Two years ago when entrepreneur Ben Reytblat introduced the new 3D printer that he developed in his Princeton Junction garage, he had to spend part of his time explaining what 3D printing was (U.S. 1, May 14, 2014). Now the idea that three-dimensional objects can be made to precise dimensions using a printing device that extrudes material layer by layer has received much more public attention.
And Reytblat’s company, 3D Monstr, has achieved another form of recognition: It has shipped its first commercial order.
To date, the company has received 50 orders, mainly from a Kickstarter campaign launched at about the same time as the company. Reytblat, the founder and CEO, says his operation is the only 3D printing manufacturer in New Jersey and he expects to see more orders from the new E-commerce section of his website (www.3dmonstr.com) where customers can place pre-orders. The first printer shipment was sent to a customer in Florida who cannot be named at this time for confidentiality reasons, Reytblat says.
Like other 3D printers, the Monstr makes three-dimensional solid objects layer upon layer from a digital model. But the Monstr printers are unique because they fill the gap between entry level hobbyist printers and the big industrial machines, says Reytblat. The approach his company is taking enables people to print things they couldn’t make otherwise.
The road from prototype to shipped product has not been easy.
“We ran into a number of challenges in getting our first machine into customers’ hands,” Reytblat says. “The most ‘exciting’ ones were manufacturing process-related.” One issue: determining the best batch size for the CNC machines [computer numerical controls — the way in which computer-aided design software can create coordinates to determine the exact lines of cutting and shaping].
Another puzzle to solve: “How do we interweave the work on the CNC mill and on the CNC lathe, so that a single machinist can do both at the same time? The answers required a great deal of experimentation, broken tools, new fixtures, design changes, creative engineering, and skinned knuckles,” Reytblat says. “And testing, testing, testing.”
Reytblat’s team had to deal with supply chain issues as well: “Which components can we source in the U.S., and which do we have to go off-shore for? How do we make sure that if something happens to our primary electronics partner we can still produce our electronics subsystems in a reasonable amount of time and a reasonable cost?” Reytblat said he spent a great deal of time chasing suppliers through E-mail, Skype calls to China in the middle of the night, going to trade shows to find the right partners, and listening to his peers in the industry. “And we still have a lot more of those things to do,” Reytblat says.
Most importantly, he had to answer cost/price questions. He wanted to price his machines fairly in the market but not leave too much money on the table; the company has to continue funding R&D, he says. Reytblat mentions other cost-related questions: “How do we reduce the cost to manufacture our machines? And how do we make our supply cycles shorter and manage the inventory better?” The team did a great deal of competitive research on-line, spoke with many experts in the field, and folded the lessons from the manufacturing and supply-chain areas back into the design and manufacturing process.
But it was all worth it, he says. “We got there! The first machine is out the door and being used by the client. What we have to do now is repeat the process and improve every step.”
The company’s Kickstarter customers will be using the printers for a variety of reasons. For a sculptor, the printer will produce early models for final sculptures; for an architect, it will provide models to show customers; for an aerospace company, it will be used in maintenance production lines, and for a designer, it will make custom auto body panels and antique interior panels. About 55 percent of Reytblat’s potential customers are from the U.S. and the rest from countries around the world.
Over the next couple years, 3D Monstr’s roadmap will include three main areas of product development Reytblat says:
New types of extruders for working with a wide variety of materials, such as metal, glass, silicon, rubber, epoxy, and foods.
Enhanced form factor capability, expanding the ability to create new shapes.
Intelligence: Making smarter printers that require less human intervention — for example, a printer that can detect a problem and temporarily shut off the process or alert the operator.
The printer Reytblat shipped to his first customer is from the T-Rex line and is 24 x 24 x 24 inches. Customers can choose among 24 inch, 18 inch and 12 inch printers with two, three, or four extruders (the print heads that deposit the melted material onto the print bed). Current prices range from $3,599 to $6,499.
3D Monstr’s journey from idea to its first shipment began in 2012 and gained momentum when the company started its Kickstarter campaign in 2013 with a goal of raising $35,000. By the end of January, 2014, the company had exceeded its goal, raising $89,806 with 102 backers and 19 printers sold.
To make the first shipment possible, Reytblat has been working with nine team members who are now preparing to fulfill current orders. The team includes founder/engineer Eduard Nesterov; director/electronics Leon Kofman; founder/maker relations Susan Minzter; engineer Will Groppe; director of operations Mark Barnett; and technical staff members Volodymyr Nesterov and Anne Driscoll. Both of his children, daughter Abigail and son Danny, are involved with the company. The company’s advisors include Sharon Murrel and Anatoly Tsaliovich.
This past February Reytblat joined a group of entrepreneurs and academicians to deliver a presentation at Montclair State University that was covered by New Jersey Tech Weekly. The panel discussed the future of 3D printing and ongoing developments in the areas of food, transportation, education, construction, communications and space exploration. As quoted by Tech Weekly, Reytblat told the audience, “Everything you can think of will be affected by 3D printing.”
One of the topics covered was bio-print replacements. “Half of the organs that you’ll need will be reproduced by 3D printing, with the exception of the brain,” he said. (Note: 3D Monstr printers are not manufactured for bio printing.)
When Reytblat and his partner Eduard Nesterov built their first 3D printer several years ago, they created it for their own personal use, for Reytblat, to make a prototype of a rocket engine; for Nesterov, to build a large format camera body.
“However, as so often happens, the journey became the goal in and of itself. And so these days, rocketry is a hobby, and 3D printing is the main focus of what we do,” Reytblat says. “It’s just too much fun. I really enjoy coming to work every day and taking on the challenges of engineering and manufacturing. And I love our crew.”
3D Monstr, 45 Everett Drive, Suite 130, West Windsor 08550; 609-288-2665. Ben Reytblat, founder. www.3dmonstr.com.