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Kitchener startup makes 3D printers user-friendly

Kitchener startup makes 3D printers user-friendly

Posted by PanamericanWorld on July 25, 2016

Pablo Eder learned years ago that 3D printing would never achieve its potential unless the trendy machines became easy to use.

While studying microbiology and business at the University of Waterloo, Eder was hired by a professor to work for a startup that made 3D printers. That startup never went anywhere, but Eder gained insights into the technology. He founded the startup Lanilabs (www.lanilabs.com) to exploit what he sees as a huge opportunity — making 3D printers user friendly.

"I saw the bigger problem within the industry," Eder says. "Even though people are buying 3D printers, they are super difficult to use."

Simply put, 3D printers are complicated machines. Users need to input at least 10 and sometimes up to 200 variables into the device before it starts printing an object. The variables include temperature, materials and speed. Do some parts of the object need support while it is printing? Do different parts of the object have different densities?

Currently, the owner-operator of a 3D printer needs to install software on a computer, connect to the printer and go from there. Different printers have different software.

"I wanted to build a system where anyone, anywhere can submit a design very quickly without much problem," Eder says.

Lanilabs was founded in early 2014. By November of that year, it had won a spot in the Velocity Garage, the University of Waterloo startup incubator in the Tannery in downtown Kitchener.

The team built a small device called the Lanibox that has tens of thousands of lines of code in it. The Lanibox has four USB ports, an Ethernet port and one for power. It can be quickly connected to any type of 3D printer.

"It's very, very simple," Eder says of the Lanibox. "You connect that to your Ethernet, and then connect it to printers and that will talk to our servers."

The Lanibox sells for $250, and there is a $150-a-year fee. Lanilabs' real computing power is in its Cloud-based servers. Once it is connected to a computer and printer, the operator can design objects and submit the plans to the Lanilabs's servers. The plans are checked to ensure compatibility with that 3D printer, and adjust the settings.

Through the Lanilabs platform, someone who wants to 3D print can be connected to someone who owns a 3D printer. The platform vets the design, finds a suitable printer and tells you how much it will cost.

"And also there is a confirmation process where an actual person reviews it," Eder says. "So the owner of the 3D printer actually sees whether or not the settings were correct, and they can accept the job."

Eder says other startups are the main customers for the Lanibox so far, but the Kitchener Public Library and Themuseum also bought the devices.

"They really want kids to be able to use this platform, and that way kids can drag-and-drop the design and send it to the printer," Eder says.

"I think people should focus on learning how to design a 3D model, but not really on the settings of the printer," Eder says. "You should be able to just hit 'print.' "

Lanilabs has six employees and is earning revenue. It won $25,000 in a Velocity Fund Finals pitch competition, and $60,000 from JumpStart, $5,000 from Communitech and $5,000 from the University of Waterloo.

The Lanilabs' platform was designed to be quickly adapted to changes in the emerging field of 3D printing.

"Let's say manufacturers of 3D printers started putting Wi-Fi in 3D printers, we want to be compatible with that right away," Eder says.

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