These Huge 3D Printers Want to Save the Earth (and Maybe Mars)

What are we planning, here on Earth to get us ready for next-stage planetary exploration and terraforming tasks? One thing's clear: we'll have to build out habitats with materials on hand. There's no Amazon Prime Mars (yet) for Earth-to-Mars shipments, which is where industrial-scale 3D printing comes into play. One company that might help with that effort is Houston-based re:3D. With the tagline "Think BIG, Print HUGE," re:3D makes the Gigabot, the world's largest, affordable, industrial 3D printer, which is now available in 50-plus countries. It donates one Gigabot for every 100 sold commercially to a group or individuals making a difference in their community. It's committed to turning plastic waste into 3D-printed projects and is still involved in post-disaster efforts in Puerto Rico. We spoke with re:3D's Co-Founder and CEO Samantha Snabes to find out more. Here are edited and condensed excerpts from our conversation. I've read that re:3D started in 2013 when you and co-founder Matthew Fiedler were working at NASA Johnson Space Center, as social entrepreneurs in residence. How did the experience inspire you to start the company, and why? [SS] While working at NASA I volunteered for Engineers Without Borders NASA JSC, a group of NASA astronauts, engineers, and scientists who wanted to translate what they were learning about solar energy, confined spaces, water quality, and water purification and take it to the developing world. I got the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua, Uganda, Rwanda, and saw a lot of frustrations around dependence on aid, imported goods, as well as high unemployment and the problem with plastic-based waste. It gave Matthew and I the idea to use open-source 3D printers as a way for people to make their own stuff independently, using this plastic waste. The maker movement was just building momentum back then, but we realized industrial 3D printers were too expensive, and not modular, so we came up with a better solution, applied to Startup Chile, which offers $40,000 to start, or scale, your idea in Latin America, quit our jobs, moved to Chile, and started the company. How do you turn plastic waste into reusable 3D-printed materials? It's not easy, but it is possible. Gigabot X can handle multiple types of reclaimed plastic, but there is still a lot of research to do. The easiest to cope with is plastic trim, known as "virgin plastic" because it's clean and dry and we're now working on printing from water bottles, investigating ways to separate the label, bottle cap, and adhesive via an optimum grinder, and drying and feeding solution, to characterize the size of flake that best extraudes. Your Gigabot range can now print objects up to 30 times larger than competing desktop models. What's the entry-level Gigabot functionality and cost? Gigabot starts at just under $10,000 as a kit for a 2-foot cubed build volume filament-based 3D printer. Gigabot X, our pellet printer, starts at $15,000 for a similar build volume. Both platforms can go as large as your budget. We also offer contract printing, training, and design services. Who are your main customers today and how are they using the Gigabot? Our customers today use Gigabot for a variety of applications ranging from automotive to healthcare to construction. We'd love to hear what application your readers would like us to highlight next! Do you have contracts with NASA? Are you working on the Mars program? While we are not working on the Mars program directly, we do have many customers at multiple NASA campuses as well as contractors that serve the space agency. Source : PCMAG