What if there were a World Cup for 3D printing? This idea must have started incubating on my trip to Germany for Maker Faire Hannover, which took place during the World Cup. After a Saturday walking the Faire, I went to the hotel bar at night to watch Belgium lose to Argentina. The Netherlands beat Costa Rica in a shootout. After the last match, I began to leave when two brothers introduced themselves to me — Michel and Yves Sinner from Luxembourg. Michel and Yves run 3Dprintingforbeginners.com and they came to Hannover after visiting Maker Faire Paris. As we talked, I mentioned that we were preparing for Make: magazine’s annual review of 3D printers. Our own “shootout” would be held this year at America Makes, a public-private partnership around additive manufacturing located in Youngstown, Ohio. Yves told me that, as an innovation advisor for Goodyear, he had visited Akron many times, and he knew exactly where Youngstown was. Small world. I invited both of them to join us and they enthusiastically accepted.
America Makes renovated a storefront (once known as Furnitureland) in downtown Youngstown, a city that, like many in the Midwest, is struggling to rebound from the loss of its manufacturing base. Made of brick and timber beams, the facility covers three floors and includes many industrial 3D printers. Our editorial lead, Anna Kaziunas France, had made the arrangements for 22 different consumer 3D printers (we ultimately tested 26) to be set up in the basement, and she prepped our team of 17 testers — 15 Americans, along with Michel and Yves. Seeing the array of 3D printers, Michel said to me: “This is 3D printer heaven.” Our weekend event began with a welcome from Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes, and other representatives from Youngstown who were excited that this event was taking place there. Youngstown was Rio for 3D printing.
If there were a 3D World Cup, the U.S. would have enough “teams” to form its own domestic league. Representing California are Deezmaker in Pasadena, Airwolf in Costa Mesa, Printrbot in Lincoln, and Type A in San Francisco. Colorado has LulzBot. South Carolina has 3D Systems. Goshen, Indiana, is an unlikely place for a 3D printing company, but that’s where SeeMeCNC builds the Orion Delta 3D printer. An MIT spinoff, Formlabs, represents Boston, and MakerGear is Cleveland’s entry. Market leader MakerBot represents a resurgent Brooklyn and the return of manufacturing in New York City. The U.S. league for 3D printers is very competitive. Dremel’s entry into 3D printing, which we preview in this issue, could be a game changer.
Yet what makes a 3D World Cup possible is the increasing number of international entrants. The look-at-me design of the BeeTheFirst from BeeVeryCreative would make Portugal a crowd favorite. Germany would enter its orange and green Fabbster, which I saw at Maker Faire Hannover. Italy has XFAB from DWSLAB. Canada would send the snow-white Ditto Pro from Vancouver. We would look at Zortrax’s capable M200 from Poland and the DeeGreen from be3D in the Czech Republic. Europe’s strongest country is probably the Netherlands, which leads with a favorite of the testers, Ultimaker. It also has Leapfrog and Felix. There are lesser-known companies in Sweden (ZWYZ Printer), Spain (Witbox from bq), France (SpiderBot) and the U.K. (Robox). (We weren’t able to test all of these models.) I could imagine a quarterfinal with Poland playing Portugal.
In Asia, the field is less clear. China is producing a growing number of 3D printers, including FlashForge, which the Dremel printer is derived from. The UP printer, which is relabeled as Afinia for the American market, is capable and low-cost. A new printer we tested, the inexpensive da Vinci printer from XYZprinting, could represent Taiwan and China, but it wasn’t a leader in print quality. There are some clones like Mbot that are inferior in design and performance, but China is not the only country making clones. None of China’s printers may be a favorite this year, but watch out for them in the future.
The comparison to the World Cup breaks down when we consider South America. There is little evidence of 3D printers coming from countries like Brazil or Argentina, though this could be due to our own failure to find them.
Nonetheless, judging by the printers we had in the basement of America Makes, we would have enough countries for a round of 16 global competitors. We could have a da Vinci v. Ultimaker semi-final. I might have predicted that MakerBot would get to the finals, but like Brazil, they fell short; the two most competitive printers, the ones ending up in the final match would be from the U.S. and the Netherlands: LulzBot TAZ 4 v. Ultimaker 2.