(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Annie Liao, director of educational outreach, MakerGear, LLC)
What is MakerGear?
MakerGear designs and manufactures desktop 3D printers, primarily for use by businesses, schools, and makers. We originally started in a residential Ohio garage in 2009 and have continued to grow ever since. Currently, we have 25 employees at our factory in Beachwood, Ohio. Also, we received an exciting award this week! Our MakerGear M2 3D printer was ranked #1 in the world out of 513 printers. We’re excited to shine a light on technology and manufacturing here in Northeast Ohio.
What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing processes create objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material to build an object. These processes are in contrast to traditional subtractive types of manufacturing, such as those utilizing CNC machined parts, where material is removed from an object to create the finished product.
What is the benefit of a 3D printer? What problems does it solve?
3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry for a number of reasons. One significant contribution is that it saves time and money by allowing for rapid prototyping. When producing an object, the prototyping process has historically occupied a bulk of time between concept and launch. Today, with 3D printing, we can substantially shorten that gap by giving engineers and designers the ability to create their own prototypes in house – and as many iterations as they need — without dependency on an outside source or back-and-forth shipping delays.
Beyond those advancements in the industry, 3D printing is one of the most cost effective ways to produce small batch or custom items. This is great for everyone from small businesses creating unique products, all the way to doctors printing scale models of a patient’s heart before surgery. And on top of all of that, 3D printers create less waste, if any at all, compared to traditional manufacturing processes. The technology is constantly improving and changing, and we expect to see the number of problems that 3D printing solves continue to grow.
How can you use a 3D printer? What kinds of things are being made? Who are your customers/what are they making?
Our M2 3D printer requires 3D modeling software to design or import the object to be printed, and convert (or slice) that design into a language the printer can understand called G-code. We use a program called Simplify3D, but we also have recommendations on our website for freeware that works great, as well.
Seeing the range of applications our customers are creating is the most exciting part! The students at Mayfield City Schools’ Excel TECC have been creating 3D printed prosthetic hands, which are functional and only cost about $12 in printing materials. It’s an incredible achievement. One of our customers is printing tailor-fit horseshoes for horses with difficult-to-treat hoof conditions. And, we have customers printing parts for drones that transport medication to remote villages in East Africa. There is a limitless range of applications, and we’re surprised daily by the innovative products people are creating.
What materials can you use to build?
Some 3D printers on the market require the use of proprietary filament, which limits options and innovation. But, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that MakerGear printers can print in a range of materials, including a variety of plastics and metal composites. The list of possibilities is constantly growing.
These materials are packaged on spools in filament form. The filament is fed into the heart and soul of the printer called the hotend. The hotend consists of a heater, thermistor and a nozzle and is capable of heating the printing material to a certain temperature and then extruding it in successive layers onto a build platform. In the case of our M2 3D printer, the build platform also is heated to allow the object to better adhere to the bed during printing.
What does it cost?
Our MakerGear M2 printer costs $1,825. A 1-kg spool of PLA plastic, which is the material we recommend people begin printing with, costs $35, but can see you through multiple projects.
Do you see any trends with the industry or technology?
We are definitely seeing more interest in the types of materials available for 3D printing. We’re constantly testing new materials on our machines and have been excited by the results of some of them, from elastics to metal composites. It opens up a whole new world of innovation.
To avoid what happened with Cleveland Indians’ Pitcher Trevor Bauer when he bought a 3D printer from you and used it to make a drone that cut his finger, what safety tips do you have for users and consumers?
If you were following the Cleveland Indians this year in the playoffs you may have heard that Trevor Bauer owns a MakerGear M2 and 3D prints parts for his drones. He explained in a press conference that he got cut while plugging in his drone when the propeller started spinning at max throttle. We are certainly glad that he was able to recover quickly, and we can assure you that his accident didn’t have anything to do with the 3D printing process.