Are you new to 3D printing? Are you having a difficult time figuring out how it works? Luckily, there is a company that is all about making it easy for you. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard sit down with Phair P. Tsai, the business development manager of XYZprinting, a company that is dedicated to bringing professional-grade, cost-effective 3D printing to consumers and businesses around the world. In this episode, Phair takes us right down to the ABCs of 3D, digging deep into how they are making 3D printing easier to use for younger audiences and beginners alike—from the installation and calibration to the slicing software and printing. She then shares how she is going out there and exposing the market to XYZprinting’s printers, especially now at the level where it is new.
Listen to the podcast here:
The ABCs Of 3D With Phair P. Tsai Of XYZprinting
We have an interview with the Business Development Manager of XYZprinting.
I always find it difficult when we go and do a printer manufacturer because I’m always afraid it’s going to come off a little salesy when we’re talking about it, which it does tend to. They don’t have as interesting stories as the consultants or other things that we’ve already talked to, but this printer company is worth talking about and talking to because they are the best-selling printer.
They have the best-selling 3D printers worldwide and in the United States as well.
I’m sure because the price points are inexpensive, but a lot of you out there are beginners. That’s why you’re tuned into our podcasts and we’re helping you out with trying to cut the learning curve and for the criticism that’s about the printer because it’s simplified.
It doesn’t do everything.
The price outweighs that.
Ease of use, too, so I enjoyed this interview. Because she’s a business development manager and not a strict salesperson, we got some good information and stories out of that.
Phair, thank you for joining us on WTFFF?!. It’s exciting for us to speak with somebody from XYZprinting because we’ve heard so much about it in the media. The first time we saw an XYZ printer was maybe at the Fab Lab, San Diego. Thank you for joining us.
The pleasure is mine.
Tell us a little bit about XYZ and give us a little background.
We started XYZprinting in late 2013 and it’s backed by one of the world’s largest electronic manufacturers in the world. We have been in the electronic manufacturing business for many years. We have a lot of experience making regular 2D printers. In 2013, we decided to leverage our manufacturing and design capability and then cross over to the 3D printing industry in hopes to make 3D printing as affordable as possible and as easy to use as possible as well. We do see there’s a huge opportunity in 3D printing. However, most of the existing manufacturers 3D printer brands that are more focused on the advanced user and tech-savvy users, but no one is addressing the consumer grade market.
That’s an interesting discussion point because the main reason many people may have heard of XYZ in the news is because of the big publicity around. Many of the XYZ printers go into elementary and middle schools or secondary schools in China as they go forward and put about 40,000 printers overall in schools. Isn’t that XYZ printers that are going in there?
Yes, it is. It is a model that is specifically designed for younger users and that’s called da Vinci Jr. As a matter of fact, throughout the country, our da Vinci Jr. is displayed in your nearby Barnes and Noble store and they happen to have a Mini Maker Faire in-store as well.Emerging technology is transforming education nowadays. Click To Tweet
We’re attending a Maker Faire ourselves, but that’s an interesting idea. What age group is capable of using this printer?
We did not set a specific age, but we have seen and heard from our users. They are younger students like first graders and second graders. Teachers are incorporating 3D printing apps on iPad tablets devices and then combine that with 3D printers.
What is the key to making printers easier? To me, the hard part is the CAD anyway and the printer part is easy. It doesn’t seem as complicated. What’s the trick to making this easier to use for this younger audience?
The thing we have done on this printer is, first of all, we take out the heated print and print that out. Through all our products from our first step into the printer, we have that smart filament system that allows users to easily install the filament spool or filament cartridge and the printer is able to read the remaining filament and how many filaments will be used for a print job. We see that as an important factor to better this user experience because a lot of times for beginners, the installation is a little bit difficult. With a printer at a price point of $500, it usually comes in a DIY kit packet, so you will have to put together that printer instead of pulling it out of the box and start printing right away.
This one’s ready to go?
How about some of the calibration issues you see in a lot of printers? Does this one need to be calibrated for the young students before they use it or is that automatic?
It is automatic. For most printers, you will need to adjust the print bed and also the different axis, the x, y, z-axis. For our printer, all you need to do is to adjust the print bed leveling, the z-axis, so it’s fairly easy to use. For users that are not clear on what to do, we do have a video tutorial section on our support page that users can simply follow the video and make an adjustment. It’s easy to understand what we’re referring to in the manual or on the other descriptions.
What about taking your file? It crashes through and does the whole slicing and everything for you?
Yes, we do have a slicing software that comes with the printer and it’s intuitive. You can scale the model in the software, XYZware, and decide the variables like the cross thickness, density of the model you want to print, and adding a raft to the model. Something that’s simple but will significantly improve your print quality.
You take out a lot of the variables there and keep it down to the most important ones?
The software for slicing itself, is that at all app-based? I saw there were some apps when I was looking at your website or is that just for monitoring the printing?
It essentially acts as a driver for regular 2D printers. It communicates between your computer or your app to your 3D printer.
It’s a way to be more convenient when you’re away from your computer. Tell us about your software interface. I know that the slicing is made to be as simple as possible but the ease of use for that younger audience. Did you make a different version of it particularly to cater to those beginning users?The 3D printing industry would benefit tremendously from the creation of higher quality models that regular people would want to shop for. Click To Tweet
Across the board, the XYZware is designed for beginners. Itself is intuitive. We don’t think there’s anything else we can strip off from that and make it any easier to use.
Let’s talk about this future audience. Why is XYZ invested in the younger audience or the beginners?
This goes back to the origin of XYZprinting. When the CEO of our parent company in New Kinpo Group decided to start a new business in 3D printing, it was because he saw his kids being exposed to 3D printing technology, but they are having a hard time learning how to use 3D printing. He had that idea. He wants to make it as easy as possible to use for these young users to make them be able to jump in and apply that technology without struggling too much to learn how to put together the printer, how to learn the other small things, and focus on printing itself.
What about the creation of models to print? Has XYZ done anything to help people do that? Are you still relying on people to learn that on their own or to download existing models?
We do have an online gallery section that allows users to download premade models. After all, we are a printer manufacturer. Manufacturing and hardware are what we are good at. We would rather focus on what we do well and not expanding or stretching ourselves too much.
There are a lot of people focused on the software side of things so it makes sense. If hardware is your expertise, that’s what you’re going to focus on. It seems like there’s quite a wide variety of different printers that you offer. Not only FFF printers, but I see you have a resin printer and scanners. You seem to be getting deeply into a lot of different aspects of hardware-related to 3D printing.
FFF is our starting point, but strategic-wise, we are moving upwards, downwards, and horizontally. We’re hoping to offer not only consumer-grade products, but we’re also striving to develop more models that are suitable for businesses or prosumers. On the other hand, except for technology challenges, we strive for making these printers affordable as well. That’s one of our biggest challenges.
On that prosumer side that you’re looking at, are you moving away from or are you still keeping to the filament cartridge?
Are you referring to the da Vinci 1.0 Pro?
Yeah, the pro version.
The pro printer is our first open-source filament 3D printer.
You’re moving away from that. That’s smart from a prosumer standpoint because we, as design professionals, don’t know what we’re going to have to print tomorrow. It could be a different color, so to have that limitation is difficult. It’s smart. That’s going to help a lot in that pro-market. I noticed one of those printers seems to be a dual extrusion printer so you have more material capability. That’s something we’ve been spending a lot of time working with is some dual extrusion printers and done a couple of reviews on them. I wanted to ask you, with your dual extrusion machine, is it your own proprietary slicing software used for that as well? Are you using an open-source slicing software for the two colors?
It’s a proprietary slicer.
I found that there are limitations with some of the open-source software in this function. They’re not strong with dual. With dual extrusion, the software that’s out on the open market and not tied to a specific machine has some limitations and shortcomings that I found. The machines seem to be capable, but there needs to be work on there. I saw some of the models’ examples shown on your website that have been two-color printed and they looked clean. Was there a lot of experimentation and a lot of time spent getting that to work well?
Yes. However, the da Vinci 2.0 is our only dual extrusion model because after all, our main focus is the consumer market. It seems like the single extruder printers are more well-received in this market.
Our opinion is it’s because no one’s done it well yet in the dual market. It’s also because the design part is difficult, so you have to get your feet wet, get in, and understand the single. Once you get through that, then you crave and want to go for dual. It’s a staged thing. It’s definitely not a beginner printer. It does seem to be a reasonably priced dual extrusion machine. I’d be interested to try out their software. Let’s talk about that, Phair, because when we first were exposed to XYZ, we were at a Fab Lab, San Diego event and there was someone there manning an XYZ farm. That’s about at least 12 or 16 of your printers there. I thought that was an interesting model to bring an expert to an event like that. How are you going out there and exposing the market to your printers, especially at that level where it’s new so a complete education has to happen?
Our US company is based in San Diego, so naturally, we started to work with Fab Lab San Diego and then expand from there. We have had a conversation with their national chapter in hopes to promote our printer to other Fab Labs in the country. Other than that, we managed to partner up with Barnes & Noble to promote 3D printing and to bring 3D printing to the mass market.
What are you doing in that event? Are you printing things and demoing it by someone from XYZ at every location? How’s that working?
Most of the Barnes & Nobles in the country, there must be a number close to 650 stores we are sending our da Vinci Jr. printer over. Their store managers will set up the printer in their education section or toy section for display. The printer will be there and this is an ongoing display. The printer will be going live in your local Barnes & Noble store. However, in the Mini Maker Faire event, we will send out some of the designers and engineers to Barnes & Noble in big cities such as LA and of course, our local San Diego store. Our CEO, Simon Shen, will also participate in an education-related panel in Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York, talking about how emerging technology is transforming education nowadays.
We have a six-year-old daughter and many who have read our podcast know that we’ve tried her on 3D printing, which she enjoys. The design part is not as easy or as intuitive as it should be. At this point, it’s more complicated to figure out what to do and it’s still too primitive, but she’s having fun with it. We couldn’t agree more that having an easy printer is the way to go. It’s critical. If the printer is hard to use, that’s not for a starter. It’s frustrating to them, especially at that young age.
Once they get their handle on it and they’ve made a bunch of prints, they get more used to it quickly. What I’m excited about in that future generation is what design possibilities are they going to come up with? What kind of different forms and structures? This is a completely different manufacturing technique. That way of growing a product instead of cutting one, molding one, or whatever the old way is, it’s going to bring such a new form. The fact that they’ve grown up on this technology is going to be eye-opening for the rest of us who are adapting to it.
Personally, when I was first exposed to 3D printing and the experience is exonerating, it’s empowering. Something actualized from my computer to something I can hold on hand.
It hooks you. I wonder if the future generations are younger, like our six-year-old and younger kids, when they become teenagers, young adults even, they’re going to first think of, “I need something here in my home or in my job to do something.” They may think of printing it first and going to look for it online or in a store 2nd or 3rd. That would show that the industry has succeeded when that happens.
As a matter of fact, I have a great story to share with you. It was Halloween. I met up with a friend and I handed her a sugar skull cookie cutter. She didn’t know I was going to give her that. Once I handed out to her, she was screaming and jumping. She said that she has been looking for a perfect sugar skull cookie cutter for years. She wasn’t able to find one because most of the cookie cutters that are in skull shape are crossbones and skull and piratey. There’s nothing cute and girly. She’s like, “This is mind-blowing and I’m excited. I’m going home and make cookies right now.”
The personalness of the way that you can give a gift, the way that you can create something, even if you didn’t totally build the model yourself, but you’re able to modify it and have something personal to it, that’s the most wonderful and rewarding thing about 3D printing. Everything that’s in our stores or grocery stores where we would typically buy cookie cutters or maybe even other national chain stores, you don’t get a wide variety of options. They’ve got to sell the same thing in every store and some of these stores have 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 if it’s Walmart. How boring is the selection? To be able to create exactly what you want is going to be a liberating thing.
People have to get used to the liberation of, “I can create whatever I want,” which is a little too open for many people. That’s one of the reasons why Pinterest has many followers because it gives you ideas. You don’t have to think of something completely original. You could see something that inspires you and then you can make a modification. That’s where we see, Phair, the future. We totally understand your issues with being a printer manufacturer first. We get that, but we see the problem for companies like yours is that because you don’t have good content partners and the software partnerships aren’t great either, it’s holding you back from going mainstream and dipping.
It’s holding the market back. The younger generation is a great place to be focused on for sure. It makes a lot of sense and your printers are priced well for that market. The content available for people to start from is critical and that hasn’t been addressed in a concentrated way with as big an effort as the hardware and the materials have been addressed. It’s holding the inspiration back because it’s too open when you say, “You can print anything you want.” That’s overwhelming to most people.
The stage of the market is heated, overcrowded and everyone wants to share. Even if we, the hardware manufacturers, are willing to partner up with a software manufacturer, they aren’t necessarily open to this idea. For instance, there are software companies that are trying to develop their own version of the hardware. I would say this is a part of the process.
It’s going to start it to still out. They want to be open because they don’t know who’s going to win in the market yet. They don’t want to make any exclusive relationships or anything like that. That’s a mistake. The market is big and there is a natural selection taking place in what companies are going to survive. The industry as a whole would benefit tremendously from the creation of higher quality models that regular average people would want to shop for. It’s not even a shopping experience yet.
Those printers will be in Barnes & Noble, so you can definitely check that out. That’s a wise choice to have a place to go to see these printers. What kid doesn’t love that toy section? That’s one of our Lannea’s favorite places to hang out when we go through the bookstore every holiday. Phair, thank you for joining us. We’re happy to talk about the printers and please keep us posted on new things that you develop.
Thank you for having me.
I love that Halloween story. Isn’t that the perfect example of how 3D printing can be valuable in regular people’s lives?
It’s why we got drawn to 3D printing because I’m tired of designing something that I can only make in black or only make this way and 100,000 pieces of it when there are many good designs, patterns, and other things that end up on the cutting room floor.
As a consumer, you go to Michael’s arts and crafts, let’s say, and you’re looking for cookie cutters for Halloween and you’re not finding what you want. Why not make it? Make what you want instead of buying something and conceding you’re not going to find you want. Giving in and buying something as close as you can get, but not quite there.
There’s still the problem that you have to learn how to design it. An easy printer is great. You’ve got to get something easier to design. The problem with it is that when you get easy to design, it gets basic, awful looking, and too primitive. That’s the trick here. We’re still missing a software component and a content component.
To me, it’s more of the content than the software. The software is coming along. People like us and other designers out there need to create content that is going to be things regular people would like and be interested in, but the software has to allow them to tweak it.
When you say regular people, do you mean non-nerdy people? Let’s be honest with you that 90% of the stuff out there is geeky.
Do you mean the content?
What I mean by regular people is regular consumers, the average American consumer, and these younger generations that XYZ is targeting. They don’t know CAD. They may be learning it and they may learn it better than we know it eventually. In order for 3D printing to tip, people who are never going to learn CAD, you’ve got to allow them to be able to find models and tweak them ever slightly to make them theirs.
You’ve got to do clipart.
3D clipart and templates, and then let them modify them slightly, stretch them, grow, shrink, and add maybe text to it to personalize it or whatever. There are people working on that in terms of software. If you don’t have valuable and exciting content models that people want, instead of going to a store to find something, they can shop online, find something, download it, and change it.
We should also tell a little bit of a story about our first exposure to the XYZ printer. This is a lesson to other printer manufacturers who might be reading this because we do have a lot of industry people who read this. Here’s a problem and here’s what I’m hoping is not going to happen to them when they go into the Barnes & Noble store because this is the problem. We refer to it in the interview as the farm of twelve printers that were there and it had a technician running it. Out of that, not one single print came out in three hours of the meetup.
They didn’t have that well-organized or ready to go as soon as people were there.
It wasn’t ready to go. That was the number one problem. Half the printers didn’t work and they weren’t hooked up. There were some problems and the way they hooked him up. It was all technical issues. It’s certainly not a problem with the printer, per se.
The printers are perfectly good. It’s more of the setup and preparation.
That’s the thing. If the printer at Barnes & Noble doesn’t come out immediately out of the box and the manager doesn’t have any problem, you and I know how difficult it is to get your product set up right in any retail outlet because we’ve been doing this for years. I can tell you we’ve seen chairs with arms on backward. We’ve seen barstools with the bottom piece so that there’s no footrest. They’re completely reversed. We’ve seen stuff set up amazingly backward.
This printer, I understand there’s no assembly and it just comes out of the box. Hopefully, if XYZ has done their planning properly for this event coming up at Barnes & Noble, they know exactly what they’re going to print in each of these stores. It’s not left up to chance.
That’s what I’m hoping because you cannot leave it up to chance here. You have to have a full education system. I guarantee you those stores that have a person there, they’ll have no problem learning quickly and they’ll be running but those other stores, will they ever run it? That will be an interesting one. We’ll have to check out our local one and see what happens there.
The choice for Barnes & Noble was wise and that it is a different retail outlet store to put a printer in than what anybody has done before. That was the number one smart decision they made. The second one is, think about a bookstore. Employees in a bookstore are active employees. They care about the things that they’re selling and they probably all have read about 3D printing and then getting excited about having it be there. They’re probably going to care more than those employees care more about what they’re doing. They’re knowledgeable people more so than your average big-box retail store.
I don’t know about that but we’ll see. There’s a reason why bookstores are dying off everywhere.
That’s more because of technology and the internet. To me, this gives another reason to go into the bookstore that’s relevant to modern technology.
Maybe it’s because the people who are working there still believe in paper books and not in the technology, and then you have a disconnect. There’s still that there but think about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the Microsoft Store where they have MakerBots and it’s never running right. It’s always not.
That’s a store full of techie.
I’m hoping that their printer being easy is not problematic, but I can tell you that these associates and these kinds of stores from our experience across the board don’t run the demos if you don’t have your own person there like Costco does. They set up in one of those end displays and you have a demo going on. Those demos are paid employees and you pay as the vendor there. You pay to bring them in and you contract a firm who trains them. They don’t work for your company, but they work for the contractor for your company that’s paid to do these demonstrations. Everybody has a script and everybody knows exactly what to do and how to handle it. If you don’t do that, you could end up with a huge miss. It could be as bad as Dremel.
I have more hope than you do in this Barnes & Noble scenario, but you are right. If anything is going to work in retail like this, it works best if an employee at the store takes ownership of that display, cares about it, and makes sure it’s working well.
We’ve heard that same thing throughout the whole process of all the other printers and other companies we talked to. When they can get someone out of school to take ownership of it or a student ambassador or a teacher ambassador, then you have a different model of business and it takes off there. Anyway, we’ll keep an eye on it and we’ll check it out. Readers out there, please check out Barnes & Noble in your area and let us know what you see. I’d love to hear the report backs on that.
Send us some feedback, tweet us a picture, post it on our Facebook page, or send it to us and we’ll post that if you don’t want to do that because we’d love to see. We’re going to check it out ourselves. Tracy, let’s take this opportunity to let our readers know about our new website. Originally, everything was on our design firm website, HazzDesign.com. The podcast is growing and interest is growing, so we’ve migrated that and we’ve created a website called 3DStartPoint.com.
This is to be a free resource for all of you, readers out there, and new people who aren’t even reading yet, that you can go to, to help learn about all things 3D, 3D printing and 3D scanning. Also, the software to be able to use 3D printing and 3D scanning. There are resources and directories there of companies. Our podcast WTFFFPodcast.com is still its own webpage, but it’s within that site. That’s where all our future blogs will be, at 3DStartPoint.com. We’re still involved as much as we’ve ever been and want to continue to have an interactive experience with you, all of our readers, and we hope you enjoy it. We think it’s going to be a better experience for you.
It’s a little more robust website to be able to handle the blog posts and everything. Our old site got encumbered by it and it was problematic.
It was confusing for people too, between our design business and 3D printing, so hopefully, it looks a little more sense to all of you, so please go and check it out. It’s new and there will be lots of enhancements and changes to it, but feel free to give us some feedback on that as well.
Thanks for reading.
- da Vinci Jr. on Barnes & Noble
- da Vinci 1.0 Pro
- da Vinci 2.0
- da Vinci Jr.
- New Kinpo Group
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