Oct 20, 2015 | By Alec

While desktop 3D printers are great, it’s easy to see why relatively few people have so far purchased one. They are expensive, sometimes don’t live up to expectations and have a steep learning curve. That is a very fertile environment for 3D printing services like Shapeways, though most of those kinds of services are catering to businesses due to the prices involved. With a new and successful round of financing, one Chinese 3D printing service called Mohou (which means Magic Monkey) is seeking to change that. By increasing their capacity and building a cloud factory open to the public, they are hoping to make 3D printing available to a far wider consumer market. And with the help of a 10 million RMB (1.57 million USD) investment round, they are well on their way.

For those of you unfamiliar with their services, Mohou is already quite a 3D printing success already, but largely cater to a professional audience. ‘We have nearly 130 3D printers, including twenty large 3D printers (maximum print length of 1.2m), five medium-sized (maximum print length 600cm) units, and we offer a range of more than twenty different kinds of printable materials to choose from, including a variety of plastic resins, waxes, nylon, metal, full-color sandstone, and more,’ the company’s CEO Zhang Yong explains. Employing thirty people and having provided services to 20,000 users already, they have 3D printed a wide range of customized gifts, industrial designs, molds and creations for the fields of mechanical design, architectural design, art sculpture, home design, and fashion design.

While nothing to complain about, in short, Zhang Yong explains that their services aren’t yet attractive for regular users. ‘Taking into account that 3D printing is only suitable for small quantities of non-standard customers, we want to provide coverage to printing needs of all industries, and satisfy demand for a variety of materials. We will integrate the demand for fragmented pieces to one site, which is very important for the popularity of 3D printing,’ he says. While the large variety of 3D printers is already doing much for that process, now combining that with a single cloud-based platform will do a lot for its popularity and will decrease costs.

This process optimization is partly being made possible by this round of financing, in the Ultrapower Fund – a collective of Beijing-based investors - provided a capital of 10 million RMB. Mohou is already hard at work updating their services, and their cloud-based services (live since April 2015) have been a big hit already. To use these services, customers can simply upload 3D files, preview what will come, and the software will convert them into 3D printable formats and repair any issues that come up. An automatic quote is generated, and the file is sent to a 3D printer. This system is, as you can far more efficient than phone or e-mail communication, and with the help of a new balanced distributing tool the print times and network usage are also optimized.

As Yong explains, this is already decreasing basic 3D print costs. ‘Through these technical innovations, we can impact and improve our efficiency, costs and user experience. For example, the current market price of PLA print is more than 2 RMB (0.31 USD)/gram, but we now achieve 0.8 to 1 RMB (0.16 USD)/gram, and resin costs decreased to 4 RMB (0.63USD)/ gram, with the future looking even brighter. In terms of efficiency, an average of 3 to 5 days can be compressed to three, and soon to two.’ He explains.

What’s more, new online services also include modeling help in the form of tools, a model library, design support and more – all the user needs to create the ideal 3D printable model. An online shop for finished prints is now also available at Mohou. All of this is, as Mohou explains, part of the drive to create a multi-channeled 3D printing network, a 3D printing cloud factory.

This cloud factory will also be further strengthened through the Mohou Box concept, which somewhat resembles what 3D Hubs is doing. By connecting your own desktop 3D printer to the Mohou cloud network, idle time (estimated at 80% of the time) can be used to 3D print other objects. Users can send print jobs through apps or PC-based terminals to the machine, which sends the 3D printable files to specific nearby 3D printers. When printing is finished, the user can choose self-pick up or delivery. Mohou will be paid in advance, and distribute a portion of the costs to the owner of the 3D printer.

In addition to processing these orders, participants in the Mohou Box concept will also be provided with cloud storage, remote monitoring, cloud slicing technology, software for the auto repair of 3D files, developers API, print queues, information and data security, automatic detection upgrades, printing from the link, strong compatibility, and more features. ‘Mohou Box is open to all 3D printers in the future, we will introduce more 3D printer terminal nodes, including individual owners of 3D printers, 3D print studios, campus 3D printing laboratories for the realization of the distribution manufacturing and even remote control data-driven manufacturing,’ the CEO explained.

So far, the ambitious innovations are already paying off. Since taking to the cloud in April, the company has received nearly 2000 orders, for more than 20,000 prints and that number is only rising. ‘After the A round of financing, we will further improve the technology and services, and increase marketing and publicity. For the short term Mohou will be promoting in schools where there is for 3D printing. Gradually, we will further expand the scope of the promotion, so that the public can see how easy 3D printing through the Mohou network is.’

And reaching that main public is, he adds, the main goal, though one difficult to reach. ‘Manufacturing costs are still high, and mass production is no advantage. In addition, print speed becomes slightly slower at high volumes.’ This limits the concept and even the promotional ideas as well; Zhang Yong mentioned that he had an idea to cooperate with cinema and scan users before movies, only to present them with exclusive ‘Avatars’ afterwards. Those speeds are still unobtainable, however.

However, Yong believes that such technical issues will be solved through innovative progress in the near future, especially when considering the pace of current development, and that this will especially benefit the innovators among us. ‘People have individual needs, but industries cannot meet these yet,’ he says. In the era of mass innovation, 3D printing offers a new manufacturing pathway to help those people with innovative dreams make new realities. Designers, he adds, can focus on design without having to worry about production.



Posted in 3D Printing Service



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