The Method Behind the Method
Continuing a chat with MakerBot’s CEO and VP of Engineering, we turn to more particulars on the new Method 3D printer.
Read part one of our conversation with CEO Nadav Goshen and VP Engineering Dave Veisz here.
Having discussed the background and frame of the new professional 3D printer, we looked next to its usage and users.
The Method currently uses PLA and MakerBot Tough materials, using water-soluble PVA support materials, as well as with PETG, which uses a different water-soluble material, Veisz said, noting that, “We have a roadmap beyond that, but that’s what we’re committing to at launch.”
“The difference between the Method, and the category we’re launching, versus the desktop printer is that we’re building the machine in the way that it provides consistent and dimensionally accurate parts,” Goshen added. “It uses precision material support, which means that printing with these materials can guarantee dimensional accuracy within 0.2mm. This means that the amount of tuning we’re putting into materials is extremely high. The controlled environment is required to make sure we can repeatably guarantee this dimensional accuracy; it’s very different than desktop systems which are able to print with many more materials but would not guarantee either accurate results or a reliable outcome.”
With such focus on accuracy and reliability, it makes sense that MakerBot would turn to Stratasys. The company that originated FDM 3D printing maintains leading expertise in the technology, with a strong suite of FDM systems used in a variety of production environments.
How exactly, I asked, did the teams work together?
“Stratasys has a few decades of experience in FDM 3D printing. For us, it was taking their expertise and knowledge and using it to actually design a new platform from scratch. Having access to the great minds of FDM will help us first to avoid any mistakes they have done, and second to troubleshoot errors. We really like having access to the great laboratory and persons who invented FDM printing to build a new system. This way we benefit from both worlds, having MakerBot’s DNA and way of doing things, without compromising on user experience or price point, but on the other hand we have access to the most professional level of expertise in FDM 3D printing,” Goshen told me.
For the engineering team, that access proved invaluable indeed in developing the new system.
“It’s like that dream position for me as an engineer, to call up people with 25 years of experience, who literally invented FDM. It certainly helps us,” Veisz added.
In developing the dual performance extruders, for example, the input from Stratasys was very helpful and the team “definitely had a lot of help working with Stratasys on that.” A 19:1 gear ratio allows for use of a lower-weight motor with 3x the flow rate of MakerBot’s current platforms, Veisz continued.
“Working alongside [Stratasys] helped us overcome a lot of challenges with high-speed, very exact extrusion,” he said.
We looked next to the target market: which users would benefit from a performance 3D printer?
Customers have been individual designers or engineers, Goshen explained, and the MakerBot team split their applications into two main problems to be solved. First was the mainstay of 3D printing: prototyping.
“Engineers and designers are constantly challenged with getting products faster to market. One of the best ways to get products to market is to have more agile processes,” Goshen said. “Because a physical object is involved, prototyping is more involved, where typically more iterations lead to a better product in the end. We feel SMBs [small and medium businesses] are kind of priced out of professional 3D printing now because they cannot spend the amounts required to buy an industrial machine, or are limited by commissions for service bureaus. Method comes perfectly into that play and lets them accelerate product design.”
The Method further assists, he continued, on the concept side.
“For large organizations, when we talk about additive manufacturing everybody understands now the technologies of AM are evolving. We will see, and we do see, more and more parts that are produced through additive manufacturing. One of the blockers is the design mindset for additive manufacturing. Look at large organizations and they want to have their designers and engineers think, and be experienced with, AM technologies. Today as I said, the desktop systems are either not professional enough or require too much attendance and tinkering that does not provide the right array for a manager in an organization to deploy them. You can have many more engineers and designers experience additive manufacturing and think and design in ways that were not available before and now utilize ways available today to manufacture in additive ways,” Goshen said.
For initial use, MakerBot has turned to beta customers. Without naming any names, Goshen and Veisz pointed to significant testing undertaken for the Method, which MakerBot says will have completed “over 220,000 hours of system reliability, subsystem, and print quality testing” prior to shipping. Over the last several months, beta users including small businesses have provided feedback on the Method and “are using it as we speak.”
As we wrapped up our chat on the new system -- and new segment -- in MakerBot’s line, Goshen turned to a strong parallel for this stage of growth in 3D printing.
“Like computing in the past, there were step gaps where computing was made accessible. We didn’t move from mainframe to cell phone in an instant,” Goshen said. “Method is another step gap for 3D printing, bringing specs and features not available before without compromising on quality and reliability.”
The hope for the team behind the Method is that this new performance system will become an invaluable part of the designer’s toolbox, as MakerBot seeks to remain relevant in 3D printing and in accelerating adoption.
“When you look at what an engineer requires, it’s three sets of tools: a pencil, CAD software, and Method. That will help her to succeed in her prototyping and design challenges,” Goshen said. “I think we are very excited to be part of this journey for 3D printing in general, and hope to see Method used with many engineers and designers, and grow 3D printing as an industry for everyone.”