When in Catalonia, do as the Catalonians do; while in a larger-scale view that may be a circumstance set to change up world maps as we currently know them, on a business-by-business basis that also means taking another look at manufacturing as we know it. Open-source desktop 3D printer manufacturer BCN3D Technologies takes seriously its mission to democratize technology. On the wall of their second-story headquarters in Castelldefels, Barcelona, is written a reminder:
“We are changing the way the world is made.”
While such a refrain might sound right out of the old days of hype in 3D printing, at BCN3D it still fits as the young company takes a serious look at both its past and the future it is creating for itself. While I was in town this week for IN(3D)USTRY, as part of Barcelona Industry Week 2017, I took the opportunity en route to the airport to visit the headquarters of the popular company to learn more about their operations from the inside.
Marketing Manager Marc Felis started our tour with a look into the history of the company, in the small BCN3D “museum,” a lineup of landmark BCN3D printers. For the last three years, he explained, the company has been in the incubator-oriented RDIT Building '“ a big space, where there's room for expansion. And expand they have done; while initially the company had rented out half of the second floor, they soon extended their footprint to encompass the full floor, ready to grow into the enlarged surroundings. As we toured the museum '“ really a hallway collection of old machines showcasing the company's roots in RepRap and in building out their own designs '“ Felis pointed out the progress.
“We have had roots in RepRap since about 2012, and still release all files on GitHub,” he explained as we looked at some models built from RepRap files. “Then we started designing our own machines. We still release all files so everyone can download; we have seen a guy who made a Sigma at home. We don't sell the frame, but we do release the files, and he created his own Sigma.”
While the debate over open versus closed source 3D printers continues, BCN3D has made very clear its stance on the issue; Felis told the story of the DIY-Sigma maker with a cheery grin. The first BCN3D Sigma 3D printer was developed in 2014, the result of a long process of trial and error in building up from files already out in the 3D printing world. The team wanted to incorporate an aluminum frame and an LCD touchscreen, keeping a sincere and significant focus on the entire user experience, as Felis noted.
“And here we have our first functional prototype; it no longer works, but we want to keep our history,” he told me.
In May 2015, the first Sigma was released at a show in Barcelona as the young company introduced its first machines. Over the last two and a half years, the team has remained hard at work, growing in terms of both team and product development. In 2017, BCN3D released two new 3D printers: the reengineered Sigma we saw showcased at SOLIDWORKS World in February, and the new Sigmax, unveiled last week in the UK during TCT Show.
We walked as we talked, and Felis showed off the rooms behind the scenes where the Sigma line of 3D printers come to life. It was a refreshing change to be allowed to take photos of and share information about what I saw in all those rooms, as Felis reminded me time and again that the company is fully open source and is dedicated to staying that way '“ everything happening in the facility may be behind locked doors for security, but happens with an overall sense of transparency. About 90% of the parts for each Sigma (and Sigmax) 3D printer is made in Barcelona; it is very important, Felis explained, to the team that they assemble everything on-site and keep production as local as possible, underscoring that pillar of the promise of 3D printing.
“It is very import