$40k Desktop Factory Competition to make on demand manufacturing a commercial reality

Before we get into the big announcement...here's a little background.

3D printing has been around for over 20 years.  It's a process where you take a digital computer file and "print" out a plastic part layer by layer.  In recent years the price of these machines has come down to a few thousand dollars and this year we saw the birth of one that cost $499.  If you aren't familiar with 3D printing check out this video.

At Inventables we think these machines are going to change the world.  We sell the plastic that goes inside of them on spools.  The process to make the plastic spools is expensive.  We think if the plastic was cheaper, the UI was simpler, and you could just "press print" for the product you want you would start to see these machines on every desktop.  At that time the machines would start to look prettier and more like something you would want to have in your house.

We want this to happen faster.

Today, May 19th 2012, Inventables, the Kauffman Foundation and Maker Faire announced the launch of The Desktop Factory Competition, a global competition to democratize 3D printing. In this competition, teams will design an open source machine capable of making plastic resin pellets fit for use in a low cost 3D printer. The announcement was made at Maker Faire in the GE Garage.

Here are the specifics from our press release:
The Problem:
Low cost 3D printing is an emerging market.  Competitors including Makerbot, Printrbot, Solidoodle, and Ultimaker sell machines for $399-$2200.  These machines require extruded plastic filament that costs about $40-$54 per kg.  This is between 5-10 times the cost of the raw resin pellets.  To get widespread adoption of the technology the cost of using the machines will need to go down.

The Challenge:
Drive down the cost of filament by creating a new machine.  The first team/person to build an open source filament extruder for less than $250 in components can take ABS or PLA resin pellets, mix them with colorant, and extrude enough 1.75mm diameter +/- .05mm filament that can be wrapped on a 1kg spool.  This filament needs to be capable of being used in a 3D printer. 

At Inventables we will verify the BOM posted matches the machine sent. We will order all the parts from suppliers and attempt to build it ourselves. We will then run the machine and verify it meets the criteria listed on the challenge. After we are done with the evaluation we will send the machine back if you wish.

The competition will end when the first person sends in a valid solution. If the clock runs out before then we will likely extend the time frame. The decision will be based on what the state of the art solutions for 3D printers look like at that time.

The winner of the competition will be objectively determined by the first one to upload a solution here http://desktopfactory2012.istart.org/

The Reward:
The winning team will receive $40,000 plus a laser cutter, 3D printer, and CNC milling machine.
“There is a dire need to improve access to 3D printing globally, low cost digital fabrication will improve the way we design and buy products because it will reduce the financial risk and waste associated with holding inventory.” said Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables. “The competition will incent the creation of technologies that can drop the price of the plastic required for 3D printing machines from around $50 dollars per kilogram to around $5.”
By launching this incentivized competition, the Inventables, the Kauffman Foundation, and Maker Faire seek to make on demand local and home based manufacturing a reality.  

Details for how to enter the competition are posted at http://desktopfactory2012.istart.org/

Other useful information
The input material is ABS and PLA plastic resin pellets. These pellets are small granules generally with shape of a cylinder or a disk with a diameter of a few millimeters. I had some in a bag in our office and just measured them and found they ranged in size from 2mm to 7mm in diameter. The machine needs to work with pellets that come from any big resin pellet manufacturer. Here is a list of manufacturers that make ABS -  and here is one for PLA manufacturers.

The bill of materials cost will be calculated when machines are ordered in quantities of 400. If parts need to be custom manufactured then Inventables will pay for that manufacturing ourselves to verify the machines can actually be manufactured. We understand the bill of materials for these test machines will cost more than it will at 400 units but we will verify the quotes for parts at 400 units meet the $250 limit. For example, if you need 1 foot of a 3 foot bar of aluminum we will divide the cost of buying enough aluminum bar to make 400 machines by 400 units.

For colorants we prefer a dry blend because they don't make as big of a mess but we will accept liquid colorant solutions as well. In industry they call this process a "masterbatch".

Good luck!

The contest was won by Hugh Lyman.  TIME Magazine did an article covering his winning entry.