With Mike having geographic favour when it came to being on site at CES in Las Vegas last week, I was left to baton down the hatches here in the UK to aggregate and process the proliferation of announcements coming from the 3D Printing Tech Zone. I’ve done my fair share of shows, but I’m picking up clues that none quite compare with the frenzy of CES. I can’t quite decide whether I dodged a bullet or missed the greatest 3D Printing show on Earth (to date)!?
What I certainly did miss though, was an opportunity to meet Sedny Attia, CEO of TREOFAB, face to face. An invitation from Sedny to meet, based on the assumption I was in Vegas, necessarily meant I had to decline, but a subsequent note that he really wanted to talk to me about TREOFAB, which, until now has been in stealth mode, piqued my interest. So we set a time and date to hook up on Skype. That call took place last night (for me, anyway, it was lunch time for him) and it was one of those calls that you suddenly realize that you’re well over an hour in and it feels like you’ve only been on the call a few minutes.
As Sedny first introduced me to the TREOFAB platform I did initially think things like “yep, such and such does that,” and “ok, seen that before,” and back to, “so and so does that.” Then it hit me — TREOFAB brings all of it together in a way that neither such and such nor so and so does.
You’re probably losing patience and wondering what I am babbling on about, so, let’s get to the nitty gritty. We are essentially talking about an interactive content platform for 3D printing, but it is so much more than that too. This is not one of those rigid directories of 3D printables, which, according to Sedny, completely miss the main consumer point of 3D printing, namely customisation. TREOFAB is a content platform that will host 3D printable designs, but each of those designs is fully customizable, within 3D printing parameters, courtesy of an easy to use, full feature editor. This enables consumers using TREOFAB to select the product they want (toy, phone case, piece of jewellery, robot etc) and customize it with logos (2D or 3D), text (2D or 3D in a range of fonts including braille), colour, printing material, printing process and therefore print quality, which manufacturer and where it is to be manufactured. The customer, therefore, can ultimately decide the price and also minimize shipping costs.
As the last entries in that list suggest, TREOFAB has a range of 3D printing service providers on board, each offering different fulfillment options. Apart from the obvious ones — Shapeways, Scultpteo, imaterialise et al — Sedny was particularly excited about working with 3D Print UK and the economies of scale that Nick Allen and his team there have developed with the SLS process. Sedny is of the opinion that for durable, functional and high quality prints, SLS is unbeatable.
TREOFAB is not just about consumers though — it’s a platform that offers much to players across the entire spectrum of the 3D printing industry. Designers and manufacturers are also invited to test the platform out — there are incentives to do so, although, as Sedny concedes, they’re unlikely to pay your mortgage at the moment. But this is early days and the TREOFAB team, consisting of 10 (2 FT and 8 PT) are determined to take it slow and do it right. This meant the inclusion of the ‘Object App Builder’ where designs submitted for publication (and sale) on TREOFAB, are dropped as stl files. More file formats will follow.
The idea for TREOFAB was conceived four years ago or so. The back story will probably be familiar to many — originating from a group of like-minded people that were 3D printing as a passionate hobby on entry-level machines. The sticking point was the software and accessibility. Sedny recalled how at that time, friends and family would ask him to print this and that, which he was happy to do. But over time he realized that each request demanded an hour or more of CAD work, plus conversion of the CAD file to stl and so on. If 3D printing on demand was to have mass appeal then anyone, aged 8 to 80, needed to be able to access it quickly and easily. The idea for TREOFAB was born and the ensuing years have seen some heavy duty engineering on the platform to bring all of the strands together.
One of those strands included partnering with scanning company Artec and providing 3D printables that can incorporate Braille text on them. The goal here is to engage with the blind, specifically children and allow them to engage with this technology frontier. In his online demo Sedny showed me a how a 3D model of a toy cow can be customized for a blind child, by adding the 3D letters c-o-w on one side, and the equivalent in Braille on the other side. This can be extrapolated to any animal, toy or indeed shape. A lovely aside, I thought — both thoughtful and valuable.
The premise is that TREOFAB will run an ‘app store model’, whereby the team will be able to test all submissions on their own 3D printers, which now include Stratasys FDM machines, to ‘control garbage.’ TREOFAB is currently in Beta, but is open to registrations for the site, with a slow build planned. I registered just before starting to write this article, as the first hundred registrations will be granted Beta access, with further access following feedback. Sedny was adamant that feedback was welcome — the good, the bad and the ugly! He was confident there would be an overall positive response, but there would be issues. They want to identify and eliminate those issues.
I desperately need a new 3D printed phone case, my Fresh Fibre one from 2012 has done well, but with one corner left, I fear it only has a few weeks left. After the call last night, I want to TREOFAB a new one, I’ll report back on how it goes and if it really is the accessibility channel we’ve been waiting for as demonstrated in this video: