GorillaMaker: A 3D Printer Startup Gets a CAD Boost
Jason Brett posted on November 27, 2017 |

Glenn Warner, founder of 3D printer manufacturer GorillaMaker (Figure 1), is a professional problem-solver. When he latches on to a problem, he doesn’t let go until it is well and truly fixed. The latest problem to receive Warner’s attention has been the challenge of producing quality, reliable 3D printers. In typical Warner fashion, however, his company hasn’t stopped at simply designing a better 3D printer. GorillaMaker has established new standards for service, support and user education while creating high-tech jobs in rural northern Kentucky.

Figure 1. Glenn Warner with one of GorillaMaker’s larger 3D printers, the GM3D680. (Image courtesy of GorlliaMaker.)

Figure 1. Glenn Warner with one of GorillaMaker’s larger 3D printers, the GM3D680. (Image courtesy of GorlliaMaker.)

GorillaMaker’s emphasis on quality and reliability arise from Warner’s own experiences with the first generation of desktop 3D printers. Often made of plywood and delivered as kits, they were interesting toys for hobbyists, but hardly the sort of sturdy, reliable machine required for use in a production environment.

“I bought a wooden 3D printer and made a bracket for a client,” he told me, explaining how the client was delighted to have access to a part that had been out of production for years. “They ordered 600 brackets.” Warner started a production run, but three days, later the printer broke, leaving him hundreds of brackets short of his goal. That was when he realized that it wasn’t the bracket that was the problem, but the printer. “I could make a better printer than this,” he said to himself, and retreated to his workshop. Eighty-nine days later he emerged with his first prototype and displayed it at a tradeshow the following day. He returned from the show with five orders for the machine, and GorillaMaker was born.

CAD software was a critical tool in allowing Warner to take GorillaMaker from concept to production in just three months, and like many startup companies, GorillaMaker was running on a tight budget. “I had a different CAD program in the beginning, but it was difficult to modify the parts,” Warner said. “It would break the design tree.” It got to be so frustrating that rather than use the software he had invested in, Warner would drive to a local Maker Space to use their copy of Solid Edge. “Synchronous is amazing,” he enthused, explaining how the software’s synchronous editing mode would allow him to make changes to his design without having to worry about breaking the hierarchy of sketches and dimensions that constrain other parametric CAD software (Figure 2a, 2b).

Figure 2a and Figure 2b. Glenn Warner and the GorillaMaker team use SolidEdge to design their printers. This allows them to easily adapt a standard design to different sizes. Shown here are models for their GM3D200 and GM3D500 machines.
Figure 2a and Figure 2b. Glenn Warner and the GorillaMaker team use SolidEdge to design their printers. This allows them to easily adapt a standard design to different sizes. Shown here are models for their GM3D200 and GM3D500 machines.

While Warner knew that he liked using the software, what he didn’t know at the time was that Siemens actively supports businesses such as GorillaMaker through the “Solid Edge for Startups” program.

While Warner found the software to be a powerful tool for designing 3D printers (Figure 3), he has found it to be an even more powerful tool when using the printers. In addition to manufacturing printers, GorillaMaker offers a print-on-demand service. This allows clients who need occasional access to a larger machine to send their CAD files to GorillaMaker and have their parts printed at the factory. This means that GorillaMaker receives a wide range of file formats produced in many different software packages.

Figure 3: The GorillaMaker 3D500 Professional printer has many industry-leading features including a two-year warranty, and full service and support for the user-replaceable hot-end.
Figure 3: The GorillaMaker 3D500 Professional printer has many industry-leading features including a two-year warranty, and full service and support for the user-replaceable hot-end.

“We don’t care what they designed it in. Solid Edge just opens it. We can take a SOLIDWORKS file and open it like I designed it from scratch in Solid Edge. I can take an STL file and work with it natively. It’s crazy,” said Warner, enthusing over how the synchronous modelling abilities of the software make it possible to open and edit both hierarchical models as well as surface geometry models such as the STL stereolithography files used in 3D printing.(Figure 4) He explained how one client from a “huge robot company” arrived with drawings in a non–Solid Edge file format and was amazed that Warner was able to import and manipulate the files directly.

Figure 4: Glenn Warner and the GorillaMaker team appreciate Solid Edge’s ability to import a wide range of file formats and work with them as if they were a native file. Here they use synchronous mode to make minor changes to an .stl “stereolithography” file they are preparing for printing.
Figure 4: Glenn Warner and the GorillaMaker team appreciate Solid Edge’s ability to import a wide range of file formats and work with them as if they were a native file. Here they use synchronous mode to make minor changes to an .stl “stereolithography” file they are preparing for printing.

Although GorillaMaker has now established a reputation for solid, reliable printers, Warner hasn’t forgotten the frustrations that drove him to create a better 3D printer. He continues to focus on quality, reliability and top-notch service. To meet these goals, GorillaMaker has continued to emphasize domestically produced parts wherever possible, and it is the only consumer desktop 3D printer manufacturer to offer a two-year warranty on its machines.

The company is also proactive about addressing the most common point of failure in 3D printers, the dreaded “nozzle jam.” Rather than following the standard industry practice of leaving it to the user to clear out nozzle jams, GorillaMaker ships each printer with a spare, easily interchangeable “hot end.” The hot end contains the nozzle, so on the rare occasions when a jam occurs, the user just swaps out the hot end—a five-minute job—and sends it back to GorillaMaker where it will be refurbished to factory standards for a small fee.

The service and support have earned GorillaMaker a solid reputation in the 3D printing community, but particularly with educational users. Warner cements the relationship with the education community by hiring students from area high schools to supplement GorillaMaker’s full-time staff. This gives the students a chance to learn high-tech and business management skills and also brings high levels of energy and creativity to the GorillaMaker offices. “We thought we were a 3D printer manufacturer,” Warner told me, “but we’re an education center!”

For a professional problem solver like Glenn Warner, however, success at solving one problem brings the opportunity to solve new ones. Warner’s new problem is to manage GorillaMaker’s success, expand production facilities and train new staff. Those are the types of problems that any high-tech startup would be delighted to have, and Warner is excited about what the future holds, both for GorillaMaker and for its ever-growing base of customers.


Siemens has sponsored this post. They have no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Jason Brett


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