Startup Targets 3D-Printed Consumer Goods with Unique Four-Gantry 3D Printer
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 22, 2019 |

It was around 2014 that the consumer 3D printing bubble burst, causing the stocks of stalwarts like Stratasys and 3D Systems to plummet. The firms quickly began shedding consumer-focused products in favor of devoting their resources to industrial projects.



3D-printed lamps from Gantri. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
3D-printed lamps from Gantri. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



Five years have since passed. Is the world ready for consumer 3D-printed goods this time around? One San Francisco-based startup, Gantri, is betting on it with the release of a design platform devoted to luxury 3D-printed home décor and a 3D printer meant to efficiently produce these items.


Direct to Consumer 3D Printing

Engineering.com spoke to Gantri CTO Christianna Taylor about the company’s operations and vision. Taylor has a PhD in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technologyand worked in satellite design before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. There, she joined the 3D printing startup to drive its future in technological development.


Founded two years ago, Gantri is focused specifically on selling modern home goods directly to consumers. In so doing, the firm aims to achieve benefits to both independent designers and customers. Designers are given the ability to bypass numerous hurdles in order to get their ideas to market.



The dashboard for Gantri’s Create Hub, including sales statistics. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
The dashboard for Gantri’s Create Hub, including sales statistics. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



“It can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce one product, and then you have no idea if people have any interest in that product. That development cost is so steep that most designers won’t see their designs on the market,” Taylor said.


In particular, Gantri estimated that, based on manufacturing 1,000 pieces of a specific design, tooling, combined with materials, engineering, testing and logistics, would rack up $100,000 in costs. This is why most items are produced in much larger batches than 1,000 and why there is such a large barrier to entry for both manufacturers and designers.


Those manufacturing costs are then passed onto customers. Those interested in luxury items are able to purchase products that might otherwise be too expensive if they were fabricated through the traditional mass manufacturing paradigm. “You and I are probably not looking at alight that can cost seven to eight hundred dollars because it’s out of our price range.”


3D printing opens up the possibility of cutting the line so that Gantri and its designers can sell products directly to consumers. Currently, the startup is focused on lighting modeled by roughly 30 designers located around the globe.


Once designers have been accepted onto the platform, they use Gantri’s Create Hub to download premodeled components that can be incorporated into the designers’ own unique lighting models. Artists have the choice of two PLA plastics, a translucent one for light diffusive parts and an opaque material for colored parts, which are finished with water-based paint.



Gantri lamps are assembled at the company’s facility in San Leandro, Calif. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
Gantri lamps are assembled at the company’s facility in San Leandro, Calif. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



Models are then optimized for 3D printing and quality by Gantri engineers, who work directly with engineers over the web. Using a built-in chatfeature, engineers send prototype photos and quality assurance results to designers as the item is finalized and readied for production.


At this point in the process, the main components of the lights are 3D printed using Ultimaker 3D printers, while presourced components, such as light bulbs, fasteners and electrical cords are added to complete product assembly. The items are then shaped directly to the consumer.


With light hand-polishing and a paint finish, the products are meant to have the type of finish associated with high-priced home goods. This means smooth surfaces, with no noticeable layer lines or other roughness.


Taylor also noted that the materials used by Gantri are exclusively licensed to the company. The PLA combines the sustainability expected from corn starch-based plastic with features needed for consumer products. In this case, high temperature resistance and post-processability. 


Product Quality

To determine the quality of Gantri’s products, engineering.com was shipped one table lamp. The translucent orb of the PyraSphere Table Light allows sufficient light to pour out of it so as to rival traditionally manufactured lamps. Its finish, too, is remarkable, given that the product was made with fused filament fabrication (FFF), a process that, like many 3D printing techniques, usually results in distinct layer lines.



The PyraSphere Table Light resembles a quality consumer product made with traditional fabrication processes. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
The PyraSphere Table Light resembles a quality consumer product made with traditional fabrication processes. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



When the light is turned on, barely perceptible gradations in the light diffusion can be noticed but would likely not be apparent to someone who wasn’t expecting layer lines caused by FFF. Because the printed base was coated in water-based paint, it was impossible to tell that it was made with a 3D printer.


Had this sample not been shipped to us at the expense of the company, it would have cost $128. Though IKEA’s prices might be difficult to beat, the price of Gantri’s goods are comparable to other modern home furnishing suppliers, such as Crate&Barrel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, however, so whether or not the designs meet your aesthetic requirements is up to you.


Manufacturing with a New 3D Printer

Though the lights are currently 3D printed using off-the-shelf systems, Taylor and the team at Gantri are in the process of developing a new system that can produce goods more efficiently. Dubbed “Dancer,” the machine would use four gantries within a cylindrical build space to 3D print items more quickly.



Dancer will feature four printheads on four gantries. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
Dancer will feature four printheads on four gantries. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



“You can either increase the rate, the speed of laying down filament, or the amount of filament deposited at the same time,” Taylor said. “I realized I wanted to focus on the amount of material that was being laid down at the same time because we can always look at other technology to increase the rate of flow later.”


Dancer sees each of the four gantries extended from a central axis, printing the radius of an 18-inch diameter circle (its height is 24 inches). Each of the four printheads can extrude filament from the center of the circle out to its edge, meaning that it’s impossible for the printheads to runin to one another. Meanwhile, the machine’s build plate itself rotates beneath the four gantries.



A rendering of Dancer, set to be introduced into Gantri’s production line in November. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)
A rendering of Dancer, set to be introduced into Gantri’s production line in November. (Image courtesy of Gantri.)



With four printheads, Dancer would be approximately four times faster than other FFF 3D printers. Gantri plans to incorporate Dancer into its production facilities in November 2019. “With the incorporation of Dancer, we will be going from about four weeks from order to consumer to about 2 weeks,” Taylor said.


FFF vs SLS and MJF

When asked why Gantri didn’t look to more standard service bureau additive manufacturing technologies, such as selective laser sintering (SLS) and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), Taylor said that several features of those technologies would hinder the process. In the case of both SLS and MJF, post-processing is somewhat significant, beginning with the fact that depowdering parts is labor- and time-intensive. Additionally, Gantri did not want to be limited to licensing materials from HP for use with its MJF.


We also asked how Gantri would be able to tackle consumer 3D printing differently than larger marketplaces like Shapeways, Sculpteo and i.materialise had attempted five years ago.


“One: we have repeat customers, which is huge considering lighting is something that is a long-term investment. The fact that we have repeat customers translates into to quality of our products,” Taylor said. “Two: when it comes to the question of market and sizing, newer generations are finally having access to capital and want to be design focused. Before that, customers didn’t have access to modern design options. It wasn’t in their price range.”


Time will tell if the startup can succeed where other companies with greater financial backing failed. To learn more about Gantri, visit the company website.


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