PrintToPeer’s Software is Driving 3D Printing Innovation for the Masses

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Talk about serendipity. Two guys who don’t know each other move into the same Calgary coworking space discover they’ve been working on the same idea, over the same amount of time.

The pair, Tom Bielecki and Kaz Walker along with James Thorne are the cofounders of PrintToPeer, and now call Vancouver home. They’re currently participating in the current GrowLab cohort.

PrintToPeer is a web platform and printer driver that simplifies the 3D printing process. They envisioned the AirBnB for 3D printing. “Our whole idea was around accessibility to 3D printing. The problem was that we had 3D printers and but it was hard for people to find us,” said Bielecki. “We wanted to build this network of discoverability, where people could easily order parts from us, or we could print other projects for them.”

Doing some deeper market validation they found upwards of 30 similar businesses, but none of them were “making the printing process easier by sending the file directly to the machine” according to Bielecki. “Once you actually send that file to someone, they still have to go through this very complicated process to print off the object,” he added. “It’s because there was no networking. You couldn’t send it from the network to the 3D printer.”

SharingThe printing process for objects is nothing like printing that .pdf file document off your laptop. Many trees would be saved if we had to use three different software applications, and go through hundreds of settings to print a document. Printing objects is a complicated process. “You have to understand the actual physical properties of the plastic that the printer is extruding. All of the settings need to be tweaked based on your own hardware, and based on the different plastic being used,” said Bielecki.

The vision for 3D printing is about breaking down the barrier from idea to product, but today it’s almost the exact opposite, said the cofounder. “You pretty much have to be a physicist or an engineer to create a functional and useable finished product. By adding a network and easy user interface to the printer, we knew that we could deliver a simpler online workflow.”

It all about making it easier for the innovator to use this technology. Seeing it as more than an application for the basement hobbyist, they’re thinking back to how the ethernet made networking office printers possible. PrintToPeer is looking at how businesses, schools, and even new business models will be able to leverage the capabilities of the networked 3D printer. “Still being a scarce and shared resource, there needs to be an easier way to open up access to what this technology is capable of” said Bielecki.

He thinks “there are absolutely huge possibilities when you network 3D printers with a common API.” The hardware itself is quickly becoming commoditized, meaning the space is just as quickly becoming even more software centric.

iPad-screen_camera_smallLooking into the future, Bielecki sees important changes for rapid prototyping. “We see this opportunity for hardware startups and creators of other physical products to bring consumers into the product development cycle. With connected printers it will be possible to A/B test products. This creates a whole new feedback loop of people being able to confirm things like a products fit, form and function. I see being able to iterate on hardware products in an agile process, just like the way software engineers have valued for a couple of decades.”

What has him most excited is “having one design file and being able to print it in a whole array of different materials and qualities. It will expand my choices beyond just what’s on a store shelf. I can choose whether something is simple and prints in two hour, or more complex that will take 10 hours to print.”

PrintToPeer is launching an initiative to build a common OS for 3D printers on Indiegogo. If 3D printing has your attention, this is something designed for a beginner, and configured for a pro. The startup is making the print process as seamless as possible so that your print jobs will work on the first try.

John Gray

John Gray

John jumped into the start-up world in early 2009. He was co-founder of Mentionmapp, a visual analytics company that was acquired in October 2011. John is Launch Academy's Program Facilitator, and is leading their Lean Entrepreneur Program. He's a freelance writer, focusing on keeping the humanity in our conversations about technology. John has a B.Ap.Sc. in Communications and a B.A. in English, both from Simon Fraser University.