Feb.3, 2014

Moscow entrepreneur Chris Walker wants to bring a whole new meaning to the idea of vending machines. His startup Element Robot Inc. has built an interactive 3D printing station that enables everyone to quickly fabricate prototypes for their design projects.

Walker's 3D printing vending machine, called "SkyForge", is located in public places so that anybody can insert an SD card that contains 3D printer code into the machine; SkyForge then prints out their 3D part and dispenses it into a dropbox for pickup by its designer. It is sort of like a Red Box, but for 3D printing instead of DVD rental.

Image: Element Robot

"We want to be the Redbox of 3D printing," said Chris Walker, CEO of Element Robot Inc.

The SkyForge houses a Tritium 3D printer developed by Element Robot. Using fused filament fabrication technology, Tritium creates large components out of PLA. The Delta-style 3D printer is a plug-&-play machine that can print up to the size of a basketball.

Users can upload a design onto elementrobot.com, pay with a credit card and pick up their 3D printed object at the desired location within hours. The company charges 75 cents per cubic centimeter, with a minimum charge of $2.

Graduated with a master's in mechanical engineering at Univeristy of Idaho in Moscow in 2012, Walker wanted to make 3D printing more reliable and accessible. Together with John Feusi, who just finished his bachelor's in mechanical engineering in spring 2013, the pair worked on a school project but they found it too much of a hassle to access the university's 3-D printers. They decided to create their own.

"The end goal is to let anyone print 3D objects even if you have never used the printers before," Walker said.

For now Element Robot is targeting University of Idaho engineering students as its users. The Skyforge is located in the Gauss-Johnson Engineering Building at the University and is open to the public.

In the first two weeks, 80 users signed up online and uploaded 235 designs. The company completed 52 orders, and the average price has been between $5 and $30 on orders so far, according to Walker.

John Crepeau, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Idaho, said this is an inexpensive way to build a part and ensure it is precisely what you want before having it built at a machine shop.

"Let's say you want to build some sort of a device," Crepeau said. "You take it to have someone build it and then you realize it doesn't fit or it needs better clearance. The machine allows you to inexpensively print the part – you can hold it in your hand, touch and feel the design and make any changes to the plastic design before you have it built."

Meanwhile Element Robot is also testing the business model to figure out what customers want. "We will leave it here for the semester to collect data and see what works and what we need to change," said Feusi.

Element Robot now has four emloyees. They also want to check out the possibility of having a selective laser sintering (SLS) in their vending machines. In the future, the company is hoping to have a whole network of Forge vending machines, placing them at additional university campuses.

Features of the Tritium 3D Printer

  • Dual extruders
  • Heated bed
  • Materials: 1.75mm PLA
  • Build Volume: 350 mm diameter, 200 mm height
  • Nozzle: 0.3 or 0.4mm, 2 high tensile aluminum hot end
  • Firmware: Marlin
  • Price: $2999



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sindhu wrote at 10/14/2014 6:46:57 PM:

where do v get the working process of this pls suggest

Ben wrote at 2/3/2014 7:27:47 PM:

I agree with jd90. Also do you upload and stand there? Or can you leave and come back and claim when you get a text? Does that shut down the whole machine until you claim it or are there separate bins that it keeps your print?

Adam wrote at 2/3/2014 6:02:10 PM:

yeah jd90 I think I know the answer to that. There would have to be problems. 3d printing cant go smooth with out a human trouble shooter of some kind. I am sure he would have a camera set up or a help line or some.

jd90 wrote at 2/3/2014 4:03:15 PM:

I'd really like some insight on how a 3D printer can be set up to reliably produce parts without any attendance whatsoever. A remote vending machine is very gutsy.

AMnerd wrote at 2/3/2014 2:43:47 PM:

"Graduated with a master's in mechanical engineering at Univeristy of Idaho in Moscow in 2012, Walker wanted..." Who writes this stuff?



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