide range of colors. We’re a family company, run by married tech-nerds Taj and Joseph Chiu. Our personal touch is our greatest asset. Raise3D, Inc. is a professional designer and manufacturer of 3D printers. With over 3 years focusing on the 3D printing area, the company has offices in US, China and Hongkong to serve customers from different regions.
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