MatterHackers, a major provider of personal 3D printer filament, has opened a retail 3D printing store in Orange County, California. In addition to its enormous selection of 3D printing supplies, parts and accessories, the shop will carry the popular Airwolf and Type A Machines 3D printers. "We had so many visitors to our facility, we figured, why not just open a store?" said Lars Brubaker, CEO of MatterHackers.
"We've had 3D artists who had gotten a printer and were printing out the things they had designed. Some were Hollywood designers that brought in really cool stuff from movies," Brubaker noted. "We've also had a lot of people who have small businesses around 3D printing, making plastic objects as part of their company's offerings or creating various designs to put up on Etsy. One gentleman purchased a printer from us so he could print mechanical parts for his electric skateboards."
At one time, Brubaker was the CEO of Reflexive Entertainment, which was acquired by Amazon in 2008. After a few years under the Amazon roof, the executive and software engineer was ready for something new. MatterHackers is the result. "Amazon was great, but I missed being the one making the decisions," quipped Brubaker. "I'm an entrepreneur. I like this kind of collaboration and development, where we are trying to build something."
3D printing supplies and retail sales aren't the only components of MatterHackers' business strategy. They are currently developing 3D printer control software with very advanced features for the open source community. Known as MatterControl, an alpha version is available on the MatterHackers web site for testing. The latest release, 0.7.6, includes 'Plug and Print' for Airwolf, Type A Machines and SeeMeCNC printers with support for more printers coming soon. The new feature allows for automatic driver installation, slice settings pre-configuration, automatic printer detection, connection troubleshooting and calibration assistance. Version 0.7.6 also increases simplicity and adds integrated help.
MatterControl is part of a long term plan to reduce the ease-of-use gap between the proprietary software solutions provided with some printers and those available for RepRaps, their derivatives and all open source printers. "One of our goals here is to make sure that the RepRap community has software that's as professional as the programs these large companies are developing," said Brubaker. "We don't want RepRap to fall behind from a software perspective. The open source community must remain strong, because they are a driving force in hardware advancement."
Once MatterControl has reached the beta stage, it will include multiple modes. A simple mode will allow for settings such as speed, print quality and filament type. An advanced mode will enable adjustment of every possible detail, from layer height to nozzle temperature. While that sounds intriguing, it's the error correction that raises eyebrows. By incorporating a ray tracing system, the software aims to make it possible to print things currently not considered printable. This feature wouldn't merely fix a model's non-manifold edges. It would make multi-geometry figures, such as humanoid CGI characters, printable, without manually welding points or removing excess leftover mesh.
"Our slicing engine (MatterSlice) will be able to handle non-manifold objects completely, because we do a ray trace of an external volume of the surface," explains Brubaker. "For a 3D artist who says, 'I made something that looks appropriate, I want to be able to print it and it's not printing,' MatterControl will print it, because that's unacceptable."
Imagine exporting a fully articulated, multi-geometry Max, Maya, Lightwave, C4D or Poser figure, then printing it without modification. A lofty goal, but one MatterHackers feels is worth pursuing. Millions of modelers and artists from the CGI/animation side of 3D would be able to print their work without having to spend hours of frustration trying to reduce it to a single-geometry, water-tight shell.
MatterHackers plans to hook into Microsoft's new 3D printing pipeline for Windows 8.1, but that will have no effect on the other operating systems they intend MatterControl to support.
The address for the new MatterHackers store is:
21098 Bake Parkway, Ste 106
Lake Forest, CA 92630