Thursday April 17, 2014

Inventor wants 3D printers for all

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A Yorkton inventor is poised to revolutionize the world of 3D printing.

Rylan Grayston has created the Peachy Printer a 3D printer that will sell for $100, and put the technology within the reach of everyone.

Grayston said he started working on the idea a couple of years ago, and through a series of evolutions finally had the technology to the point he could show the world.

"It's actually making 3D printing available to the masses," said Rylan Grayston.

Grayston, who partnered with brother Nathan to get the printer to the point of telling the world, chose to launch the concept through two crowd-funding Internet sites, Kickstarter and IndieGogo, an initiative which raised nearly $750,000 to bring the printer to market.

As for working with Nathan, Rylan said it was a natural.

"Me and Nathan have been working together for years, since we got out of our parents' house," he said.

"We've always been working on stuff together," added Nathan.

"Family is really important to us, so why not run a business together," continued Rylan.

Nathan said they actually make a good team because their respective skill sets are different but complimentary; Rylan always into 3D modeling and animation, while Nathan himself was more into movie making and web design.

"I could create really amazing stuff, but there was no emotion," offered Rylan, adding his brother would add graphics and music and "make the heart thump."

Ryan said he has always tinkered with creative processes.

"I've been the inventor all my life, right from childhood," he said, noting he has always been curious how things work, and how you might make things better, or at a lower cost.

And he had a loftier goal on mind too; "to change the world in some new ways."

Rylan said the Peachy Printer will give everyone access to the creativity a 3D printer allows.

"It will enable people to create things they want — and right now," he said.

Rylan said there is something freeing to the act in being able to create things. He related how at one time toys were made by hand.

"A child would see a knife whittling away and think they could do that," he said.

Toy making today is now done by machines hundreds of miles away, and children can no longer look at a toy and dream of making one.

With a 3D printer "you can think 'I want to be a toy maker' again," offered Rylan.

In the case of the 3D printer, Rylan said designing his own was the only option he had.

"I really wanted one," he said, but added he had no where near the $3,500, or more such a unit would have cost him.

"I started inventing a tool for my own use."

While not being able to afford a commercial 3D printer, Rylan said he understood how they worked.

"I still had them taken apart in my head," he said, adding knowing the components "it wasn't really hard to understand."

In starting the inventive process, Rylan said it comes down to understanding what it is you are trying to make.

"It's all about asking yourself the right questions," he said, adding you have to have a vision of the work you are undertaking.

Rylan said his primary line of questions was about how to lower costs.

"I asked myself different questions (than other inventors might have), because I was broke," he said. He said he looked at existing 3D printers and questioned "how can I eliminate costs?"

The projector went in favour of a simple mirror.

A connection to the laptop eliminated operating system costs.

Water is used to lift the resin as printing takes place, eliminating the more complicated gear and servo system of existing printers.

"I just eliminated all the costs," said Rylan, adding his first admittedly crude printer was made entirely of material found around the house.

It has evolved past the household creation stage.

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In terms of the technology behind the printer, the Kickstarter project page gives some insight.

"The peachy printer is a Photolithographic printer. That means it uses a controlled beam of light to cure light sensitive resin into hard objects. The peachy moves a laser beam along the X and Y axis to create the shape of the object, while using a drip system to control the level of the resin on the Z axis which determines the height of the object.

"The object you want to print must first become a 3D model in Blender. The software we wrote as an add on to blender takes the data from that 3D model and translates it into an audio waveform. It then plays the audio file out to the printer through the headphone jack in your computer. This waveform drives a pair of electro magnetic mirrors. The higher the volume, the higher the voltage, the more the mirrors move. The purpose of these mirrors is to reflect and control the path of the laser beam. By using the audio waveform generated from the 3D model data to drive the mirrors, we are able to get the laser beam to draw out the shape of the object. That's takes care of the X and Y axis."

As for the drip system which creates movement on the Z axis. "The salt water in the top container syphons down to a drip feed. The rate of this drip feed is controlled by a valve. As each drip leaves the feed, it passes through two contact points creating an electrical connection that is detected by your computers microphone jack. The drip continues to fall into the bottom container where it causes the resin floating atop it to rise. The software listens to the microphone level, counting each drip that falls and calculates the resultant level of the resin. This allows the software to send the layer that corresponds with the current Z-level of the resin. This process continues until the print is complete."

Rylan said while he is still refining the Peachy Printer, he fully anticipates users will make additional modifications which improve the printer for their particular needs.

The printer, in Rylan's mind is a tool for people, and he believes people should be able to change tools to suit particular jobs.

As it is a person can purchase a hammer, take it to the lake to build a cabin and if they find they need a longer handle, can make one from a branch, and it's legal and acceptable.

Rylan said computer software is a tool too, but you are not legally allowed to modify it.

"It's a tool but you don't get to change it," he said.

With the printer, if someone needs to change it to improve it for a specific job, "it makes sense to do it," said Ryan.

In Rylan's case it is a philosophical choice to allow user development to follow what he has created.

"I don't want to go big in a way that hurts people," he said. "I'm respecting people's ability to change the tool."

During the earliest phase of development Nathan was more sounding board than active creative participant.

"I'd come home and see how work was going," said Nathan, adding he was encouraging of the work.

Rylan said every developer needs someone in their corner to help them through the small victories and defeats.

Having Nathan there at a time "I was putting all my effort into this project instead of having a job," was critical, not just because he was living at his brother's but because he was there to offer honest thoughts on how the printer was coming along.

Rylan said you need the in-house honesty from someone before taking an idea "out into the world".

Rylan said in terms of development the Peachy Printer has gone through a number of incarnations, starting out as something "feasible" evolving into something "really amazing" and still being refined so that when it hits the streets in can be "near perfect."

With crowd-funding in place, the brothers are now refining the design so that by June 2014 the Peachy Printer can go out to the more than 4000 supporters.

The printers will draw components from around the world, but will be assembled here in Yorkton.

"We'll be able to put 'Made in Canada' on it," said Rylan.

And so work continues leading up to the first shipments to crowd funding supports in mid-2014.

"I think the project is coming along really well," said Rylan, adding in terms of abilities to print in 3D he believes the Peachy Printer "will be comparable to high-end printers."

And Rylan has some big plans for his little printer.

"I'm going to try and print a canoe," he said, adding it would be a full-sized, water worthy craft.

"That's our goal," agreed Nathan with a smile.

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