Making 3D Printing


The Micro 3D printer. Image: M3D

Kickstarter has become the hottest crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs. Not every project on it smashes its funding goal in first 11 minutes. However, a colorful cube-shaped desktop 3D printer, created by two University of Maryland engineering graduates, did just that last April, by raising over $3.4 million on a goal of $50,000, in a record time.

“As an engineer you have to keep reinventing things on the fly. What has been a real growth and experience for our team in the last year is maturing as a company,” says Michael Armani, the co-founder of Maryland-based startup M3D. Armani has a B.S. in mechanical engineering and Ph.D. in bioengineering from UMD.

“At one point we had 1,000 printers ready to go when we found out there was a major problem, so we had to replace the parts,” says co-founder David Jones, an expert in software and robotics with a degree in computer science from UMD, adding that it helps having everything under one roof at their factory in Maryland, as the engineering team can step into production and tweak parts on the fly.

The M3D team recently began delivering the Micro to its 12,000 backers. “Our customers have been posting unboxing videos and we are amazed to see the number of 3D printing applications they are coming up with,” says Jones.

The Micro is built with a feedback system that provides auto-leveling and auto-calibration. Image: M3D


Plug and Play

The team’s goal, from the very beginning, was to build an affordable 3D printer. “Before founding M3D, Michael and I were working on automation projects and using 3D printers for our projects,” says Jones. “We realized the printers were way too expensive ($2,000+) and there was a need for an affordable 3D printer. We stopped everything and decided to focus on building a consumer 3D printer,” he adds.

After realizing the common need to move the 3D printer around, Jones and his team focused on making the Micro space-efficient and were able to significantly reduce its weight to 2.2 pounds, thereby also reducing the shipping and material costs. “We designed Micro for rapid assembly, so costs could be controlled and predicted,” says Jones.

Jones appreciates the problem-solving skills and the collective engineering expertise of his core team. A large portion of their research time was spent on electronics and motion technology that helped them increase the overall efficiency and significantly reduce the costs. Per M3D’s web site, the Micro uses a fraction of the material and power required by a normal printer nozzle. It also has a motion sensor chip in the print head, enabling auto-leveling, an essential requirement to avoid print failures.

“We wanted to find just the right solution to make our system power efficient and we did everything in our power to make it easy to use,” says Armani, who was also able to use his extensive background in materials science to implement material techniques during development. “We started with a lower price point and made it as sleek as possible. Then we started adding features such as a filament box inside it to make it quiet.”

The Micro can be used right out of the box, prints at layer resolutions from 50-350 microns using standard 1.75-mm filaments, and has a print volume of 74mm x 91mm x 84mm. According to Jones, “It’s great for high-quality smaller prints and would be great for prototyping and trying out designs. It’s affordable ($349) so you can keep one on your desk and a whole company doesn’t need to share one printer.”

The M3D team presenting the Micro at the Inside 3D Printing conference in NYC.

Career and Education

Besides the growing range of industrial applications, 3D printing is attracting architects, artists, designers, and general consumers these days. While exhibiting the Micro at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, Maker Faire, and at the Inside 3D Printing conference in NYC, the M3D team also has seen a tremendous amount of interest from students, which signals how many new adapters of this technology are coming up.

“We designed it with little fingers in mind. It has rounded edges, a robust box top and case, and you can pick it up while it’s running and it won’t disrupt the operation. We have hardware and software safety layers that would keep it from getting too hot. We also tried to make it look cute and colorful,” says Armani, who aims to get the Micro into schools for STEM education.

A few other plug-and-play 3D printers including the CubifyCube, Solidoodle, XYZprinting daVinci, and the more recently launched crowdfunding projects Tiko3D and NEA, are also trying to make the technology more affordable and accessible for 3D printing enthusiasts.

“We are entering a period when everyday users can get their hands on this technology and one day we might see a 3D printer in every home,” says Jones. “Not necessarily like the microwave which is used on a daily basis but more as a power tool, which many homes in America do have, like the battery-powered drill and saws.”

Armani believes versatility, speed, and cost are the three factors that will play a key role in bringing 3D printers to everyone’s homes for an actual need. “However, that utility still needs to be seen. Right now it’s a need for an engineer and designer,” he says.

Learn more about the latest technologies in 3D printing at ASME’s AM3D 2015.

We are entering a period when everyday users can get their hands on this technology and one day we might see a 3D printer in every home.

David Jones, co-founder, M3D


May 2015

by Chitra Sethi, Managing Editor,