An Interview with Erick Royer, Director, Stepcraft Inc.
The limits (or lack thereof, really) of 3D printing are always being stretched by those inside the industry. Thus is certainly the case with Stepcraft Inc. who has produced a different type of all-in-one machine, one that not only does 3D prints, but can also mill, carve, engrave, laser engrave, work as a vinyl/craft cutter, plot, and more. Given all of those features, their tagline of “What Will You Create” is very apt. Their second version of the printer, the Stepcraft 2 is currently being crowdsourced on Kickstarter campaign. With 19 days to go in their campaign, they are already at more than 200% of their initial ask of $35,000 with over $72,965 raised from 37 backers. We were able to get in contact with the company who granted us an interview with Director Erick Royer. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.
1) How and when did you all decide to get into 3-D printing? What is it from your background that led you to this point? How did you come up for the idea for the Stepcraft?
Anyone who follows the technology space knows that 3D Printing is one of the hottest new technologies that we have seen in our lifetime and it is only going to continue to grow. When we developed the Stepcraft machine, the design led itself perfectly to have a 3D Print Head attachment. So that option was quickly introduced into the product line in 2014.
Stepcraft was founded by Markus Wedel and Peter Urban in Iserlohn, Germany. They were looking for a desktop CNC solution that had flexibility and performance unlike any other in the hobby/maker space that could be offered for a very affordable price.
2) Who are the key employees at your company and what are their roles?
Stepcraft Germany has 13 employees that range from office, support, engineering, sales, manufacturing, shipping and business relations. Stepcraft Inc., is located in Torrington, CT and is run by Erick Royer (Director) and Joe Papa (technical support) Stepcraft Inc., was formed late 2014 to bring Stepcraft to the North American market and offer full sales, support and order processing.
3) What type of material or filaments does the Stepcraft work best with? Do you have plans to expand into other materials in the future?
The Stepcraft 3D Print head works very well with PLA, PVA and ABS. We have been testing NinjaFlex, conductive filaments and carbon-infused filaments as well and so far all tests have been very successful. The design of the print head allows a lot of flexibility in the types of materials that can be processed and we will continue to test new filaments as they become available.
4) Can you explain some of the key differences or improvements between the first generation Stepcraft printer and the Stepcraft 2 which is currently being crowdsourced on Kickstarter?
Stepcraft 1 is an amazing machine that is very capable of machining many different materials including wood, plastics and soft metals. Stepcraft has sold over 2000 units throughout Europe and Australia over the last 18 months. They have taken the feedback from customers and created Stepcraft 2. With the Stepcraft 2 line came two new models; the 210 and the 840. The 840 is one of the largest desktop CNC systems on the market in the sub-$3000 price range. Stepcraft 2 boasts 60% faster speeds (from 30mm/sec to 50mm/sec), a larger work height (140mm) on the 420, 600 and 840, and a host of other improvements that increased the strength and precision of the system.
5) What are build sizes are possible within Stepcraft2? Is the technology scalable at all at this point?
The unique thing about Stepcraft machines is that the 3D build volume is based on the size of the machine. For example the Stepcraft 2-420 has a working area of 300x420x140mm whereas the 840 has a working area of 600x840x140mm. Because of the universal nature of the Stepcraft systems, the build area is much larger than most 3D Printers on the market. Since the Stepcraft machines can also mill, carve, cut and draw, the possibilities are limitless as to what can be created.
6) Your machine, unlike some of the others out there are the market does more than just 3D print. Do you find, however, that that is the main reason people are looking at it for purchase? What was it that prompted you to design the printer this way?
Most Stepcraft customer buy our machines because of the ability to CNC mill, cut and carve as well as cut paper and vinyl and to engrave. The 3D Print option saves these customer s from having to purchase a separate system. There are many applications where it is useful to print a part and then switch to milling to clean it up or make adjustments. Conversely there are applications where you create something with the mill but switch to 3D printing to make parts that you can not easily do with a mill. The idea was to create one machine that can do it all and do each job very well.
7) I see that with the Stepcraft 2, it has a magazine that can hold up to 10 tools. Can you provide a listing of those compatible tools?
This is the new Automatic Tool Changer that is set to be released in the next few months. Basically you put the tools (bits) into holders and place them on a magazine. Then the receiver on the spindle can be moved over the appropriate tool and automatically insert it for different cuts and finishes when milling, carving or engraving. Many milling/carving jobs require 2 or more bits to complete the job. A roughing bit can be used to remove the bulk of material and then you change to a ball nose end mill to complete the smooth final finish. The ATC automates this process.
8) How does one connect to the unit(wireless, USB, etc.)? Is there proprietary software that goes with it, too?
USB connection to a computer running Windows. There are three main software programs that can be used to run Stepcraft machines; WinPC-NC, Mach 3 and UCCNC - all have been tested and work perfectly. We will sell whichever software the customer chooses, but we will package the machines with UCCNC beginning May 2015. Presently we use WinPC-NC.
9) Who or what industries, at this point, are you aiming your product towards?
Hobby (radio control models), trains, cars, boats, airplanes, etc. Woodworkers, cabinet makers, craftsman. prototyping/inventors/makers, Scrapbooking/crafts, engravers/ sign makers, education/shop class/engineering/etc.
10) In your mind, given the wealth of 3-D printing technologies and devices out there, what makes yours stand out from the crowd?
I have used and presently own several major 3D Printers, including Makerbot, Leapfrog, Ultimaker and more. They all have some specific benefits/advantages. But when you consider the cost of these machines and the fact that they can ONLY 3D print and compare that to the cost of a Stepcraft system that can not only print but perform many other functions too for less overall investment, the Stepcraft system is a very attractive solution. As an example, A Makerbot will cost around $2400 and can only print. The Stepcraft 2-600 can be outfitted with a 3D print option, vinyl cutter, mill and engraver for around the same money. A Stepcraft 300 will cost you about $1500 with milling/3D printing capability. Also the resolution of the Stepcraft 3D Printer is comparable to any of the major brand printers in normal modes and like those printers, Stepcraft can also be setup via software to obtain even finer results.
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 get asked this question a lot. I do predict that 3D Printers will be much more commonplace in consumer’s homes as the next few years to come. Presently many printers on the market are not as simple to use as to just hit print like you would an inkjet printer for your computer. They require a lot of fussing with filaments, project settings, bed preparation, etc. We have made this process as simple as it can possibly be. However, I do see a point in the future where 3D printers will work as simply as a home inkjet printer.