Andrew Finkle and Charles Mire came together to found 3D printer company Structur3D after hitting on the same problem: There was no great option for printing soft materials like dough, silicone and conductive paste.
They want to change that with the Discov3ry, a paste extruder that can attach to many existing 3D printers to allow them to print materials like frosting and clay. The add-on is now selling on Kickstarter for as little as $330.
“People have gotten really used to seeing rigid, plastic Yoda heads on tables,” director of business development John Mardlin said. “Then they pick something [printed by a Discov3ry] up and the tactile sensation is different. I think that really hits home.”
3D printers generally use a metal nozzle to extrude gooey melted plastic, which then hardens. Discov3ry users swap in a plastic nozzle and attach their printer to the main triangular prism-shaped Discov3ry machine. Small cartridges that users can fill with anything they like are stored inside the add-on. The Kickstarter indicates at least 12 different nozzle designs will be available for print jobs that require finer detail or faster printing.
I had a chance to see a Structur3D 3D printer and prints at Maker Faire last month. The confections, silicone shapes and frosting designs weren’t super fine in detail due to the large nozzle size the company was printing with, but it was obvious the children visiting the booth were very interested in the Batman-shaped frosting designs and other creations on display.
Mire said that is a strong point of Structur3D’s design: If a print goes wrong, the materials can be reused, lowering the risk of letting kids experiment with 3D printing. The plastic used in most printers cannot be reused, unless a user invests in a filament recycler.
“Nowadays, it costs virtually nothing to take a thousand photos a day. We feel our machine is doing something similar in 3D printing,” Mire said. “It opens up the opportunity for people to experiment a little bit more with 3D printing.”
Structur3D is also thinking about producing a standalone 3D printer, but decided to go ahead with an add-on after conducting a study among possible buyers.
“Not many of these existing 3D printer users wanted another printer,” Finkle said. “I have a feeling they didn’t want to have to reinvent the wheel–learn a whole new platform to use this.”