Glowforge opens pre-orders for its 3D laser printer

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Glowforge 3D Laser Printer Available for Pre-Order.

Glowforge has flipped the switch to on for pre-orders of its 3D laser printer. It’s confusingly described but actually cuts into and reduces material to make objects from plastic, leather and the like, whereas a 3D printer adds on and builds up material objects.There is the material used to print which is equivalent to the ink in regular printers, and from there based on your design, it will then release that material and layer it until it becomes the thing you wanted to print.

I haven’t told my daughters yet that we’re getting this new tool that has captured my imagination and will soon help them make their own toys—and who knows what else. Designs are derived from popular software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, Glowforge’s own online catalog, or even from drawings from pen and paper. It’s essentially a laser cutter, but that’s kind of like calling a smartphone “essentially a phone.” It’s much easier to use than traditional laser cutters, and has some surprising capabilities, as you can see in the ad below.

Things are being created exactly for what’s needed and when they’re needed, domestically, on-the-spot”, said Dan Shapiro, CEO and creator of Glowforge in an interview with The Next Web. Right now there’s a 30-day pre-order sale to get the Glowforge at half the expected retail price: $2,000 for the Basic and $4,000 for the Pro, which has a pass-through slot that allows for larger materials, plus an upgrade from a Class I to a Class IV laser.

Just choose a project and place your material inside the printer, where the machine automatically produces a 3D scan, adapting the design based on its measurements. The truth is, Dan Shapiro, Glowforge’s co-founder and CEO, sold this thing to me over the course of several interviews and e-mail exchanges during the last year as he revealed his company and raised $9 million from venture investors. Glowforge raised a solid $9 million Series A from Foundry Group, True Ventures and others earlier this year to build a cheaper and smaller laser cutter that could maintain the same quality as higher end cutters found in professional shops and maker spaces. Glowforge’s one-button interface makes it as easy to use as a microwave oven, and it gets non-technical people involved in making things. “Glowforge takes that to an entirely different level”. At that price point, it’s still not for everyone, but could be within reach for makerspaces and small businesses, or for you makers who have already been experimenting with 3D printers.

Instead of layering, the method we mentioned earlier, Glowforge’s printer will use lasers and basically cut out designs based on whatever you have input into the software. When you plunk material into the Glowforge, it carefully looks over ever slice and can adjust for irregularities and even modify designs to fit on subtle curves, eliminating the painstaking set-up you’d have to go through on more professional printers. But I’ll try to explain what convinced me to fork over $1,995 (half off the suggested retail price) plus $99 shipping for a consumer-grade laser cutter, which I’ve managed to survive without until now. Using subtractive technology and autofocus to achieve depth and precision, Glowforge creates a number of objects – from lamp shades to drone frames – in a matter of minutes.

According to the company, they are boasting that its laser cutting technology is more precise than other similar machines out there, and best of all it is affordable. I wrote about and subsequently bought a couple of copies of Robot Turtles, his board game for teaching kids how to think like computer programmers, which broke Kickstarter records for its category. (It was Shapiro’s experience cutting out the pieces for Robot Turtles that got him engaged in the world of laser cutters.) My 3-year-old and I play together, and it’s fun. Budding artists can draw designs right on a piece of material, and the printer will cut around the lines, or they can download designs through Glowforge’s app and print those.

If you’d like to see it in action, check it out in the video above and if you like what you see, head on over to Glowforge’s website for the details. And, Shapiro says, “There’s no design background required.” Shapiro showed Quartz a range of intricately cut wood items made on the Glowforge, including a mahogany computer stand, a homemade version of the board game Settlers of Catan, and a keyboard holder. They all seemed like stylish projects one might find on a successful Etsy page, and the Glowforge would undoubtedly be a useful tool for cutting down the time it takes woodworkers and other crafters to make their tchotchkes.

It does have some limits: The material you’re cutting or engraving can be a maximum size of 12 inches by 20 inches by 1.5 inches high—so you can’t fit a pumpkin inside. (I had visions of epic 2016 jack o’ lanterns.) Shapiro says there’s a workaround: He sliced off the face of a relatively flat pumpkin, laser-engraved it in the Glowforge, then reinserted the cut piece into the gourd. Also, the Glowforge’s 40-watt CO2 laser can only cut through material up to a quarter-inch thick in a single pass, but by flipping the material over and making a second pass, you can double that—and the computer vision technology baked in handles the alignment to make this easy, Shapiro says. He broke his last belt, he explained, and instead of buying a new one, he ran a spare piece of leather he had through the Glowforge, and cut himself a belt that had the exact width to fit him. A “Pro” model, which costs $3,995 during the early-bird promotion and has an MSRP of $8,000, sports a more powerful 45-watt laser—it’s in the FDA’s laser hazard class IV, whereas the base model is hazard class I—and has the capability to continuously feed in material, meaning you can cut or engrave something 20 inches wide and essentially unlimited in length, with software and internal cameras once again handling the alignment.

He’d done the same with a wallet that fit just the cards he carried, and even a leather bag that had a pocket exactly the right shape for his iPad Air. The Glowforge can engrave “glass, marble, rubber stamps, stone, ceramic, tile and coated metals such as anodized aluminum, stainless steel, brass, titanium, and more.” The demo video shows people custom-engraving their MacBooks, among many other things. Shapiro envisions a future where home consumers will be able to print themselves a pair of jeans that fit them perfectly, and aren’t any harder to put together than IKEA furniture. Both the walnut and the acrylic were in the cutter at the same time and were cut during the same sub-15 minute run, with the laser adjusting its power as it moved from one material to the other.

It could be the printer that finally brings 3D printing into the average consumer’s home, though for now, Shapiro said Glowforge’s most likely customers will be arts-and-crafts types, and those who sell their products on sites like Etsy. “We’re reinventing what it means to be homemade,” Shapiro added. During the demonstration, a considerable amount of smoke and even some small flames came up from the walnut inside the machine as the laser did its work.

As for the exhaust, there’s two solutions: Place the unit by a window or buy an integrated air filter for an additional $500 (at the early-bird price), which would allow the machine to run in an office or home without external ventilation. The Glowforge makes building things in three dimensions—a four-foot tall doll house, for example—relatively easy because it cuts so precisely, even if the material is non-uniform. The software accounts for imperfections in the material relative to the plan and adapts the plan and the cuts it makes accordingly, in real time, Shapiro says. “We can dedicate a supercomputer to making your dollhouse for a fraction of a second, instead of having a desktop or an embedded computer cranking away forever trying to figure it out,” Shapiro says.

The idea was to use commodity smartphone components instead of robotics equipment and cloud computing power instead of local computing resources wherever possible. In addition to premium designs, Glowforge will sell material specially coated with an ultraviolet barcode that the cutter can read and identify easily, automatically adjusting the power of the laser for the given job.

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