StartUp Stories: Mitte meets BigRep
While much of the process of hardware manufacture, from supply chain to assembly – is as challenging as it’s always been – prototyping, thanks to 3D printing, is faster, less wasteful and more exciting than ever before.
To do this, we turned to BigRep, a groundbreaking player on the Berlin startup scene and maker of the largest serial 3D printer in the world. Industrial designer Ronja Scholz talked us through the BigRep process and philosophy, as she printed our model.
How would you describe the philosophy at BigRep?
Ronja: “The idea at BigRep is to use 3D printing really for industrial use cases. Our FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) printer – the largest printer available on the world market at the moment, is bridging the gap between 3D printers designed for modeling and industrial use. Right now most of our customers use it for prototyping – to see how shapes come off. We have customers with projects that would have taken weeks and months in CNC machining, that can be done over night. So to see what kind of new shapes and projects they realize that weren’t feasible before is already quite astonishing. But in the not-distant future, when the technology has evolved a little better, we’ll be able to print final products with it.
At BigRep we’re researching different uses cases. For example applications for architecture, such as printing shells for concrete buildings. Creating molds in architecture up to this point in time, has been a resource-intensive and complicated process. You have to build the shell where you pour the concrete in, but now we’re looking at ways to print those shells and afterwards biodegrading them to take them off. As the technology gets better, we will become increasingly capable of doing more socially good and sustainable things with it.”
Tell us about the 3D print for Mitte?
Ronja: “First I take your CAD-model and slice it to see how the printer will print it. FFF technology prints in layers. So you can decide the layer height, depending on the resolution and time the print should take. And with the layer itself, you can decide how thick the walls are and how the details come out.
To make it a really nice print, I decided to split the model into several parts so they all have good adhesion to the print bed. We sliced it in a way that it needs nearly no support. With FFF or FDM technology you often need support to print. We offer two solutions of support material: either support made from the same material, or from another material that dissolves afterwards, but as the geometry is beautifully simple we will print it with very little support.
So we set it up and the slicer calculates roughly 40 hours. The material we’re using to print this is PLA – polylactic acid. It’s a bio-plastic that melts at 200 degrees, therefor great for this open print, and also, of course, it’s biodegradable.”
How did the collaboration with Mitte come about?
Ronja: “I got to know Moritz first at Berlin’s Fab Lab and when I returned from NYC we got in touch again because I thought Mitte was such a good product. I hadn’t forgotten it.
Water is increasingly an issue globally and I think there’s many applications for Mitte – outside even home use. It can contribute to good things in the world.
One good use, by the way, would be having a Mitte at our office! We have coworkers from all over the world, and many of them, though often surprised about the quality of water in Berlin, are averse to the idea of tap water. So if we had one at BigRep we’d definitely put it to good use.”
About 40 hours later…
The print went brilliantly and shows just how magical rapid prototyping is. With our model we can now test everything from size to shape to aesthetics and basic layout as we fine-tune our way to perfect form and functionality.
While refinements will no doubt be made before the machine goes into full scale production, the consensus back at Mitte HQ is that the 3D model essentially proves the fundamentals of our design. And it’s saved us weeks of time and energy. So we’re excited and on track for the next phase of our journey to market.