An Interview with Ed Tyson, rigid.ink
Likely many users who have tried 3D printing have experienced the frustration of an end product that does not live up to their expectations. This can, of course, be for multiple reasons, however one of the most likely aside from design errors is an error or issue with the filament one is using. Not all spools of filament are created equal, and there can be some variability in quality between vendors or even in two rolls of filament from the same one. Unhappy at this prospect and wanting to deliver exceptional products every time, one company has invested in the technology to produce filament that deviates in thickness by 0.03mm or less at any point on its spool. That company is rigid.ink and they are based out of Wetherby, a town on the River Wharfe, nestled between Leeds, York, and Harrogate, in the United Kingdom. We were able to connect with Ed Tyson to discuss the evolution of the company and development of their product among other things. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.
1) How or what made you decide to get into 3D printing? How long have you been "in the industry"?
From a professional level I’ve only been in the industry around 5 months now, since launching rigid.ink. But before then I’d been fascinated with the technology from a hobbyist point of view. I knew I wanted to get more involved with the industry, I just didn’t know what angle to take.
2) When was rigid.ink founded and why? Who are the key members of your team and what are their responsibilities?
The concept of rigid.ink came around last year (early 2014) when decent consumer level 3D printers were becoming very affordable. The big problem I could see was all the cheap filaments flooding the market. Even brands that looked to be more established (and not really that cheap) produced inconsistent quality filaments. So I thought, how hard can it be just to produce a good quality filament?
After doing research, I eventually started working with some trusted associates to produce a filament to a very high spec. This was no mean feat, turns out it’s inherently difficult to produce a spool nearly 340 meters in length that only deviates by 0.03mm in thickness at any point. And then do that consistently enough to hinge your business on the boast that the diameter only varies by 0.03mm.
We’re a small team at the moment—there’s me, two very technical guys who I can’t divulge their names (let’s call them Tom 1 and Tom 2) and the girls — Steph and Lynn. If you’ve got any customer service queries, it’s likely they’ll be the ones putting a smile back on your face.
We’re very customer service orientated like that.
3) The current iteration of rigid.ink came about in 2014, but before then were you using other 3rd party filament?
Not to sell, but personally I’ve used a lot of various filaments. Especially during the testing faze to get something satisfactory for rigid.ink. There’s something strangely rewarding inhaling the sweet smell of PLA at 03.00 in the morning.
4) How universal is the 3D printer filament you produce? Could it be run through almost any 3D printer?
We currently do 1.75mm, 3.00mm and thanks to the Ultimaker 2 taking the world by storm we’ve also launched 2.85mm filament too. They’ll pretty much run through any FDM printer. If it doesn’t, just send it back, we’ll eat our hats.
5) If you can disclose this, what type(s) of printers do you test your filament on before launching to the public?
Pretty much every printer we can get our hands on. We’ve not had any complaints yet.
6) What do you think are the most key elements of high-quality filament? What can you tell us about the process of developing your filament and what goes into every spool you sell?
We realised that there was no short cut to creating a high quality filament. We needed to use the best raw materials and then do them justice by getting the machinery to produce to exact specifications. We’re about doing things differently.
I think ultimately when you’re creating something with your 3D printer, you want to know two things: that it won’t jam during a 10 hour long print (and let’s face it, who has time to stick around making sure it doesn’t jam) — and that if your print does finish successfully, that the thing you’ve made has printed well.
You want to be confident after all that, the detail is consistent and it’s strong enough to not break apart in your hands.
I think poor quality filament is just a false economy.
7) Which are the industries you are aiming for with your current batch of filament?
We’re aiming for the more serious prototyping industrial segments — that’s what our quality target was aimed for. But we’ve actually priced our filament to be very affordable to the consumer end of the market. Whether you’re plastic modelling an ultra-light fuel injector cut-away or creating your own WWII figurines, everyone operating a 3D printer needs good filament they can rely on.
8) In the article in TCTMagazine and on 3DPrint.com, it indicates users can expect to see more colors and materials in the future, do you have a rough timeline you would be willing to share or what these new colors and materials might be?
Very soon. In fact I’ve just got back from a photo shoot for the new colours. It’s a priority that the photos we use to show the colour of our filaments accurately represent them. I’m amazed how many filament suppliers just use generic factory images.
As for what colours we’ll be launching, they won’t be disappointing. I’ll let the images do the talking, words won’t really do them justice.
9) Where do you think 3D printing will be 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Will we get to a point where it is as ubiquitous as an inkjet or laser printer is today?
That’s a tough question, because I think everyone agrees there are few industries 3D printing won’t revolutionise, eventually — but you’re trying to predict what comes first. There are some hugely exciting developments happening in the medical industry, although it’s still very underfunded and we’re a long way away from complex 3D printed organs.
The dream of a 3d printer in every home? I’m not convinced. I am confident a time will come where most people will know someone who owns their own 3D printer (we’re not far away) but ultimately if someone wants something prototyping or a replacement vacuum cleaner part, they’ll just pop down to their local 3D Service centre.
10) What do you think schools and universities can do to better (if anything) to foster STEM efforts related to 3D printing? What do you think are the biggest barriers to a novice getting involved with the field and the technology?
At the moment, I believe that any school or university that still doesn’t have their own 3D printer, isn’t a very good one. That may sound like a blanket statement, but on a technology expanding as rapidly as this that will impact so much of our future lives — they really cannot do enough. The education system has been trailing behind industry’s requirements for the last 20-odd years and the gap isn’t getting any smaller.
As for novices getting involved, I think the main areas are confusion as to which printer to buy and how to actually get the best out of it. Then they’re thinking; should they wait for the model that’s 12 months down the line that could be cheaper, more accurate or faster?
Once you solve those 3 factors, 3D printing explodes.