Yesterday we posted part 1 of our interview with Desktop Factory CEO Cathy Lewis, in which she discusses some of the key issues facing the start-up company. Today we conclude the interview:
Fabbaloo: 3D printing is a new concept, foreign to many consumers. How will you go about educating the public? Or do you foresee sufficient demand from knowledgeable hobbyists and businesses without the mainstream picking it up?
Cathy Lewis: We have been fortunate in seeing a great deal of early, pent up demand for our 3D printer, the Desktop Factory 125ci. However, as mentioned earlier we now know that there is a tremendous opportunity to educate a much broader audience, both business and consumer, who can benefit from access to this technology.
Our approach to education has started with web based information sharing and our newsletter. We then attempt to participate in events and forums where we can raise the awareness of 3D printing at the macro level and Desktop Factory in particular. This interview is an example, and we have just participated in a couple of chapters for books on the promise of 3D printing. We participated in Wired Magazine’s NextFest in September, presented at the first meeting of Netxplorateur in Paris, where we received an award ,and we are currently on display at Disneyland in Southern California in their House of Innoventions.
Partnerships will play a major role for us in the future in terms of education. We will leverage dedicated education forums and relationships to reach that very important, under-served market. We have pending arrangements with software and services partners that we will take advantage of in the future for all industries. This includes new companies like Ponoko, a community for the design and rendering of new products for Do-it-Yourselfers. And at the time of launch we plan a fairly significant press engagement where we believe the power of third party endorsements for the technology will have a very positive impact in helping to get the word out.
The next steps will include the use of social networks and a dedicated web based community to share files, applications and interesting uses of 3D printing. We need to help our early users by highlighting and sharing the availability of enablers such as low cost scanners, software transforms that will take 2D pictures and convert them to 3D images for printing and web sites where unique and creative images are available to download, both free and fee based.
Prior to entering the consumer space we plan to follow through on some initial efforts with toy and gaming companies. We believe that along with easy to use 3D modeling software we will need toys and games that help generate new ideas and uses for the technology. I am particularly interested in developing ‘How To’ educational programs for children that use 3D printing; think robots, home/room, doll and clothing design, construction/ building and design of trucks/cars.
As you will note, we have a tremendous opportunity to build off of a relatively small industry base today. But we also have a responsibility to provide education and application support and enablers over time to an untapped, much broader market.
Fabbaloo: Some may say that inexpensive 3D printers are already available: RepRap, Fab@home, etc. What makes DesktopFactory’s product different?
Cathy Lewis: We are also very excited about Fab@Home and RepRap. In talking with Professor Hod Lipson of Fab@Home fame we both agree that our solutions are complementary and will help build this industry. Certainly the cost of parts for these systems is low but then the consumer must put them together and maintain them, which does add to the overall economic picture. This approach – much like the PC Heath Kit that some of your readers may remember from 25 years ago – is clearly not for everyone. Desktop Factory is intended to be a complete, finished product – ready for the user to turn on and print – with all traditional warranties and support. We will also work very hard over time to bring the price down even further.
Printed 3D objects derive from a combination of a good 3D printer and a good 3D model/design. What steps have you taken to develop relationships with 3D software modeling tools or services?
We have begun discussions and some early work with several software companies. Our systems software, which processes the 3D file for printing, requires the object to be an .stl file which is created by any one of numerous commercial 3D solid object modeling software programs. Therefore it was important to us to know that we were compliant with the most common file format (.stl) and that our software works well with these established suppliers. We will continue those relationships – hopefully expanding several as marketing partnerships as well – even as we continue our quest for new offerings of software and file formats for the consumer.
Fabbaloo: Do you believe you have any serious competition? Will those who produce more expensive 3D print technology produce low-cost models to compete with Desktop Factory?
Cathy Lewis: In terms of competition we feel that there is ample opportunity in this market for a number of participants. The current vendors like Stratasys, ZCorp, Objet and 3d Systems are not household names as you see in the 2d printing space. In fact, few outside the industry have ever heard of them and after almost 20 years they continue to be relatively small companies with revenues ranging from $50M to $150M dollars annually. And most of them, with one exception, are very profitable and growing rapidly. They tend to sell through distributors and they may be too busy satisfying current customer needs and moving into Rapid Manufacturing to worry about what we are doing. At least for the time being.
However, one can never take their eye off of the prize . . .
Fabbaloo: Final question: When can we get one?
Cathy Lewis: We are planning on placing several local beta units with customers when we complete this round of testing. Those placements will be in the first quarter of 2009 after which we will begin our commercial launch. Please keep in mind that we do have 350 units on order at this time and we will prioritize those customers first. And remember we will update testing, beta and launch on a regular basis via our Desktop Factory newsletter!
For more information about Desktop Factory, visit their site.