Crowdfunding campaigns are most often used as a pre-order system for funding the completion and manufacturing of hardware projects. As exciting as this model might be for the future of investing and business, the real stories are in the people running the campaigns, particularly when a crowdfunding campaign is an attempt at connection between the project’s founders and its potential backers. Just as a Romanian truck modeler reached out to the Internet to fund his daily living and medications, a couple based out of Texas has turned to the world of Indiegogo in an attempt to continue funding their dream of producing a ~$4,000 SLS 3D printer called the PowderKeg.
Katie and Josh Dickerson, of Dickerson Engineering Innovations, LLC, are a married couple that met at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2009 and has spent the past two years working to create a low-cost Selective Laser Sintering 3D printer with a target price of $4,000. At this price, the couple believes that they can make the same sort of impact that other previously industrial-focused printing technologies have had when they were brought down to more reasonable prices. Think of them as the Formlabs of SLS, except, if you take a look at their crowdfunding campaign, with a little more heart? The Indiegogo reads:
With this vision, we got an initial seed investment of $60K, sold the majority of our belongings and left our comfy townhouse to live in a mobile home park in a bad side of town. We had to cut virtually every nicety out of our lives to make things happen. We have completely exhausted our initial seed investment, personal funds, credit lines and every other resource at our disposal. We poured our heart and soul into this project and the prospect of having to stop here is nothing short of heartbreaking. Please contribute, even if only $1, so that we can continue moving forward and bring this dream closer to reality.
After a year of work, Dickerson Engineering Innovations has developed a working prototype that relies on a 40W CO2 laser to fuse powdered plastic at layers between 0.06 mm and 0.2 mm thick and filling a volume of 228 mm x 184 mm x 152 mm. The PowderKeg has a traveling speed of 800 mm/s, printing 7.2 mm/hr, 12 mm/hr, and 24 mm/hr at high, medium, and low resolutions respectively. The startup states that the use of a CO2 laser with a wavelength of 10.6 um, as compared to a semiconductor laser, allows the machine to fuse a number of different colors and media, including PA12, PA650, and “virtually any powdered thermoplastic”, at 10x the speed of their competitors.
In addition to the SLS process that multiple startups are currently pursuing, which the Dickersons say results in porous prints, the PowderKeg will also be capable of Selective Laser Melting (SLM). Though many use the terms interchangeably, companies like SLM Solutions and the Dickersons make the distinction that unlike SLS, which only fuses at the molecular level, SLM causes the powder to melt together completely with no porosity, leading to stronger, fully dense prints overall.
The advantages of powderbed processes in general are that the powder acts as a built in support structure, allowing for refined and complex 3D printed parts. For this reason, Shapeways offers SLS to manufacture the many elaborate nylon prints, like moving parts and obscene overhangs, you may have seen in various storefronts. The technology also allows for printing multiple prints in batches, perfect for small businesses. And, while not necessarily as strong as FDM/FFF 3D printing, SLS produces high-resolution parts that last longer than those made by other processes like stereographic or digital light processing.
The Dickersons have a working prototype, but are pleading to get the project to the mass manufacturing stage and to help them get through the next few months. With the requested $25,000, they’ll be able to cover their living expenses and R&D, spending $4,000 per month. While many rewards will earn you some small prizes, if you’re willing to send them $20,000, you’ll obtain the one and only prototype that the startup will be able to produce at the end of this campaign, capable of obtaining its highest resolution and packaged in an aesthetically pleasing case. And, if they aren’t able to achieve their goal, they’ve got a clause in their campaign saying that they’ll release all of the designs, schematics, and firmware as open source.
So, the Dickersons are placing an emphatic call out to you, Internet, to help them survive just long enough to secure funding to keep their operations afloat and bring the PowderKeg to the masses, where it can explode onto the 3D printing scene:
This is our SOS to the internet, quite possibly the most powerful instrument for change on earth. We have seen the people in it topple a regime. We have also seen crowdfunding backers prove investors wrong time and again- so that’s why we’re here. The impact your support will have is two-fold. For one, it will keep us operating as we refine our pitch to hardware accelerators and investors to secure the resources we need to get to production. In addition, it would also send a loud and clear message to the investors we are approaching. Either way your support will help this technology emerge and make an impact on the world.
So, what are you waiting for, Internet? Are you going to help the Dickersons or not?