An Interview with Conor MacCormack, Co-Founder and CEO, Mcor Technologies
As 3-D printing as an industry has continued to grow and flourish, so have the people who work and define it. We recently had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Conor MacCormack, who founded Mcor Technologies along with his brother, Fintan MacCormack in 2005, who have created products that are both eco-friendly and print and full color. Perhaps one of the most unique things about their technology is the build material: ordinary business-A4/letter paper which results in what their website calls “durable, stable and tactile models”. Below is the transcript of our interview which was conducted via email.
1) How and when did you decide to get into 3-D printing? What is it from your background that led you to this point?
I first became aware of 3D printing in 1986, when I was a secondary student in Ireland watching a BBC special. The technology captured my imagination in the same way that motorbikes, rockets, computers and space travel already had. Later, I saw the technology in person when I was earning my doctorate degree at Trinity College. Unfortunately, the school’s 3D printer was only a tease: because of the high cost of the material, only one or two students could print a model at the end of the year, defeating the whole purpose of having the technology. When I joined Airbus as an engineer, I had ample access to a 3D printer—access I knew most students and engineers were denied. It just wasn’t right. That inspired my older brother, Fintan, also an engineer, and I to invent a 3D printer with an operating cost so low that the technology would be accessible to everyone. It was also important to make the printer robust enough for serious use in commercial settings, yet easy to use and without the toxic chemicals on which so many 3D printers rely.
2) When was Mcor founded and has the company ever done any other type of 3-D printing?
Fintan and I founded Mcor in 2005. The Mcor Matrix, a monochrome 3D printer, was introduced in 2009 and the Mcor IRIS, our color 3D printer, was introduced in 2012. Providing accessibility to a once niche technology is the driving force behind our company, with the Matrix and IRIS range of 3D printers the result of this vision. From the beginning, we have been solely focused on paper-based 3D printing.
3) What was it that led you to 3-D printing with paper in the beginning? What in particular interested you about paper as the media?
In order to be fully accessible, 3D printing must be affordable to use on an ongoing basis. Mcor’s decision to use ordinary sheets of office paper as the build material was a careful, yet easy, decision. We were drawn to paper because it offers a tremendous affordability advantage over other materials. Paper is a ubiquitous, stably priced commodity, and Mcor printers can consume previously used paper. Whether you choose new or used paper, Mcor part costs are the lowest in the industry—approximately 10-20 percent of other technologies’ costs. The total cost of Mcor IRIS ownership over five years is one-fifth that of competing technologies.
Additionally, the Mcor paper-based process is green: When you’re finished using the model, it can go directly into the paper recycling bin to be reconstituted as paper suitable for use in your next project.
4) What can you tell us about the process and equipment that you use for printing (without giving away your trade secrets)? Is your equipment something you have developed, or have you licensed it from other people?
We have developed our printers ourselves. Our process is described below:
Generating the Digital File
3D printing starts with a 3D data file. Mcor 3D printers support the universal industry standard file format for 3D product designs, STL, as well as OBJ and VRML (for color 3D printing). All mainstream 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software products, including free programs such as SketchUp, produce STL files. Completed designs offered for download are typically presented in STL, as are files produced by scanning a physical object.
Mcor 3D printers include control software, called SliceIT. SliceIT reads the digital data and slices the computer model into printable layers equivalent in thickness to the paper used as the build material. The software also enables you to position the part, or several parts, within the 3D printer’s build chamber. SliceIT works on any standard PC running 64-bit Windows (XP, Windows 7 or Windows 8) with hardware requirements of 8 GB memory, 100 GB hard drive, 1 GB Graphics Card, 2 network cards (one for the printer), connected directly to the 3D printer.
Mcor also offers an additional piece of software, called ColorIT, which is used in conjunction with SliceIT to apply color to the 3D digital files. ColorIT can open numerous file formats: STL, WRL, OBJ, 3DS, FBX, DAE and PLY. Once the file is within ColorIT it can be checked for integrity to ensure it’s a waterproof manifold, however the main function of ColorIT is to apply colors to the digital files prior to slicing in SliceIT.
Once the color has been applied, the model is exported as an WRL file which is then imported into SliceIT for preparation for building.Printing the Object
The first sheet of paper is manually attached to the build plate. The placement of the first sheet is not important, as the first couple of pages are attached as a base layer before the actual part cutting begins.
Once the blade depth and the adhesive levels are correct, the doors are closed and the machine is ready to accept data from SliceIT.
From the PC and within SliceIT, the user selects print and the 3D printer starts to make the part.
Mcor printers print 3D models using a process called Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL). The first thing that happens is that a layer of adhesive is applied on top of the first manually placed sheet. The adhesive is applied selectively. This means that a much higher density of adhesive is deposited in the area that will become the part, and a much lower density of adhesive is applied in the surrounding area that will serve as the support.
A new sheet of paper is fed into the printer from the paper feed mechanism and placed precisely on top of the freshly applied adhesive. The build plate is moved up to a heat plate and pressure is applied. This pressure ensures a positive bond between the two sheets of paper.
When the build plate returns to the build height, an adjustable Tungsten carbide blade cuts one sheet of paper at a time, tracing the object outline to create the edges of the part.
When this cutting sequence is complete, the machine starts to deposit the next layer of adhesive and the whole process continues until all the sheets of paper are stuck together and cut and the model is finished. After the last layer is complete, the part can be removed from the build chamber.
If you’re using the Mcor IRIS full-color 3D printer, there’s one more step. Before any cutting, the Mcor IRIS pre-prints the color outline of the part on each page in the appropriate color combinations using a modified 2D color inkjet printer that sits in the IRIS stand. Mcor’s patented water-based ink permeates the paper, preventing any white edges on the part. A barcode is also printed on each page to ensure the pages are in the right sequence. The pre-printed stack is then inserted into the 3D printer, which initiates the process described above. If a page missing, the IRIS will pause to let you print a replacement. This process also fully colors the undersides, overhangs and sidewalls of models, which means you could recreate the ceiling and roof of the Sistene Chapel (at scale) in a single build.
5) What are build sizes for printers and the objects that you are printing? Is it mainly small objects, or can you print larger ones too? How scalable is your tech?
Current build sizes:
- Build size for the Iris: A4 Paper: 256 x 169 x 150mm; Letter Paper: 9.39 x 6.89 x 5.9in
- Build size for the Matrix: A4 Paper: 256 x 169 x 150 mm; Letter Paper: 9.39 x 6.89 x 5.9 inches
Mcor 3D printers can build small, medium and large models. Large models are achieved by gluing sections together or designing pegs and holes into the file in order to fit sections together following printing.
6) What colors are possible with your printers?
The Mcor IRIS is the world's first true color 3D printer. Named after the goddess of the rainbow, the Mcor IRIS prints in more than one million colors simultaneously as it creates accurate, realistic physical objects from 3D data. While most "color" 3D printers print only a handful of hues - one at a time in solid patches - the IRIS delivers true color, printing different hues simultaneously from a palette more than twice the size of its nearest competitor, including pure black.
The Mcor IRIS is the only 3D printer to include the global standard International Color Consortium (ICC) color map. The ICC color map ensures that the 3D printer will accurately produce industry-standard colors as presented in a photographer’s, engineer’s or designer’s photograph, CAD model, scan or illustration. Without the ICC profile, 3D printers translate incoming colors to machine-specific ones, introducing unintended changes in the 3D printed color along the way.
7) Do you have a particular target audience or industry in mind with your current 3-D printing options?
We target a range of industries including Education, Reprographics, Industrial and Professional Architecture, Geospatial (GIS) Entertainment and Fine Arts.
8) Once again, without giving away too much, what other future applications or industries are you hoping to engage with down the road?
We will look to significantly expand our presence within our existing markets, particularly Education, Reprographics and Industrial/Professional.
9) In your mind, given the wealth of 3-D printing technologies and devices out there, what makes yours stand out from the crowd?
Mcor printers stand out from the crowd on the basis of affordability, superior color capability and eco-friendliness. Regular office paper is inexpensive, ubiquitous and eco-friendly. Pre-used paper can be used in the printers and the parts and excess paper after printing can all be completely recycled. Paper is also clean to use and safe to handle. It doesn’t require any special venting, disposal or chemical post-processing. When you think about it, ink was designed for paper, so it’s the perfect medium for color ink with the Mcor IRIS.
10) Given the explosion in the industry, what do you see from it in the next 5-10 years? Will it continue to become more crowded and do you think we will reach a point where it becomes commonplace for everyday consumers to have a 3-D printer in their house?
I believe we are at the start of an exponential growth in 3D printing industry and people will look back on this time in history and see it as the start of a new 3D age. In the next 5 years, we will see further blending of the open source and commercial equivalents, a plateau in the DIY community for building machines in the home, and an increase in bureau services and walk-in off the street large brick and mortar 3D print shops that will really bring 3D printing to the masses. However before there can be mass consumer adoption of 3D printing, the industry must work to solve challenges around speed, materials, affordability, safety, ease of use, access to 3D data, print quality, printer reliability and more.