The Mysterious Origin
I’m looking at a 3D printing startup that recently emerged from stealth mode, Origin.
The San Francisco-based company apparently began in 2015 when two entrepreneurs became frustrated with existing 3D print solutions they were using for their small 3D print service. They had been using inexpensive desktop equipment to produce items for clients, but encountered many problems.
The key problem they - and anyone using today’s typical 3D printing gear - encountered is that there are significant constraints on the types of materials that can be used.
In “normal” manufacturing there are literally thousands of different kinds of materials on the market, all with differing properties. While no one yet sells “unobtainium”, there is plenty of choice to match your engineering requirements.
But all this breaks down severely with 3D printers as you quickly learn that today’s 3D printers are restricted to either a small set of proprietary materials from the manufacturer, or a slightly larger set if an “open materials” machine.
“Open Materials” is today’s buzzword for a machine that does not require proprietary materials. While that in theory means you can push any conceivable material through the device, in practice it’s a lot more constrained, simply due to availability of materials and the lack of knowledge on how to 3D print them successfully.
This is one reason why certain open materials 3D printer manufacturers have begun distributing comprehensive print profiles for as many materials as they can get their hands on and test on their equipment. This makes life much easier for clients, as they then have the confidence to 3D print more materials successfully.
However, it’s still a relatively restricted market.
Enter Origin, who hope to break this cycle. They say:
“Open Additive Production blows open the range of available materials, and gives customers the software and hardware options they need to develop a truly customized approach to additive manufacturing.
Material freedom is the first and most critical component of Open Additive Production because materials drive a product’s function, performance, and aesthetic. Product creation teams should have the broadest material selection possible. At Origin, we equip our open network of material partners with the technology and support needed to accelerate development of new and better AM materials from months or years to weeks or even days. The result is a renaissance in additive materials, from flexible elastomers with better energy return to high-strength polymers with heat deflection above 220°C and impact strength well above 100 J/m.”
That sounds very interesting. But exactly what’s going on here? How does this work? They say more:
”Software is the crucial second part of Open Additive Production. Origin's software actively compensates for inconsistencies in hardware, environment, and chemistry to produce batches of parts with exceptional accuracy and repeatability. The platform also enables users to have full control over settings and even to create custom UI and API triggers that integrate seamlessly with modern digital factories. Hardware is the final pillar of Open Additive Production. As robots and other Industry 4.0 tools increasingly drive production, companies need modular systems that can adjust accordingly – at a competitive cost.”
Aha - the words, “actively compensates” are very interesting. That implies there might be some kind of feedback mechanism for print results? Does this machine somehow observe the print results in real time and tweak its own settings during an active print job?
If they can actually do this or something similar, it could open up the possibility of using many more materials in 3D printing, some currently unseen in 3D printing workshops. Ultimately it would be ideal if a machine could somehow automatically detect the incoming material and adjust its settings accordingly, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near there yet.
We don’t know; they don’t say anything more about how this is accomplished. All we know is what we can see from this hidden image scoured from their website, which seems to suggest their process could be liquid-based, although the BASF material print above appears quite different. We just don’t know.
[Update! Since we originally saw this image earlier this week, Origin has added a bit more information confirming a photopolymerization technology, noting:
“Origin's production system uses programmable photopolymerization (P3) to turn materials into isotropic parts and products ready for end-use.”
Noting as well a “print process and materials that enable batch processing that scales up at predictable and competitive costs", the company shows an indication of automation.]
Meanwhile, Origin has attracted significant investment, such as a recent Series A round of US$10M to accompany a previous seed round of US$2.3M, which curiously includes former NFL player Joe Montana. Evidently these investors believe in Origin’s mysterious process enough to invest heavily.
At this point Origin lists over 20 on their current team, but they intend on hiring another 10 at the least. The employment listing includes some interesting roles, including “Director of Legal Affairs”, “Sales Development Architect” and ”Finance Controller”, as well as a number of technical roles.
I’m hoping Origin will reveal more about their mysterious 3D printing process soon.
[UPDATE] Well, today, shortly after we wrote this story, it turns out that Origin has added some information to their website about their mysterious process. It is indeed a photopolymer (resin) process they call “P3”, which stands for “programmable photopolymerization”. This is in line with their previous statements about the potential ability to tune the process on the fly.
They are also hoping to obtain “Resilient elastomers, heat-resistant polymers, biocompatible formulations, and other high-performance materials from our open network of material partners”, which sounds quite promising, although they will have significant effort required to work out details with partners.
They are also now saying that their process is built for scale, and images seem to suggest a production-style operation. They say the price per unit will be low and will enjoy further savings due to economies of scale.
All of this does sound quite intriguing, but we’d still like to know a lot more.