The popularity of 3D printers has expanded extraordinarily in the past couple of years. Machine reliability has increased dramatically, and new materials for printing are being introduced each day, with printers now being capable of delivering one-off prints in everything from plastic to metal. Some forward-thinking research groups have even begun working on creating 3D printed chocolate structures and human tissue.
Today’s desktop printers are significantly closer to the quality and features of industrial 3D printers. A high rate of innovation has resulted in faster printing speeds, greater reliability, and the availability of unique new materials. This makes Additive Manufacturing an appropriate technology for new applications in more sectors. While desktop 3D printers were earlier used by hobbyists or for constrained utilization in the education sector, these printers are progressively discovering applications in different industries, for example, engineering, art, jewelry, product design, dentistry, architecture, biomedical and consumer products.
The desktop 3D printing segment is less than a decade old, with many of the most significant advancements occurring in the last 5 years. Industrial 3D printing had been in use for over three decades, but high-cost entry constrained it to be used by trained technicians in well-funded corporate environments. As desktop printers came into the picture, a much broader audience was able to experience the thrill of an object coming to life before their eyes. These new printers were smaller, more user-friendly, and could be purchased for a fraction of the cost. The market was taking root, but a need for reliable software to make the most of this technology was rising as well.
Truth be told, the potential for success exists for those who seize the opportunity before anyone else. Clayton Webster set out to tackle these software challenges by founding Simplify3D in 2013. Today, Simplify3D provides industry-leading 3D printing software that is trusted by professionals worldwide. The software analyzes your digital 3D models to determine the best way to fabricate these parts through additive manufacturing. Acting as the brain of the 3D printer, the software precisely controls speed, temperature, cooling, extrusion, and positioning to ensure the highest quality of output.
The team at Simplify3D is driven to empower innovation through 3D printing. They strive to simplify the process and improve the results, thereby enabling more designers, inventors, and engineers to harness the power of additive manufacturing. At present, Simplify3D is trusted by users in over 120 countries to provide total control over the printing process and consistently deliver the best results.
A Visionary Set Out to Make a Difference
Nearly a decade ago, Webster was studying Engineering at Purdue University when he got his first taste of 3D printing. At the time, 3D printers were very costly and were typically only accessible to skilled technicians. Purdue offered a Computer Aided Design (CAD) course that allowed students to design digital models on their computers, and then fabricate those models using one of the SLA 3D printers at the university. “I remember having to pay $20 to use the machine and waiting about three weeks to receive the finished parts”, Webster recounted. “The parts were quite brittle, and if a change was needed, you were stuck waiting several more weeks before you could get a replacement.” Despite these constraints, watching a digital design come to life in a real physical part was a transformative experience, and he quickly started looking at ways to make this technology more accessible.
Great leaders do not set out to be a leader; they set out to make a difference. Webster wanted to make a difference so that 3D printing would be more accessible and thus became a part of the early group of pioneers in the personal 3D printing sector, working to lay a foundation for the industry. There were no off-the-shelf machines or kits back then that could be purchased, so Webster took a leap of faith, and designed and fabricated his first 3D printer in his college dorm room. “After the printer was built, raw materials became the next hurdle. I convinced a local plastics company to create a small batch of specialty filament that would work with this new type of 3D printer. It was expensive, but it worked!”
The next two years were spent on electronics and control systems development. One of his largest contributions during this time was the development of the printer firmware that handles communication, motor control, sensors, and printer kinematics. He released the code to the open-source community, and many printers on the market today are still powered by a variant of this firmware. With an intimate knowledge of hardware, electronics, and firmware control systems, Webster turned his efforts to software – the final piece of the puzzle and something that would consume his energies for several years to come. In order for 3D printing to truly empower innovation at the grassroots level, it would require software that could tap the power of these revolutionary machines.
Making 3D Printing Much More Accessible to a Global Audience
The road to the destination was not always easy. Webster had confidence that it was only a matter of time before the challenges could vanish. It needed patience, a lot of it, and a dogged determination to stay focused on the goal, and he had both.
One of the challenges Webster and the team faced was the Fragmented Industry. Hundreds of 3D printing companies created a fragmented global groundswell of hardware options across the industry. There were very few standards in this new market. Different machines used different commands, various file formats, and offered completely different sets of capabilities. Yet since its inception, Simplify3D was committed to the goal of universal software compatibility, allowing the software to work with nearly any desktop 3D printer on the market.
To tackle this complexity and provide 3D printing companies with a single universal software interface, Simplify3D partnered with 3D printing companies around the globe to provide a single software solution for desktop 3D printers. This unifying effort involves constant collaboration with hardware manufacturers and a continuous effort to integrate the latest advancements into the software.
As a result of partnerships formed between Simplify3D and OEM companies, end users have one-click access to optimized settings for the most popular 3D printers. With support added for almost 100 new
printers in just the last year, Simplify3D is the one-stop software solution to operate all users’ machines all around the globe.
Another major challenge that the company faced was the rapid adoption of 3D printing around the world. To support a growing global market, Simplify3D is now available in 6 different languages. Also, the company works with distributors in over 30 countries who sell Simplify3D with their own 3D printers and provide skilled support for their local markets. Expanded language support and OEM partnerships have made 3D printing and Simplify3D much more accessible to a global audience.
Offering the Freedom that Customers Need
Simplify3D is recognized for complete control over the 3D printing process – giving customers the freedom they need to optimize results even for the most complex projects. This has led to groundbreaking applications such as surgeons using the software to build an accurate replica of a human heart, visualization of complex protein molecules, or even prototyping for next generation engine designs. The latest release of the Simpify3D software, Version 4.0, has unlocked even more functionality by allowing customers to apply different physical properties within a single model. By altering how the part is printed, users can now optimize strength, weight, or finish quality within different regions of the model. The software enables customers to push the limits of additive manufacturing and focus on their creative ideas.
Offering Specialized Programs to Students, Teachers, and Labs
The last two years have witnessed a significant rise of educational interest in Simplify3D, with many schools and universities now offering courses dedicated to 3D printing. These institutions have recognized the importance of training the next generation understand how to integrate additive manufacturing into the design process. To assist schools that are incorporating 3D printing into their curriculum, Simplify3D also offers specialized packages for students, teachers, and labs. Schools typically own multiple brands and styles of 3D printers, so having Simplify3D act as a single software interface for all their machines provides significant efficiencies in teaching and student learning.
The Team that Uses their Vast Knowledge to Develop Extensive Resources
It does not take strength; rather takes the true heart of the team to win. The expert team at Simplify3D has calibrated and optimized hundreds of 3D printers, and they are arguably the world leader in this expertise. Their knowledge became the foundation for extensive resources that explain how to achieve the best results from your 3D printer. In keeping with the goals of the company founder, these resources are shared freely with the entire community to advance the adoption of 3D printing. The company also offers a highly-skilled support team that is available to help schools, businesses, and consumers achieve greater success with their 3D printing projects.
Values that Drive Simplify3D Ahead
Developing long-term relationships with their customers is always their top priority, and they achieve this by listening to the customers’ needs to determine the most popular feature requests to integrate into the software. The entire Simplify3D team knows the importance of this customer-focused attitude, and they consistently use this feedback to plan their future development roadmap. With more than 25 software updates since 2013, the software continues to keep pace with customer suggestions. Additional online tools help customers know how to apply software settings to achieve the best results. For example, the widely referenced online Print Quality Guide helps end users diagnose their printing problems and apply corrective action.
Another value that make Simplify3D unique is the drive for continued, reliable execution. Increasingly, Simplify3D is used in time-critical production environments, and Webster knows that customers depend on them to deliver more control and better results with each software release. “Our long-time users, OEM partners, and corporate customers expect the best results, every time and our whole team works very hard to deliver.”
The other major value that is spread across the entire organization is a quest for excellence. The company fosters a culture of innovation where employees are always investigating new ways to push the limits of 3D printing. The engineering team is constantly testing new 3D printer models that arrive to the lab from countries around the world. The employees analyze test results to look for means to improve, and then they calibrate detailed software settings to achieve the best results on that particular printer. The expert team is constantly researching new techniques to shape the future of additive manufacturing, and this attitude of constant improvement will continue to drive the company ahead.
Future Roadmap that Looks Bright!
The 3D printing industry is growing at an extraordinary pace with desktop 3D printer sales now outnumbering industrial 3D printer sales by almost 30-to-1. There are literally hundreds of brands of desktop 3D printers offered around the world. The increased competition has driven down prices and created an extensive array of customization options, allowing buyers to find a printer that suits their needs and budget. Nonetheless, while some of these companies have started to establish themselves as market leaders, consolidation among the hundreds of 3D printing companies will undoubtedly play a major role in the years ahead.
Many entry-level 3D printers are producing results that rival their more expensive industrial counterparts. When asked what can be expected from Simplify3D in the coming future, Webster replies, “We expect that the boundary between desktop and industrial 3D printers will continue to blur over the coming years. Simplify3D plays a critical role in this trend by continuously introducing new features that unlock improved capabilities. The latest release, Version 4.0, added several groundbreaking features, such as the ability for extrusion-based 3D printers to dynamically adjust the speed and flow rate of the material to vary the size of the printed part. This allows for more accurate shapes including small, tapering, or delicate features that would have otherwise not been possible with desktop printing.”
The innovative approach with which Simplify3D drives forward is creating unique opportunities for the desktop 3D printing sector. “As Simplify3D continues to pioneer new techniques for additive manufacturing, we expect to see continued interest from businesses that are looking to capitalize on these advancements and provide greater access to their employees, encouraging innovation from all levels of their organization,” Webster concludes.