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An Interview with Drew Taylor, AstroPrint 3D

To say that 3D printing has become a massive technology may not be giving the industry enough credit. More and more vendors are seemingly popping up every other week if not more often, so it sometimes may be hard to figure out who is going to bring the next industry disrupting technology to market. With the subject of our next interview, AstroPrint, it is safe to say that they are doing more than their part to help people experience and gain knowledge about this amazing technology. Earlier this week, we reported on a guide put together by one of their employees, Dilanka, to provide a thorough introduction for all users. For this segment, we had the privilege to connect with the company’s CEO, Drew Taylor, who shared with us about how the company was founded, their principles, and what we can expect from them in the future. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with his answers appear below:

1) When was AstroPrint founded and why?

We were founded in July 2013. However, we started with a different idea. We launched as 3DaGoGo.com (pronounced 3D-a-go-go), the iStockPhoto of the 3D Printing world. In the Spring of 2014 we pivoted to AstroPrint.

The mission of the company has always been to make 3D printing so incredibly easy that anyone can use a 3D printer. We feel that this is needed to bring the next wave of mass adoption of the world changing technology.

2) Is there any significance behind the name of the company at all?

No major significance. However we wanted a name that created a feeling of something large, universal, and bigger than ourselves. We wanted a name that was synonymous with wonder, creativity, and excitement. We feel that AstroPrint really resonates with these qualities.

 

3) Who are the key employees of AstroPrint and what are their roles?
Outside of the founders, some of our key employees include:

  • - Dilanka - Focuses on growth and marketing. Dilanka is a growth hacking genius that is in charge of our social media, community connections, and customer support.
  • - Rafa Luque - Our first engineering hire. Rafa has really stepped up, learned our systems, and begun building (and launching) new features in rapid fire mode! We lucked out with our first engineering hire be such a rockstar.
  • - BroadDesk - BroadDesk is a Business Development firm headed up by Brian Felderstein. BroadDesk has been a huge part of our enterprise Business Development traction.

 

4) What is it from your backgrounds that led you to create a tool such as AstroPrint?
Daniel, our CTO, worked at Nokia for 10 years working on the Series 60 platform (SymbianOS based). In a nutshell, Series 60's vision was to be what Android is today. So he worked on the team that was building a cross device software platform meant to unify the industry. It took quite some time for the industry to finally adopt such a platform (Android) and when they did, the industry skyrocketed. We do not wish to see the 3D printing industry held back in such a way. It's our mission to help the 3DP industry avoid the pitfalls that held back the smartphone market for so long.

5) What, without giving away any trade secrets, can you tell us a little bit about how AstroPrint and the AstroBox work? Is it easy enough that a novice can work with them?
Yes! A customer simply has to plug an AstroBox into their 3D printer (assuming it is compatible), then the box will create a wifi network. You can then use any phone, tablet, or computer to connect to it and operate the machine. For added functionality, the customer can then log the AstroBox onto their internet connection and give the box their AstroPrint.com id and password. Once that is completed, the AstroBox can sync with the user's AstroPrint.com account. This lets them print straight from the internet, print from apps on our platform, and even remote monitor the printer from anywhere in the world.

6) What file formats and software can one use with an AstroBox? Is it compatible with most 3D printers available on the market today?
We are compatible with 80% of the desktop 3D printers on the market. At the moment we work with .stl file formats and export to gcode and x3g. We have plans to open us to full color formats and other up and coming formats such as obj, 3mf, and x3d.

7) How about the AstroPrint Cloud Slicer? It is very generous of you to host required software like Cura and Slic3r, but how does it all work for end users? How much cloud storage does a user get?
Our system is set up to hold an unlimited number of slicing engines in parallel. By default, we route slicing jobs through the manufacturer's recommended slicing engine, thereby removing the need for a beginner level 3DP user to know what a slicing engine is. The user just hits print, and it prints! For advanced users, they can choose their desired slicing engine and desired slicer settings.

Honestly, at the moment we have not set a cap on the cloud storage a user gets. The day will come when we need to do so. At that time, we'll set a cap for the free storage and will charge a small subscription for additional storage.

8) What was the idea behind the open source AstroBox project? Has it led your own team of developers to make changes that we will see with future versions of the AstroBox?
The open source AstroBox project is a fork of the Octoprint open source project, of which we are a huge fan. We wished to make significant UI/UX changes to the Octoprint system and also wanted to build out a cloud component. As with most open source projects, nearly all development so far has been developed in-house. However, we are wide open to adding code into the project developed by 3rd parties.

9) Given the wealth of 3D printing technology out there, what would you say sets yours apart from the rest?
The biggest separation is in our business model. We are focused on being the primary development and distribution network for content in the 3D printing industry. Basically, we're planning on being THE app marketplace for 3D printing. From a technology standpoint, we are an IoT platform for 3D printing. Many companies are building 3D printers, many are making slicing software and workflow management, but very few have the know how to build out the IoT portion of this solution.

10) What can we expect from your company in the next 3-5 years? What do you think we will see happen across the industry?
In the next 3-5 years, expect for AstroPrint to become a household name! We are working with a number of major household brands that will be releasing 3D printers, powered by AstroPrint. As these major household brands start selling machines on the store shelves that consumers walk by every single day, 3D printers will quickly start to hit mass adoption. The 3D printing industry has been incredibly exciting the last few years, but the next 3-5 years are going to be spectacular!