Collider is developing a new way to do 3-D printing
More than other Gig Tank startups, Collider is the product of a collective dream. Several dreams, really.
Unless you’ve just emerged from a Rip Van Winkle nap of a decade or two, you know the outlines of the 3-D printing dream: a near-magic technology that can make virtually any tangible thing (seemingly) out of thin air inside a high tech box rather than a big, noisy factory that uses lots of energy to force hot metal or plastic to do its bidding. That’s one dream.
On the way to full realization of the Star Trek “replicator” fantasy, however, real-world engineering means the material that is compatible with 3-D printing technology is a tiny fraction of all the raw materials currently used to make stuff. Industrial users have made huge investments to build complex multi-part production processes—making a car or plane, say—around materials that just don’t play well with 3-D printers.
Collider founder Graham Bredemeyer has figured out how to make that second dream a reality. He has engineered a hybrid custom 3-D printing process that incorporates both 3-D printable plastics and traditional industrial chemicals that are not normally compatible with 3-D printing. How? I can’t tell you. Bredemeyer showed me how it works but is not ready to release that information.
I can say that Bredemeyer’s proprietary printer is far more intricate than the simple MakerBot-type consumer 3-D printers, which layer melted plastic on top of a moving base. Actually, that’s true of most industrial-grade 3-D printers. For example, “sintering” is a type of industrial 3-D printing that fuses powdered materials (including metals and ceramics) with a laser. And the 3-D printer created by Chattanooga’s Branch Technologies extrudes hot plastic from a robotic arm that moves in three dimensions, so the process looks like painting in mid-air.
Bredemeyer’s process may look less dramatic than Branch’s but he believes it will solve a problem that industry has been dreaming about since 3-D printing was created: retaining their traditional materials while gaining the advantages in time and cost from innovative 3-D printing methods. Up until now, most uses of 3-D printing have been for making one-off prototypes or very low production runs. Bredemeyer thinks his innovation will take 3-D printing over the goal line to yet another dream: cost effective 3-D printing of mass produced parts. He estimates that his 3-D printing process can produce parts in traditional industrial materials 100 times faster than traditional manufacturing methods.
There’s another aspect of Collider that’s dreamier than normal for startups—which are, in a sense, dreamed into existence, even though it takes investment and hard work to make them tangible, let alone profitable. Dreamier even than Chattanooga’s startup ecosystem of support structures like CoLab that are created and sustained by people who pledge allegiance to something more ethereal in addition to objectives and metrics.
Bredemeyer got to the point of creating his potentially revolutionary hybrid of additive and traditional manufacturing because Mike Bradshaw, director of CoLab, took the dreaming required for nurturing our startup ecosystem a little further and seeded an entirely new piece of ecosystem. Two years ago, Bradshaw brought Bredemeyer to Chattanooga to run a 3-D printing program for GigTank, the first accelerator in the country to focus on 3-D printing.
Bredemeyer ran that program in 2014 and 2015, while working as a 3-D printing consultant and traveling around the country promoting GigTank. Now his startup is a member of the GigTank summer 2016 3-D printing program.
“I heard the same problem everywhere: 3-D printing is too slow, it’s too expensive, it doesn’t work with enough materials,” he says. “I saw a way to maybe solve that problem, and that’s what we’re here doing. We want to be the company that leads that charge to making 3-D printing a production tool.”
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com