Brothers Carl and Brian Douglass have developed a product they say will expand the market for 3D printing. Their company, Dglass3D, has made a printer head capable of printing multiple materials and replacing the printer heads installed in most 3D printers.
From their shop in Spicer, a rural town in central Minnesota, the brothers have a view of glacier-carved, rolling hills and open water. The pair recently moved operations to the current location from an urban setting, and their roughly 6500 sq ft of space where they do their R&D and production suits their "garage-band" ethos.
"We see 3D printing as a really critical technology for nearly all aspects of life," said Carl Douglass, the elder of the brothers. "The applications for the technology are nearly limitless, the only limitation is the imagination. Our ideas were born from our own imagination and need to have more expansive functionality from 3D printing."
The Douglass brothers print head allows printing at least four different colors or four different materials, and they developed it to be adaptable to many of the printers currently on the market.
"Our extruder is different from most other extruders on the market in that it drives two different filament streams with a single stepper motor (whereas traditional units have one motor per filament stream). Our stepper drive is located in the middle of four gears (two on either side)," said Carl Douglass. "The drive gear is mounted on the stepper motor shaft which drives the idler gears. The filament streams are each between the outer two idler gears which are actively spring tensioned (allowing for slight variations in filament diameter). The selection of the filament stream is done by simply reversing the drive motor. We have designed our system to allow for infinitely variable retraction and have developed the firmware to support the function of the system on virtually any printer."
Carl, the eldest of three boys at 35, and Brian, the youngest at 27, say their parents are their biggest influences. They both took inspiration from working with their father on the family ranch and in the family highway construction business. They say it was the passing of their parents which led them to re-calibrate their lives and open their 3D printing concern.
A mechanical engineer with over 11 years in the plastics industry, Carl called on Brian, a "mechanical genius" with years of automotive and small electronics diagnostics experience, to get the ball rolling. Though both brothers had seen the results of 3D printing in many forms over the years, they say the first time they witnessed a printer in action is when they plugged in their own printer in March of this year.
"It's really exciting to see all of the advancements underway in the 3D printing industry. I don't think we have yet seen the next biggest breakthrough in the technology, we hope that when it occurs it happens in someone's garage or home shop," Carl says. "We hope we can create the next big breakthrough, but if not us, then someone else like us."
So what's next for the brothers?
"We're a start-up so we hope our business will grow and we will be able to continue to contribute to the 3D printing industry," says Carl. "We're developing feedstock materials, a completely new extruder technology (to complement our current extruders) and a 3D printer line to provide new functionality to part designers, garage innovators, and engineers requiring more than what is available today."