In Realistic 3D: Instructor’s printer gaining international notice

4 years ago

  Nick Seward has big dreams for the future of 3D printers — such as constructing houses for a fraction of today’s cost using a giant printer loaded on trucks.       
  Most dreams start somewhere small. For Seward, a computer science instructor at ASMSA, it was printing squirrels with the 3D printer he received from his wife for his birthday in March. He also printed owls and puzzles, but he felt a little guilty that he wasn’t putting the printer to a more “practical” use.   
    In April, Seward decided to try his hand at designing a 3D printer. He wanted the printer to be inexpensive, be able to print as many of its own parts as possible and not rely on linear rails or bearings, which most 3D printers use while limiting their printing range.
     His design used a pulley system and three arms to direct the printer head. The design allowed for a greater range of motion and thus a larger printing area. The first iteration was built with wood for the arms.
    Seward shared his designs with the RepRap online community and received immediate interest in his project. RepRap is the name of the first self-replicating manufacturing machine built in the form of a 3D printer. Many people who participate in the forums use them to share open-source work and receive feedback.
    Seward said that is part of the beauty of the open-source community — there is always someone with an idea that may work better than your original concept. Feedback from the online community led to several design changes in Seward’s project.
    “Without the online community support, this thing wouldn’t have existed,” Seward said. “The forums are filled with a bunch of geeks. Once they see a problem, they can’t leave it alone. I could say I’m trying to do this and have feedback on whether it would work.”
    Within a month of starting the project, Seward had a working prototype called Simpson, named after George Gaylord Simpson, who introduced the idea of quantum evolution. The theory states that evolution can happen in abrupt bursts, not necessarily over a long period of time. Naming the printer after Simpson signifies that the printer is a sudden divergence (idea to first print in one month) from other existing designs.
    Early versions of Simpson cost around $390 to produce, compared to the $1,300 retail price for many 3D printers. As the design has changed, Simpson has required fewer laser cut and machined parts, making it more cost efficient. Seward’s goal isn’t to make a fortune off the printer but to make modest royalties off the design and some parts. He doesn’t plan on filing any patents for the printer.
    “It’s a whole new way of thinking,” Seward said. “The more people [who] are involved and are passionate about something, I think you’re going to do better. If you’re worried about the payday, it can make it rough.”
    Being developed in an open-source community doesn’t mean others can reproduce the printer for their own financial gain, however, Seward said.
    “If people start making these printers and they don’t want to get blackballed by the open-source community, they are going to be sending royalties to us. That’s the standard operating procedure right now. It might not be much, but it’ll definitely make it fun and keep us engaged,” he said.
    Simpson caught the attention of more than just those on the RepRap forums. In May, Seward entered Simpson into the Gada Uplift Personal Manufacturing Prize competition, which awarded $20,000 to a project that best demonstrated solutions to the automated assembly problems many 3D printers have. The goal of the competition was to encourage the creation of 3D printers that could create more of their own parts and be assembled reasonably quickly in an effort to uplift people around the world to be more independent.
    Simpson won second place in the competition, but Seward said the judges informed him the decision was very hard and they had to take more time to consider his creation. The RepRap Morgan, created by Quentin Harley of South Africa, won the award. Morgan was one of Seward’s inspirations for Simpson.
    In June, TechCrunch, a national technology blog, featured a story on Simpson as have several other tech websites. In October, Seward took Simpson to the New York Maker Faire, an event that showcases new technologies. Seward set Simpson up in the 3D printer village along with Morgan and another RepRap printer he has been helping develop — Wally, which could be assembled to attach to a wall and offer a large printing range.
    All three printers were a hit, Seward said, and the demand for Simpson and Wally was high. He received requests for 20 beta kits of Simpson and Wally that will be sent around the world — including South Africa, Russia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and others. The testers will build the kits and give Seward feedback. Successful builds will hopefully lead to more demand, he said.
    To meet the demand for the printers, he has started a company called ConceptFORGE. He wants the company to serve as an incubator for new projects and to server as a collaborator on larger projects. The company would also serve as a distributor for the parts needed for the various printers.
    The company could also develop a print farm where people could place orders for items they need or want to be printed. People would be able to custom order parts or printers.
    Seward said he is hoping to use a Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $100,000 to get the company off the ground.
    He said he wants to do exciting things with the company. While Simpson and Wally are being used for small items right now, Seward said he doesn’t envision them serving in a desktop publishing role. Instead he does see 3D printers having a bigger purpose.
    Seward wants to lead the search for the bigger purpose, whether it’s with Simpson and Wally or with some other venture.
    “My driving goal most of my life has been I want to provide some meaningful impact on this world. I want to have a positive impact. I feel like I’m actually doing it now,” Seward said.

Student use
    Besides sending off 20 beta kits around the world, Seward also brought one Simpson and Wally for use at ASMSA. He also has included a more traditional 3D printer he had purchased to create a mini print farm on campus. Students may go to a website created by one of the students to order a 3D printing.
    For now most of the items being printed are trinkets, but Seward said he could see the printers being used for practical purposes such as items for FIRM projects. At the present time, items are being printed for free, he said.

This story was featured in the Tangents Fall 2013 issue.

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