CloudFab Distributed Fabrication & 3D printing, Nick Pinkston interview

Solidsmack had a story about CloubFab and I was immediately intrigued.

CloudFab is a brand spanking new start up that is aiming to become a distributed fabrication platform for 3D printing. They are in alfa right now but you can sign up for a beta on their site.

I wasn’t the only one intrigued, CloudFab was featured on the Ponoko blog and also on FluidForms
and now we’re going to do an interview with Nick Pinkston, CloudFab’s CEO. Isn’t that great,
we’re just one big happy family of personal fabrication companies. 

Joris: So tell us a bit about your team?

Nick Pinkston: Sure, there are two founders:

I’m Nick Pinkston, the “business
guy” of the company. I’ve been a tinkerer since I was very young – I
learned to solder before I could ride a bike. Since, I’ve run a few
small businesses, and I’ve been wanting to start a company that blended
my love of making things with a way to help change the world.

Steve Klabnik is our lead developer, and he’s been programming for
most of his life. He really brings a depth of talent and experience
that’s been invaluable to us. He’s not just a basement-bound dev
though. He’s great to toss around strategy with, and he’s a true
believer in the cause.

When did you guys get the idea for CloudFab?

At first, we were looking to start a place with equipment to work on
projects like TechShop, but it didn’t look like the local market would
support that. It was then that we helped start HackPittsburgh – now the
local hackerspace. We wanted to solve the problem on a larger scale
though, so we looked at how best to make production widely available.

What was it like to take it from idea to website?

We got off to a rough start which put us a little behind, but I have to
say that having Steve leading the development really inspired
confidence in our ability to get things done quickly. The latest drama
was maxing out our servers during the launch, but we’re back with a lot
more horsepower.

Are there any sites/books/people that inspired you to start your own business?

When I was quite young I read “Engines of Creation“, and as a young
tinkerer it really inspired me to look where tech could take us – if in
a futuristic way. Later, I read “Fab“, “Democratizing Innovation“, and
others which along with many blogs and friends helped inspire CloudFab.

So you guys are a distributed manufacturing platform? What is that exactly?

Distributed manufacturing / fabrication is all about tapping into
existing decentralized production capacity – similar to how the protein
folding project tapped into spare PS3 cycles. We’ll be tipping our hand
more a little later, but the ultimate goal is to increase the
accessibility for everyone.

Will you ever do your own production, or is connecting users with producers going to be the only thing you do?

Right
now, we’re fully focused on getting the distributed model implemented
and working well. We don’t see concentrating buying machines to be the
best model to best serve customers.

How will CloudFab work?

All a you need
to do is upload your STL file and select the build specs. This sends
all the applicable sellers a quote request. You then select the best
quote by price, turnaround, feedback, etc., and once you do we hold
your payment until the parts are delivered. If the parts are good,
you’ll leave the seller some good feedback.

Are you guys a Business to Consumer company? Business to business? Both?

I’d say
we’re a hybrid really. If engineers, designers, etc. are considered
business, I’d say we’re B2B. The main goal is really to empower people
who don’t make things for a living. Once my mom can easliy make things
I’ll be happy.

Your CloudFab Manifesto is very similar to what
I think about Personal Fabrication. In it you mention that the goal is
“truly personal fabrication”, what does this mean to you?

It
seems like modern society has alienated everyone from the being truly
invested in their work like artisans of the past. We’re at a point now
where technology allows us to be our own artisan. We can see blogs
being personal publishing, and it vastly increased the amount of dialog
and communication. If we can do that for designs and transfer that to
the physical world, we think it’s going to vastly increase innovation
in the physical world as well.

So you would like to be a global platform? What you are doing reminds me a lot of Ponoko.

If
by global you mean having users around the world, then yes. Ponoko
seems pretty file centric. They bridge the consumer-supplier gap by
giving designers a platform to show and make their designs – which is a
great service.

Are there any/many differences between yourselves and Ponoko?

We
really like what Ponoko has done so far. Between them, Shapeways, and
others, the space has emerged as the new kid on the technology block.
It’s awesome to see Dave ten Have on the cover of Inc. magazine. As
with any expanding market, everyone is trying to find and develop new
segments. We combine elements of the successful companies in the space
with some of our own.

What will make you guys successful?

They say you can focus on
the horse, the jockey, or the race. I think we’re in a great race, we
have an awesome jockey, and I think our horse is pretty solid and will
continue to train to win.

You are in alpha right now, any indication of when you hope to go beta?
(and yes, we of all people know that this is ballpark at best).

We hope to go into open beta in about a month or so. We’ll get the private beta robust, and then we’ll turn it loose.

Why did you choose 3D printing as a technology?

Not only is 3D
printing able to make a wide range of 3D objects with many materials,
but it also has less complexity than CNC for sellers and buyers. With
CNC there are so many variables to take into account it makes it
difficult to do easily online.

In the long run do you plan to expand into CNC, laser cutting etc.?

Laser
cutting will be coming very soon – along with similar processes. CNC is
a harder nut to crack, but 3-axis shouldn’t be too far away. Seven axis
Swiss machines aren’t around the corner though.

Do you guys believe that “everyone will make everything” through 3D printing? Or are you less optimistic/more cautious?

I’m
very optimistic about distributed fabrication, but it doesn’t consist
of only 3D printing, laser, etc. Especially for large objects, we’re
far away from that. Metal stamping and injection molding have benefits
over digital techniques in many areas, but they’re all apart of the
fabrication ecosystem. I’m sure we’ll see such technologies becoming
more available as well as time progresses. In any case, I think we’re
on our way to many people making a lot of things, and that’s still a
great start.

 

2 comments

  1. Steve

    Hey Joris, thanks for the coverage!

    Something that sort of slipped by was a code! We gave one to everyone else, so if anyone wants to use “shapeways” to sign up, they should feel free.

  2. Tim Thellin

    Xpress 3D, http://www.xpress3d.com, has been doing this since about 2002.

    Xpress 3D is an open market web site providing instant rapid prototype quotes, from multiple service bureaus.

    Users can select from fused deposition modeling, PolyJet, SLA, SLS and Zcorp. The user instantly receives a price quote and estimated delivery date from each provider on the site.

    The site contains information explaining the various technologies and the materials used on these systems. And there’s also some good comparison data to help you choose the correct technology for your application.

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