The dirty little secret about the 3-D printing industry is this: When an object comes out of the printer, your work is usually only half done.
Printing even a small plastic part, for example, requires work after the object comes out of the printer. Some printers might require a sodium hydroxide bath to remove the support frame; others need to be submerged in alcohol or sanded. In a lot of cases, the time required after the object is removed from the printer is as long as or longer than the hours it spends printing.
A company called Rize thinks it's found a way to change that. The Boston-area startup, which is emerging from stealth mode Tuesday, is launching a 3-D printer, the Rize One, that doesn't require any lab work or assembly after it's printed. Just print the object, snap it out of its frame, and you're done.
"What takes three hours with other technology takes less than 30 seconds with our technology," says Frank Marangell, Rize's CEO and president. He compares the usual 3-D printing process to making a birthday cake: When it comes out of the oven, you still need to apply the icing, write the lettering, stick in the candles. With Rize's so-called zero post-processing technology, the cake comes out of the oven fully decorated and ready to go.
So far, the startup--which has $4 million in funding from Longworth Venture Partners and SB Capital--has five beta customers ranging from a well-known coffee company to a government military supplier. The one customer Rize will name is Reebok.
As Reebok's additive manufacturing lab manager, Gary Rabinovitz oversees the company's 3-D printing efforts. He's worked in the apparel maker's Boston-based lab for 18 years and found himself in the same circles as many of Rize's employees. When Rize approached him to be a beta customer, he was impressed by its technology. Other manufacturers of 3-D printers, he says, are often cagey about the post-processing required. "They tell you everything else--how fast the machine is, the quality of the parts," he says. "None of them want to talk about what it takes to get that part to look the way you want it to look in your hands. The machine may build very quickly, but when you have to add four hours of sitting in an ultrasonic bath of some type to remove those supports, it just defeats the purpose of being fast."
When Reebok gets its Rize printer, likely later in July, it'll use it for prototyping, largely for sneakers as well as plastic components of hockey, lacrosse, and baseball equipment. Rabinovitz says it'll make his job easier and increase the speed with which the company can grind out new prototypes. "You pull the part off, you snap it off the support, and you hand it off," he says. "In that respect, there's no one else really out there that can do what they do at this point."
Reebok doesn't yet have plans to use the technology to create products that go into consumers' hands. But it might not be far off: Under Armour recently revealed that it will begin 3-D printing customized midsoles for sneakers later this summer.
Rize's $25,000 printers--pricey, but far less expensive than others in the industry--can fit on an office desk and are mostly used for printing shoebox-size items or smaller. Once Rize gets feedback from its beta customers, the company will take preorders--probably by late September for shipment by the end of the year.
Rize was co-founded in 2014 by 3-D printing vets Eugene Giller and Leonid Raiz, who then recruited Marangell to be the company's chief executive. Together, the Rize team invented a patented technology called augmented polymer deposition (APD), which lets the printer change the properties of each voxel, or three-dimensional pixel. Generally 3-D printing is done layer by layer from bottom to top, so any hanging object needs supports below it, which then need to be removed by some method. Rize's APD technology changes the properties of those supports so they don't stick to the object being printed--instead, they can be snapped off by hand.
Another byproduct of Rize's property-changing technology: It can print a variety of materials with a range of hardness and softness. A pair of customized earbuds with a hard shell and a soft, customized earpiece could be printed with no assembly required.
If Rize's technology catches on, it could fundamentally change how 3-D printing is used in industrial settings. Until now, items have usually been printed in a lab, where technicians must then apply the chemical bath or de-powdering needed to get the printed product into working form. With no post-processing, engineers and architects can have their models ready to go without needing outside help.
"Now you're putting the printer next to the person who wants to print," Marangell says. "It's that kind of revolutionary change."