Sometime last year, after covering a report about his Cheetah 3D printer, I became Facebook friends with Hans Fouche, the South African inventor who turns into everything he 3D prints into gold. So, when he showed me the Lawnmower he had built, a couple of weeks ago, I almost took it for granted, as I know he is capable of 3D printing almost any functional object he wants.
But it is these everyday objects that people – and thus most generalist media – really want to know about. Hans has been literally stormed by local and international televisions and newspapers; however, even in the midst of such a media hurricane, he found the time to sit down with me in an intercontinental chat and tell me a little more about how all this came to be. Perhaps more importantly, from my “industrial point of view”, he explained how, and if, he intends to make money with 3D printing.
Hans Fouche is certainly an eccentric genius. He began his adventure in the personal fabrication landscape awhile back by creating a gigantic chocolate plotter with 8 nozzles and turning that machine into a profitable business. He is not, however, to be mistaken for a hobbyist just playing around with engineering; before that, in the 80’s and 90’s, Fouche was working as an aerospace engineer and then as Chief Aerodynamicist for the Lola and Brabham Formula One racing teams.
He is now entirely dedicated to his passion with personal fabrication and transforming his Cheetah 3D Printer into a commercial product that can be used to make commercial products. The first steps have already been achieved with minimal investments: the lawnmower works just fine (as I got to see with my own eyes through a guided online video tour of his garage), and so does the new, fully functional, vacuum cleaner he just designed and 3D printed. More fascinating projects are on the way, including a strawberry vertical garden and a wheeled set to carry books to school.
“The idea is to ‘KIS’ – keep it simple – and that is what I’m trying to do at this moment because I don’t have the manufacturing capabilities or budget of the Strati team, which is really impressive,” Hans explains. “So I try to make objects that are unique and still have that ‘wow’ factor.”
The Cheetah is capable of 3D printing directly from granules of ABS, with an 3mm extruder, which makes 3D printing large objects very fast. Items such as a lawnmower or a vacuum cleaner don’t necessarily need to be 3D printed in high resolution to be functional. Nor do the cement structures he is capable of 3D printing with an alternative nozzle, much like Massimo Moretti’s WASP team does in Italy with their BigBigDelta.
“This is intended to be an industrial machine, not a fancy 3D printer. Its flow rate is so much higher than a standard home 3D printer and it can be used to make low-cost, functional, large objects rather than small, high resolution parts,” Fouche explains. “That is our basic story and at the moment we are the only ones with this particular production capabilities. We would like to find serious investors to make a company and bring this possibility to people around the world.”
On that note: any takers?