Today, we have an interview with Clay Guillory of Titan 3D. And that is a big printer; there is a reason they call it Titan. It’s not even just big; it’s built, too. That thing is like a tank. We were really impressed with it when we saw it at CES.
I started talking to Clay while we were waiting around, and they are in Colorado Springs. They are in our sister’s backyard. I was thinking we had to get up there.
It always amazes me where different 3D printing companies are based. It really shows you how far and wide the interest and expertise is; it’s really all over the place.
Listen to the podcast here:
Interview – Titan 3D – Jurassic 3D Printers Built to Last Until the Next Ice Age
Clay, thank you so much for joining us today on WTFFF. We’re excited to have you on the show because we enjoyed seeing your large format printer at CES, the Titan 3D.
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
You guys are in Colorado Springs, right?
Yes, sir, that’s correct. About 45 minutes off of Denver.
Colorado is a home away from home for us. We have family that lives up the pass a bit from Colorado Springs, but they work in Colorado Springs, so we know your neck of the woods. There seems to be quite a big 3D printing scene there in greater Denver.
We call it the Wild West out here. It’s a tech area—there are a lot of high tech industries here. Mostly software. That’s what Colorado is known for. We are getting into the hardware scene, and it’s blowing up. People have crazy ideas that they come to me with and want me to make it for them. That is how my first printer got created. Someone with a crazy idea in Denver wanted to make a real big 3D printer.
So you took that on as a challenge then to meet that need?
I built my first RepRap two years ago and had a lot of fun with it. As a day job, I was making multi-million dollar five-axis CNC routers. Once I had the RepRap done, I put it on Craig’s List and said, “Hey, I can make a prototype for you or a custom 3D printer,” thinking, Yeah, maybe just RepRap-size with a few unique elements to it. Well, a guy two days later emailed me and said, “I’d really like to make one that’s around 30x30x45 inches. Is this something you can do?” I said, “Well, yeah, that’s not hard at all. I’ll just scale down what I already know.” I entered this industry from a much larger, more industrial industry, so that’s why my machines are so robust and heavy-duty compared to others.
That we noticed at CES. It has a substantial frame on it and is quite stable. Some of your customers in the booth were raving about it. We felt good about it. Robust is a good way to describe it.
It’s steel. It’s hard to flex steel too much.
Who do you see as the customer for a big printer? This guy comes in with a crazy idea, but do you see a lot of individuals and inventors, or is it a big industrial play?
It’s actually both. You were saying you have some family up the pass, probably in Woodland Park?
That’s exactly it. Yeah.
We have a machine up there at the Dinosaur Resource Center. They are a small business with quite a few employees. They make dinosaur bones. That’s their prime business. They can 3D print dinosaur bones and save themselves a lot of time in replicating by hand. If they were going to have to carve a dinosaur bone that’s missing or get the casting from another museum, they can now 3D print them. That’s just a random customer. I never expected to be printing dinosaur bones, but they approached me about it. So they bought a printer. They were the second machine we built.
That’s so cool. My sister and her family live there, so we go there every year. I had no idea there was one of your machines at the dinosaur place. It sounds like the right process to use because you can have that porousness look that bones have. I can see 3D printing a bone looking so good in a replica.
Yeah, you can get some really good details. They are running at sub-100 microns on all their prints. That sounds crazy. They will do two-week-long prints on the regular. Their machine has been working every day, 24 hours a day since March, and they love it.
Since they have the facility to be able to finish the bones, the stuff that comes off the printer, they are putting layers and layers of bondo and all kinds of finishing elements to it, sanding it down. They will put scratches in it and add cracks to make it look more like a bone, and they will cast it. That will be their master mold.
So cool. We have to make a trip to see that. That’s a great application for it. You could see someone being able to do that in a prosumer way, too. Doing it with whatever it is you want to make that is a slightly different business.
I have a need right now. We are doing these lampshade designs, and I’m using our desktop 3D printer. I’m making very small lampshade samples right now. That is a great example of a regular consumer product where size limitation is a huge issue.
We are also furniture designers. I am very attracted to the idea of being able to build something so large in one piece and not in pieces. Have you been doing things that are
more like end products?
Yeah. For example, the first guy that bought our machine, the Atlas One we call it, he’s up in Chicago and designs furniture. He does very unique designs. We had a coffee table at CES that was completely 3D printed all in one piece. It took five days to make. It was out of ABS and is very strong. And it is an end-use product. You can put a big 3×3 glass piece on the front and put it in the center of your living room. It’s going to look great.
But the guy who bought it is actually making concrete molds to make his furniture. He is 3D printing these giant molds out of PLA and pouring in concrete. His furniture is actually concrete. It’s a unique use for a 3D printer.
We’ve been aware of other fine artists who are sculptors using 3D printing as part of their process, but they were making the positives that they then would make molds and cast in bronze or something. Now you’re saying your customer is using 3D printing to make the molds that they are then casting their final material in. It’s like the reversal, but it’s cool. It makes sense.
How do you make a printer that is this robust that can run for five days or two weeks? How does it not have issues?
We use the same industrial quality components that are found on industrial machinery. That is the whole idea. These components are made to last as long as they are lubricated. There are still machines from the ‘70s still running that are using the exact same technology. We’re using proper, flexible cables from well-renowned companies. We’re using the right servos or stepper, depending upon what our customers want. We are using precision ground ball screws. Once again, a component that has been around forever that no one really uses in the 3D printing industry. But it gives that reliability. Knowing that you will have no backlash and it will be just a solid print every time. Plus it will last forever.
You’re not 3D printing 3D printers. You’re using real precision industrial machinery. As Tracy mentioned, we have a lot of experience in the furniture industry and certainly those CNC machines have been around a long time. Our products have been made on those, as have prototypes. Those are serious machines. I don’t think anybody thinks about how many hours they’re going to run. They just keep running.
I think you’re right. I have definitely seen some CNC machines when we have been in factories in Asia. Some of those things have been around since the ‘70s. They have been running that long.
When it’s made of steel and you know you’re not going to have any sag or flex over time, it’s without a doubt one of the sturdiest printers around. I wish I had an army of these in my shop, but I only have one. I throw the rest of them off cliffs.
Two years ago, you built your own printer, and then you advertised and had a customer sort of launch your business. How long have you really been established as a company? I know you have the 3D printing store in Denver as a customer. You have regular customers. How long have you been operating that way?
We got our state registration forms in June of 2014. So about a year and a half.
What is the growth area for you? Industrial shops and everything. How about education and maker spaces?
We are trying to get into some maker spaces. The problem is that the price point is a little high for some maker spaces. But it’s at the right price point for a lot of universities, community colleges, and technical colleges around the world. We’ve been sending quotes out for those kind of companies and industries looking for a cheaper alternative to the big names out there. Something that’s even more robust than the big names that comes with customer service and has settings they can tweak and learn and can make whatever kind of parts they want because it’s all open-source, open-hardware. Using Simplify 3D, you can change every parameter of every single part.
You keep that wide open. That’s interesting. We have been hearing a lot from community college educators that the community colleges have really stepped up their tech budgets because they are trying to be so competitive against trade schools. They are working hard to grow those departments. I would think the wide application of what you could do with a bigger printer in various departments would be a bonus to have in your facilities.
Yeah, you can have it for your automotive department. You can make stuff for your paint department. Maybe they need some temporary welding jig. Yeah, it really opens up the possibilities for inter-platform use between all of the departments.
I bet Colton Robtoy’s university might be interested in that. Where is he, in Albany? They have significant tech and engineering departments. I bet they would salivate at the idea of a large format printer like this. Clay, are you able to share with us the price range of your printers? So we can understand how it compares to others in the market.
Our Atlas starts around $20,000. That’s for the 30x30x45” with open loop stepper drives. To have servos on X and Y axes, that is an extra $6,000. But it’s very recommended. That gives you the utmost reliability. You can sleep well at night knowing the printer will never miss a step.
Let’s dial that back because we have a newbie audience like me. Even for us designers that have been doing things on CNC routers for 20 years, I don’t really understand what a servo is either, compared to a stepper. Tell us what the distinction is and why a servo motor is better. Is it accuracy or reliability? What is the difference?
Most 3D printers use motors that are called open-loop steppers. Open-loop means the loop is never closed. They don’t know where they are. They are just getting inputs, and they think they are going there. As I’m sure a lot of people have seen, especially people who have built RepRaps, they can skip steps. A step could be a very small increment, or it could skip a bunch of steps, and the whole print would be shifted.
A servo, at least the one we have, has two million line encoders, meaning every revolution allows two million lines of input. The computer inside of the controller actually knows where it is at all times. If it doesn’t get to the point where it knows where it is, it will push harder to get there.
Does that mean that if you had a power outage, you would pretty much be able to go back exactly to where you left off?
Power outage is a bad example of that. Say you were printing a big ABS part that you didn’t design well. It started to warp and caught the extruder. On a regular 3D printer, if it catches the extruder, it would snag, and it could potentially skip a step. With a servo, it can snag and then it will go exactly where it needs to be a second later.
You have a mar, but beyond that, you won’t ruin it?
Right. Positionally, it knows how to get there, when to get there, and it knows where it is.
We have experienced that on another 3D printer when a nozzle encountered some resistance, it knocked it off where it thought it was, and it continued operating in a relative sense from where it was. You’re talking about the difference between relative positioning and absolute positioning. Is that fair?
Yes, you can call it that. That’s one way to explain it.
For us novices.
It’s a lot faster. Stepper motors top out at around 600 RPMs. Our motors top out at around 6,500 RPMs. So effectively, they are ten times as fast. Our travel speeds are over a meter a second. It’s more dangerous to the user, but the print time has decreased significantly. Our machine is twice as fast, twice as productive, and worth twice as much.
A meter per second. You can melt the plastic and extrude it to keep up with that pace?
No. That’s just rapid speed. We’re way past the actual speed of plastic.
Travel time between extrusions? Now plastic needs to catch up with you. Or heat. One of the two. But think about that. You’re talking about your Dinosaur Resource Center doing two-week-long prints. Imagine what they’d do if they had to do it at a really slow speed.
Traditional speeds of a stepper 3D printer, when you’re traversing the entire 30×30” bed, it ends up being well over 40 inches on the diagonal. It’s having to travel 40 inches every layer perhaps if the code dictates that. That can make for a very long print.
That makes sense. Thinking about that added cost for the servo motors, with the base cost of your printer, to have a $6,000 increase to get that level of accuracy and speed really doesn’t sound all that bad for the quality you’re getting.
Exactly. That’s why we always recommend it.
I like that. It’s funny, but I thought originally that when we were first interviewing a large format printer, way back in the early days of the podcast. I was thinking, Well, you know it’s a really specialized call for this. It’s a real industrial shop who needs this kind of stuff. The more I have been thinking about it and the more we have been 3D printing, the more I realize how great it would be to have one for ourselves. We are designers. It would be a prosumer use. We really like to print something that we don’t have to put any assembly in. We like to print things that come pretty much off the build plate ready to go. The idea of having that big format, I have been really starting to see lately how we have call for that.
What’s also unique about our machines is that we can print ABS, polycarbonate, and we are starting to dabble in the ultem realm. They are real end use parts. They’re not PLA. This is not something that is just form-and-fit. This is actually going to work. We can also print small parts. You can change the nozzles out. Totally up to the customer on what they want. If they want fine detailed parts, we can do that all day long on our machines. We have been running .4 millimeter nozzles with 75-micron layers, and we are having great success with that. Way better prints than anything we’ll get off of the consumer-based printer.
Is your machine a single extrusion or a dual extrusion machine?
It’s up to the customer. Sometimes we sell single extruders, but a lot of our customers want dual extrusion just in case they want to be able to use support material.
Then you can have the different heat at different levels for those two extruders.
Yeah. You can change everything up. It depends on if you’re using PLA and PVA or ABS.
We’re not big proponents of the dual extrusion machines. We haven’t found great ones. For support materials, it totally makes sense. We get that. But from an actual use, we have not found good accuracy. Part of it is that the software hasn’t caught up to it yet. What is your experience? Have you tried anything with multi colors and that rather than two different materials?
Sure, we have done that. We were making some multi-colored poker chips at CES just for fun. In reality, you’re right. It doesn’t have a lot of use for multicolor. But for large prints where you have really complex structures, you have to be able to dissolve that support material out. But not all customers have unique needs like that. They can use breakaway support material, and it works just as well most of the time. Like we say, 99.99% of the time, you are never going to use that second extruder, but it’s nice to have it just in case you need it.
You’d need a pretty big bath to soak that if you used that build volume. That’s the bigger problem.
We can custom-make those as well, like we custom-make the enclosures for the custom machines. Anything that a customer wants, we will figure out how to do it, design it, and build it.
It’s so nice to hear that there are industrial machine shops like yours doing customs like that. There are not as many as there used to be. The fact that you have merged that over to expand from just CNC into 3D printing, I’m so glad because that customer service is necessary to build those machines. People need someone like you to access.
I agree. Where I was working beforehand was a custom CNC manufacturing shop. That’s all they did was custom CNCs. I took the same motto and ideas and brought them into 3D printing.
Makes a lot of sense. I was really impressed at CES how you have a sample print running on the printer, but you printed your company name and your social media profile. That makes sense for anybody who is going to come by and take a picture of it. They will see exactly who you are and how to get in touch with you. Very well done.
What’s in the future for you? How are you getting out to these industries to let them know you’re here?
We’re going to keep going to industry trade shows. We are going to the AMUG Expo, which will be in St. Louis this year. We will have a booth there. We were doing a lot of social media and marketing press releases just to get the name out there and really to get people who weren’t thinking about 3D printing before to think about 3D printing. Architecture firms or people who may have dabbled in the smaller 3D printing industries, they can step it up. They don’t need to glue parts together anymore. There are so many random customers that it’s hard just to target one particular market. You really don’t know who will buy this machine.
Architectural models sounds interesting. You can really make one that’s shorter. It’s lower because those models tend only to be a certain height, but you could give them more width. Is that the case? You can recustomize that? Rectangular instead of square, or a big cube? Could you do that?
Yeah. I just quoted out a 5’x8’x3’ 3D printer. It’s fully enclosed and will be able to print polycarbonate. We can do stuff like that. If an architecture firm wants something like that, we are happy to make it.
That’s the one thing that businesses find out after they get going. I think a desktop 3D printer is handy for people when you’re just doing little trials back and forth. As you put it, you’re doing just the first round. You get it dialed in, and then you’re ready to go and have your technical group go and run it. Today when you’re doing it and you go and have those pieces and you still have to assemble them together, there is still a lot of work in that by hand. Being able to do it in one piece is a real benefit.
Or gluing really big pieces together. Having few seams.
Let’s say there are consumers out there who have a younger business, and they are not quite at the point when they are ready to pay the bigger dollar for one of your machines. But they have a need to use it. Are there any service bureaus that have your machine that they could perhaps contract out?
There are actually. The 3D Printing Store in Denver has a machine, and they are a job shop. We also do our own in-house job shop. If someone was really looking to get a bigger part done and couldn’t find anyone to do it, and the 3D Store is perhaps full, we can do that here in-house.
That’s impressive. We have heard from a lot of companies that are manufacturers of 3D printers like you that if a potential customer wanted to have a part printed on your machine by you so they can see the quality of what your printer can do before they buy it, most of them have said that they won’t do it. They don’t have time to do that, and that’s not the business they’re in. It’s refreshing. You’re providing a full service, it seems.
My idea is that if the machine is not running, we’re not making money on it. We’re small and mobile enough so we can shift gears. We’re running a really big print job right now. It’s sample parts for a customer. They’re interested in buying the machine, and they want to see the sample parts. So we’re running our machine right now to make parts for them. It’s a very unique part. Most people would say no to this part anyway, I guarantee. But we’re always up for the challenge.
Whenever we’re making sample parts for a customer, if they were to buy a machine, we would already know how to make their parts for them. We can tell them the exact settings they would need. We can work them through the entire process of making their part. When someone buys the machine, we actually fly out there, install it, and teach them how to use it for two days.
Wow. You guys are doing a great job. Let me tell you how few companies are doing that. Few companies do that in a lot of other industries as well. I give you guys great credit for doing that. I think this will really transform your position in this industry.
I hope so.
What it’s doing is bringing back local American manufacturing. Part of the problem for a lot of companies is not just buying equipment, but hiring technicians and learning how to operate it successfully. If you’re helping solve that problem, then that’s half the battle for the company that is trying to use it.
We’ve trained all of our operators on how to use it. What’s great is that I don’t have to worry about getting a phone call at 4 in the morning. They can. They have my number. But I have built enough of a relationship with each customer that they know they can call me. When they know how to use it from the get go, and there are no questions by the time I leave, the only question is: Where can we get more polycarbonate sheeting? Where can we get more filament? Maybe they will have a really advanced question and ask me. But most of the time, our printers are just running. They plug them in, and they work.
Clay, this is so refreshing. We’re really glad to see some big formats come out in support of industry because Tom and I are big believers that in addition to 3D printing being transformative from the next generation’s design and engineering process and how they’re going to view the world, they will be coming up with an amazing new set of ideas about what to make, how to make it, where to make it locally, and there needs to be a support system built for that. You guys are on your way.
Thank you very much.
Tom and Tracy’s Thoughts – Titan 3D – Jurassic 3D Printers Built to Last Until the Next Ice Age
I gotta tell you that I really did not know the difference between a stepper motor and a servo motor. I am glad we asked. When I first saw that Titan 3D printer at CES, I thought, Oh, okay, another large format printer. We’ve seen a couple before. But that one looked a lot more substantial than other ones; some of them looked like they were racking a bit. Whether they are or not, large format printers seems to be a growing market. It would seem to be a smaller market than desktop 3D printing. So how many companies are doing that? How different can theirs really be besides in size? To hear from Clay today, it is a lot more than just size. It’s really big.
I keep thinking of all the applications for it and the places it can go. This is what we have been talking about with so many people lately: the zero inventory model of business is the future for so many companies. I could see specialized parts, customized versions, the things it could open up an automotive parts shop for and the ability for them to service and do so many more things.
There are so many industrial applications that could change the profit centers of how they work and what they are capable of doing. Especially not having to worry about needing to tool for something, make something big, and the different materials they can make something out of. I’d like to try to do a 3D printed bicycle frame, and you could do that on a printer like this and make it in one piece with structural integrity.
I think there are so many applications coming up, and I think many companies don’t realize that the changes that 3D printing is going to bring to their industry. I think educators out there have to be paying attention to that. I was mentioning the community colleges, the trade schools, the maker spaces. These are the people you have to support as this transition happens because you have to build a good labor force for that and a trained yet design-sensitive future. Private universities with big engineering departments and design departments also have a lot of opportunity there for a company like Titan 3D.
I really was impressed that it seems that behind the scenes, the motors that control it and the material it is made of have to be really big. He quoted that he made a printer that is 4×8 feet, bed sized. That is amazing. I have heard desktop printing manufacturers who are trying to develop a larger format of their own complaining about the larger build volume and the extruders have to travel a larger distance on these guide rods sagging in the middle. He is doing 4×8 feet, and he knows what he is doing coming from heavy industrial machinery. It’s not sagging. This thing is built to last generations. Very impressed.
The other thing that I thought was really great was the install and training. I can’t stress enough that so many of these 3D printing companies come out of having made them in the garage and they turn out great and people start using them and they have a great future. They start to take off, and the next thing they know, they are in business. There is so much they don’t know about business that they are learning on the side, that they are forgetting about some of these critical factors that really make people love you and buy your product again and again. That is that install and training, that hands-on approach to it.
Clay knows because he came out of that C&C world that when you sell that expensive machine, the reason people buy them from you is not just because you make them reliable and you make them last a lifetime, but you also service them. He didn’t forget about that in the process of building his business.
I keep thinking about how critical that is. We have said it on the podcast before: the old adage of business and retail was, “Location, location, location.” Now, with the way business is being done on the Internet with companies like this, it’s “Service, service, service,” I think.
People that you know, like, and trust. You hear that all the time. I prefer to get to know someone, and the best way for that is that hands-on, build a relationship over time. That is a person I am coming back to buy my next machine from; that builds brand loyalty. As you grow, they are going to grow.
I would argue that he is not just selling machines, but rather manufacturing solutions that just happen to be 3D print related. Hector said the other day, “on-demand digital manufacturing.” This is the service for large-size on-demand digital manufacturing.
I love the idea of it. I am intrigued by the idea of us doing a whole furniture collection that is on-demand. That would be killer. It’s right in our wheelhouse, too. I want to do it. Then we would have to buy one of those printers. We’d have to move out of the home office though.
I hope you guys thought that was as interesting as we did. Check out the blog post, and look at the videos and the link to the Dinosaur Resource Center. I want to see it now. Your mom took the kids last time. Next time we’re going.
- Titan 3D
- Dinosaur Resource Center
- Simplify 3D
- Atlas Printer by Titan 3D
- AMUG Expo
- 3D Printing Store – Denver
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