Harvey Mudd College students Oliver Orlieb HM ’12, Max Friefeld HM ’13 and Jonathan Schwartz HM ’13 recently founded Layer by Layer, a 3D printing company. Due to the expiration of patents since 2007, 3D printing has become a lucrative field for small businesses. With Layer By Layer, the three students hope to capitalize on this growing market base.
One of the major perks of 3D printing, according to Schwartz, is the ease of customization. In contrast to traditional manufacturing strategies, 3D printing makes it just as convenient to produce 50 unique parts with small details as it is to produce 50 objects that are exactly the same. 3D printers work by building extremely thin layers of material, usually plastic, on top of each other to create an object.
This difference between traditional manufacturing and 3D printing comes from the process by which 3D printing occurs. Files sent to the printer are made using CAD software, which allows users to create 3D designs of products. The object then needs to be prepared for printing through a series of checks that assure that all edges are closed; the file also needs to be sliced for printing.
The best printers have layers, or resolutions, of less than one micrometer. A more average machine has a 200 to 300 micrometer resolution. After all these electronic steps occur, the user only needs to select the material of choice and send the file to the printer, which can print one or many objects.
Ortlieb, Friefeld and Schwartz founded Layer By Layer in order to fill a gap they saw in the 3D printing world; before this, an Amazon- and iTunes-like marketplace did not exist for designers to sell products to consumers with their own printers. Schwartz sees Layer By Layer as benefiting both designers and consumers by allowing designers to profit from their work and consumers to design objects using 3D printers.
Currently, there are spaces for free file-sharing among designers, but there is no space for designers to sell their work as a product. Like Amazon, Layer By Layer has a space for reviews of objects. Like iTunes, it allows someone to buy, essentially, a single copy of an object for a small price. The file would be transferred directly from the website to the computer and the consumer would have the product as soon as the printer finished.
The founders of Layer By Layer are hoping users of the service may someday include companies such as Lego and Hasbro, who manufacture small and detailed parts. In their vision, consumers would be able to purchase Lego pieces through Layer By Layer and print them in their own home, while also being able to choose characteristics like color. Instead of outsourcing the manufacturing to countries like China and employing many middlemen, their system would be a step from designer to Layer By Layer to consumer, making it much more efficient.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the students hosted a presentation about their company and demonstrated how a 3D printer works. According to the data they presented, sales of personal 3D printers have been increasing by 200 to 300 percent per year, making now the prime time to get involved.
For the next week, Layer By Layer is in “beta launch” at the 5Cs, meaning interested students can go to the website (mudd.layerbylayer.com) and create an account to upload designs. In return for students’ help in testing, the founders will print these designs on their own personal 3D printers and deliver them to the student designers. After the beta launch, they will network and attempt to collect designers and designs for their full launch, which is slated for mid-January. For more information, check out their website or email email@example.com.