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The History of the 3D Printer

August 19, 2013

Stratasys Patents that could turn MakerBot into the ultimate 3D Printer


A Stratasys patent and how MakerBot could benefit...The Is are now dotted and the Ts crossed in one of the biggest 3D printing deals in history. MakerBot and Stratasys have completed their merger worth a reported $400m.  David Reis said upon completion: "Stratasys and MakerBot share a vision about the potential for 3D printing to transform design and manufacturing, Our goal now is to maximize the benefits this merger creates for our shareholders, our customers and our employees.” Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot added, “We are excited for the future - full speed ahead!" . The merger came out of the blue but made sense for both companies, Stratasys have acquired the leader in the consumer market, a market they have struggled to break into with the Mojo. The benefits for MakerBot however are much more exciting to us, the consumer. By jumping into bed with Stratasys, MakerBot now have access to four important patents, which could significantly advance their own line of 3D printers. At the merger press conference back in June David Reis stated that MakerBot would have access to “Stratasys’ supermarket of R&D.”

So what Stratasys owned patents are most likely to improve MakerBot’s next-gen machines and how likely do we think it is that they will be implemented?

High Temperature Modeling Apparatus Patent Number: 6,722,872

Although the MakerBot Replicator 2 has an enclosed chamber it would be an infringement for any non-Stratasys 3D printer to have a heated chamber. The benefits of this are obvious; a heated chamber would not only prevent any warping and deforming due to the plastic not cooling as quickly but it could make support material easy to remove in post processing.

How likely? Extremely. MakerBot’s Replicator 2 already contains a chamber it wouldn’t be a leap of faith or particularly difficult to imagine that chamber being heated.

Smoothing method for layered deposition modeling Patent Number: 8,123,999

MakerBot’s are already pretty hi-res printers but you can still see the layer lines if you look really closely. Stratasys owns the patent for the best method of smoothing FDM printed parts. By submerging the plastic model in a liquid bath of a vaporizing substance, such as Acetone,the plastic melts slightly to give a smooth effect. A similar effect can be achieved by heating acetone in a jar as demonstrated by this RepRapper.

How likely? Unlikely. MakerBot’s machines currently only print in PLA not ABS, PLA and acetone don’t mix well, the baths would be difficult to sell to MakerBot’s target audience, the consumer who wants plug and play not plug, play and post processing.

Filament Container and Methods Of Use Thereof Patent Number: 8,157,202

Not only does this patent allow filament to be kept protected in a case it allows filament to be fed through to the printer at a continuous speed, stopping any issues with filament feed. Stratasys also owns a similar patent that switches filament spools automatically when one is empty or a colour change is needed.

How likely? Depends. Depends on how much of an influence Stratasys have over business decisions. This could give MakerBot the chance to only allow MakerBot branded filament to be used on their machines and - in a move that would mirror the current glut of pod-based coffee machines - maybe reduce the price of the machine by making more money from filament. However this would not go down well with the community and would be very expensive to implement.

Soluble material and process for three-dimensional modeling Patent Number: 6,790,403

This is a big one, support material is the bane of our lives when it comes to 3D printing, practically impossible to remove from some models, always fiddly and very time consuming. It is one of the aspects that the consumer likes least about 3d printing. The ability to simply wash away the support material is desirable to the extreme.

How Likely? Likely. This is one MakerBot may run with, it is a fantastic feature to have for the professionals however as with the smoothing method patent will the consumer want to have a bath sitting on their desk as well as a printer and a scanner. This is something MakerBot may offer in different versions, perhaps for pro-sumer use.

Whatever MakerBot do or do not take on-board from Stratasys you can be sure that their next printer will be a huge leap for desktop 3D printing, Stratasys have over 20 years of expertise in the arena and that added to MakerBot’s standing in the consumer market makes this a match made in heaven but a match made in hell for the competition.