Summary:

Architect Gordon LaPlante wanted a large, easily modifiable printer. So he built his own. In the process, he’s learned what it takes to go from inventor to business person.

gMax 3D printer
photo: Signe Brewster

A common limiting factor among 3D printers is the size of objects they can create. When architect Gordon LaPlante began pushing the limits of his RepRap, he decided to build his own printer with a giant print bed. The result is the gMax, which began shipping this week after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

gMax 3D printer

The gMax can print objects up to 16 x 16 x 9 inches, which gives it a build volume of 2,304 cubic inches. The MakerBot Replicator 2, which is considered to have a fairly large print bed for a consumer 3D printer, has a volume of 410 cubic inches.

The gMax is an open source machine that’s meant to be modified, and LaPlante built it to be easy to do so. It comes apart quickly to let users swap in new parts.

gMax 3D printer

Like many 3D printer crowdfunding campaigns, the gMax, which sold for $1,295 on Kickstarter, raised much more money than LaPlante originally asked for. In 45 days, the campaign passed his original goal of $50,000 and reached nearly $130,000. Backers bought 89 printers.

On top of those printers, LaPlante also sold 3D printed items like keychains, clocks and planters. These were scheduled to ship in October and November, while the printers were meant to go out in staggered batches beginning in November. As responsibilities piled on, it became clear everything could not ship on time. LaPlante prioritized and decided to fulfill the accessory orders after the printers.

A clock case 3D printed on a gMax. Photo by Signe Brewster

A clock case 3D printed on a gMax. Photo by Signe Brewster

It happens more often than not that Kickstarter campaigns do not ship their products on time, so LaPlante shrugged that some orders were going out late. His three printers were running constantly 3D printing parts for the new printers, and he just didn’t have the capacity to build anything else.

“We were really good about managing our expectations as far as what we could sell,” LaPlante said. “We really limited it to what we can get out. It’s one thing to get the printers out and the kits together, it’s another thing to have to do the construction manuals, set up the online forum, or have a website; the business side. We anticipated some of it, but some of it you don’t think about.”

gMax founder Gordon LaPlante with a 3D printed bonsai planter. Photo by Signe Brewster

gMax founder Gordon LaPlante with a 3D printed bonsai planter. Photo by Signe Brewster

Right now, LaPlante runs the entire gMax business with his girlfriend, Anna Lee, out of their Bed-Stuy apartment in Brooklyn. The printers hum quietly in a corner, churning out the next generation of gMax machines. The rest of the apartment is littered with 3D printed objects.

gMax 3D printed frog

LaPlante foresees eventually moving to a larger manufacturing space. Next year, he would like to hire a team and turn out the second version of the printer. After backers’ orders are fulfilled, gMax will begin selling printers online.

He also would like to see the purpose of the gMax evolve. He emphasized that the printer isn’t in the same category as beginner-friendly machines like the MakerBot Replicator 2. Instead, it’s a real tool that would feel more at home in a garage making architectural models or furniture than on a desk printing household items. Eventually, he might expand its capabilities outside 3D printing. He might modify it to act as a CNC router, which would allow users to work with materials like wood or modify 3D printed objects in new ways.

“Once I started building this, I thought, why limit yourself to plastic?” LaPlante said. “The idea was that hopefully it evolves into a fabrication unit. Maybe you have things that can pop off, multiple extruders. That’s been exciting to think about, but I haven’t had two minutes to do it. A lot of our backers are really interested in modifying it themselves and adding things to it.”

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