Interview with Fabio Esposito, CEO of Solidscape

Solidscape is a division in Stratasys that creates beautiful 3D printers like the Solidscape Max2 High Precision 3D Printer. Solidscape 3D Printers make models out of wax which allows them to be absurdly accurate with amazing dimensional tolerances and a layer height that can go down to just a few microns on the Pro model.

At Bold Machines, we've recently gotten a Solidscape Max2 High Precision 3D Printer and it's been running 24/7 printing out prototypes of projects that we are planning to take to a foundry and have cast in metal.

We caught up with Fabio to interview him about Solidscape and get some background on the company.

What is the origin story of Solidscape? 

Solidscape was founded under the name Sanders Prototype, Inc. in 1993 by Royden C. Sanders to build PC-based 3D wax printers for rapid prototyping and creating master molds used for investment casting. Sanders Prototype was originally headquartered in Wilton, New Hampshire and later moved to its current location in Merrimack, New Hampshire. In early 1998, a new management team was installed, and a substantial reorganization ensued. Sanders Prototype renamed itself Solidscape, Inc. in the Fall of 2000.

The first product was the Model Maker which was a DOS-based desktop printer able to create high-resolution three-dimensional wax objects created in CAD software packages. This machine was accurate to less than 1 thousandth of an inch, allowing operators to create very small, very detailed models. The wax models could then be cast without the need of a master pattern or rubber mold.

Solidscape’s machines established themselves as a favorite among custom jewelers, who appreciated the ability to create custom designs for customers and deliver finished goods faster and more consistently than creating them by hand.

Those first machines shipped with a vacuum cleaner and a lot of large custom hardware that would connect to a 486 DOS based computer. We've come a long way and now Solidscape high precision 3D printers have a desktop footprint, a touch screen panel and don’t require a trained operator nor a pc to run.  You can operate them just like a 2D printer.

Solidscape machines have ultra high precision. How do you do it? 

Creating a high precision 3D printer wasn't easy. The solution we came up with is the manifestation of 2 concepts: 

1.      SCP® which stands for Smooth Curvature Printing. This is our proprietary technology based on Vector Printing that allows us to position drops smaller than .003 inches (75um) in diameter exactly where you want them in the X and Y coordinate

2.       Controlled Layer Thickness, through a rotary cutter, that allows to slice parts down to 6um in the z axes (btw, we can go even lower e.g. 3um but never seen any value).  The layer thickness can be configured to vary across the Z axes where you can have regions at 6um if you need the highest precision and others at different thickness. This means that after we put down a layer of material, we run a rotary cutter over the model to which allows us to control the layer height with extremely high precision. 

What is the main application for Solidscape 3D printers? 

Solidscape high precision 3D printers are used for the manufacturing of wax patterns.  The combination of high precision printing and casting material properties are ideal when manufacturing complex, intricate geometries for lost-wax casting application.   Basically anyone who does lost wax casting can use a Solidscape 3D printer to compress the innovation cycle. We see lots of our customers using Solidscape 3D printers in the Jewelry and Industrial Applications fields. Dentistry is also a growing market for us. 

Solidscape 3D printers have empowered an entire industry such as jewelry to evolve not only the manufacturing capacity but also the design capabilities.  Jewelry customization is now possible at each level.  Whether you are a large manufacturer or a custom jeweler you have the freedom to design any custom piece you can design because manufacturing is easy and low cost.  Before design was limited by the ability to manufacture the parts, now you can manufacture everything you can design.

Design-to-parts historically was taking weeks, now it’s down to hours with a great ROI.  Investing in a Solidscape high precision 3D printers normally pays back in 6-9 months.

Customized jewelry is a huge untapped market. It's a powerful thing to give your sweetheart a piece of jewelry that's been customized just for them. A Solidscape 3D printer makes it it's easy to 3D print a special customized piece of jewelry that symbolizes the specialness of your loved one.

When you think about it it’s incredible.  We have gone to the jewelry industry that has been doing things by hand for more than  2000 years, thinking that doing it by hand was the only way possible, and transformed the way they make parts.  It's great to see people who use lost wax casting adopt a Solidscape 3D printer and see the way they optimize their workflow and make repeatable, high detail models. That’s what I consider the next industrial revolution that high precision 3D printing is driving.

What have you seen made from a Solidscape 3D printer that surprised you?

I have seen a lot of things that amazed me printed on Solidscape high precision 3D printers.  The industries that use our 3D printers are very secretive when it comes to custom designs. 

Nonetheless, one of the astonishing thing was a Sgian-Dubh, made as a wedding gift to Prince William and Kate, from a Scottish Kilt Manufacturer. They presented it with a new tartan design made especially for Prince William.  The design was to mimic a typical tartan design with crossing lines.  We printed it here at Solidscape, it was finished in the UK and I got to see it before it was delivered. The detail is mind blowing.

Another application is printing wax patterns to analyze brain aneurisms.  A research project conducted at ASU. 

Material science is something you must obsess over. Can you walk us through the material choices available for Solidscape users? 

I believe materials are the real strength of a Solidscape high precision 3D printer, you buy the printer because of the parts, but the materials allow your parts to be so much more through the casting process.  At Solidscape we have a two-material technology:

Our main build material for Solidscape high precision 3D printers is 100% castable.  Jewelers need to cast in precious metal and this requires the was patterns to have very smooth surface finish, very stable during the burn out cycle (no shrinkage to avoid cracking the investment) with 100% burn out to avoid hash or residues.  This is a MUST for the industry to make sure there is no waste of precious metal during manufacturing and no rework or post-processing at the end of the process.

Our support material dissolves easy.  When you design and manufacture very complex, intricate geometries, like jewelers do, you MUST make sure you can remove the support material easily. You cannot use tools to remove it because you could break the wax patterns, hence we developed a material that dissolves in an hot bath. Touch free!

Do you have any challenges for the Bold Machine team? What could we make that would blow the Solidscape community away?

Bold Machine has the uniqueness of leveraging the 3 best technologies in the 3D printing space.  One of the things that would blow away the Solidscape community is to discover how the combination of these 3 technologies can help a jeweler manufacture more creatively and productively across the whole production process.  E.g. Polyjet would be a great tool for concept modeling with the color possibilities allowing the jeweler to know exactly what he is going to produce while FDM opens a lot of opportunities to optimize the production processes with fixtures and jigs.  Basically, these three technologies combined can revolutionize an industry. Again!

Thanks Fabio, we are really enjoying using our Solidscape Max2 High Precision 3D Printer at Bold Machines. If you want to learn more, go forth and fill out this request for info and tell them Bold Machines sent you in the comment field and they'll take care of you.