Lathon Technologies is one of the five 3D printing teams at Gig Tank 2014. I spoke with founder Nohtal Partansky on May 14 just after Gig Tank began. He is a graduate student in Georgia Tech’s Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory.
Nohtal Partansky: My company is a 3D printer manufacturer. We’re working on a dual-nozzle large-format enclosed build volume 3D printer for the consumer market. Our target price pt is $1,500.
Update, June 12: We will be offering the printer now at $2,500 or financing the printer at $230 per month for 12 months. We still will be focusing on customer service and for our focus we will be charging $30 per month to operate a video chat customer support network.
We’re shooting for the hobbyist and those that would like to use a more complex, more capable printer for the higher price point we’re going for. Because with these dual nozzles you can do many different things. One of them is to print in two different colors, which is something that isn’t done by the majority of the market. The second thing you can do is print in two different materials. An example of that would be to print something in PLA or ABS — ABS is the same plastic used for Legos — print something in ABS and then on top of that print a wrapper of nylon. You could print a handle grip in plastic and then have the actual part be in nylon. So you get two different textures in printing.
[This is] less consumer oriented, [but] if you want to print more complex prints, you always have to print support material, which is parts of plastic that are used to hold up vertical pieces of plastic. So instead of printing it with just the same material, which you have to tug out with pliers, you can use the second head of this printer to print with dissolvable support material. So you can print one beautiful piece of art in your blue ABS plastic and then you’ll have all the supports in HIPS [high impact polystyrene], which dissolves in D-Limonene [a citrus extract], which is essentially Orange Glow. It will all dissolve away and you just have to agitate the bath, you don’t have to do any legwork in pulling out or digging into places you wouldn’t normally be able to get to.
How far along are you? Where are you now in terms of developing the product and the company? Or both?
I’ll give you both, because it’s kind of an intertwined process.
I spent nine months developing the printer by myself and with many people at my maker space. We initially did a Kickstarter campaign and that campaign fell a little bit short because there were some mistakes in pricing and getting the message across. We still raised around $50,000, missing our $80,000 goal, but because of that we were able to gain enough traction and a great community of people who were really passionate about the product. And we came to Gig Tank for this startup accelerator.
So we now have a prototype, and from this group of people we got eight beta testers that have purchased the printer.
Say again who these people are… Kickstarter funders?
They’re Kickstarter funders…
The would-be funders.
The would-be funders that were already super excited to get a printer and were disappointed that we didn’t hit the mark, but they believed in the product and they wanted it. So these are eight beta testers. We also are going to partner with Freeside Atlanta, a maker space in Atlanta, and we’ll be giving them a printer so that everyone in the maker space can use the printer. That way we don’t have eight beta testers; we have 40 [more], which is the user base of Freeside Atlanta. And we’re building the company now.
When will you have a beta product or them to test?
Our beta product is going to be shipping on July 1st. We have some people that are actually gong to be driving to us and picking up the printer because they live in Nashville. We didn’t know that before, but they want to come see and talk to us.
That’s our beta model. We are going to be using all that input to create a consumer level product, which we hope to go to production at the end of the year.
If you’re that close to having a beta model, where are you in terms of what needs to be done? It’s a working thing?
It’s a working thing. It makes beautiful prints. You can go on lathon.net and check out all the cool prints that we have. There’s multi-material, multi-color prints.
There’s actually a massive Iron Man mask that me and some of the other graduate students at Georgia Tech were wearing just to show how big you can really print on this printer. So it’s working. We’re just doing some small refinements, kind of prettying it up a bit so that we can give the beta model testers a nice printer they’ll love using until the production model comes out.
What’s the biggest challenge right now?
The biggest challenge right now we think, on the business side, is really focusing down on who our customer is, because we know the printer can create many different things. It can create large products, small products, different materials, different colors. But we’re trying to nail down our specific consumer market, who we can sell to.
Second, there are some technical difficulties that we want [to address] for the production model. There are specific 3D printer things — like oozing — that we’re developing technology to eliminate completely. That’s something that only one or two other printers I’ve seen on the market even have. We’ll be working to eliminate that as well as creating a more consistent printer by changing the drive train of the filament.
There are these technologies that we want to make sure that people have as well as, like cloud slicing, which is something that nobody really has. We’ll be integrating that into the printer so people won’t need an i7 core processor to slice complicated models. They can just upload their model to the web have it sliced on a cluster of servers and have it come back in a few minutes as opp