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IC3D and LulzBot at MRRF 2017 [Photo: IC3D]

Open source is an ideology important to much of the 3D printing community; the ethos is at the foundation of many companies involved in the scene from the beginning, and it can be a polarizing topic. For some, like Aleph Objects with its open source LulzBot 3D printers and the community built up around the technology, and the RepRap community, sharing is caring. Other entities jealously guard their intellectual property; what’s theirs is theirs, and start to finish the system is proprietary. MakerBot drew some serious flack a few years ago when they changed direction from open source roots and became part of the closed source Stratasys family. For its part, HP’s entry to the 3D printing industry blew some minds when the company, infamous for requiring use of proprietary ink in their gargantuan 2D printing operations, chose an open platform approach to their materials in additive manufacturing.

While companies like HP have opened up materials innovation to work with partners, there has been perhaps room for open source innovation in materials at the desktop level — specifically, filament for extrusion-based 3D printing systems. Or at least Aleph Objects thinks so. At this past weekend’s Midwest RepRap Festival held in Indiana, the company announced to the dedicated crowd of hobbyists and enthusiasts gathered that they’ve entered into a collaboration with Ohio-based IC3D dedicated to opening up the filament scene. Full details of the partnership will be announced in the coming months as there’s more progress to report on, but in the meantime the teams from both IC3D and Aleph Objects are expressing their enthusiasm for the project. The soft announcement at MRRF represented a glimpse into what will be a fuller announcement around the time of RAPID + TCT in May.

“Midwest RepRap Festival is a one-of-a-kind 3D printing event that brings together a community of companies and individuals that are dedicated to collaboration. I can’t think of a better place to announce our partnership with IC3D,” Aleph Objects’ Director of Marketing, Ben Malouf, tells 3DPrint.com of the decision to open up about the partnership at this venue.

Aleph Objects is well known for their strong open source/libre innovation strategy that permeates their business operations, as they encourage others to take their technologies and build from them, always inspiring innovation. The basis of open sourcing lies in that spirit of innovation; the cycle of creation can be accelerated significantly when new companies don’t have to start from square one. By offering a starting point, future developments can build in different directions. The sharing of knowledge is a critical part of today’s world, where all of humanity’s accumulated knowledge can be accessed in seconds using a pocket-sized device — why not extend that into developments that can benefit an entire industry? For the past five years, Aleph Objects has been seeking to work with a materials company willing to go open source with their filament; the search had been a struggle, and it is finally IC3D that has answered that call.

“A first in the history of 3D printing, this Open Source collaboration will help push forward innovation in 3D printing material technology and will speed up the flight to quality,” says the Aleph Objects team.

[Photo: LulzBot]

IC3D has long been known for their filament, which was the basis for the company’s founding in the first place and can lead to some pretty incredible 3D printed creations. I’ve had the happy opportunity to get to know the team over the last few months as they have become involved with collaborative projects in their native Columbus, through which they highlight the important place of community to their team. This sense of community is now carrying over into the larger sense of the world as they bring their own filament into the open source community — and fit in as an all-new piece to that puzzle.

“Because Open Source 3D printer software, firmware, electronics hardware, and mechanical hardware designs already exist, the materials represent the final missing piece of the open source 3D printing puzzle,” IC3D CEO Michael Cao tells 3DPrint.com. “IC3D is pleased to be in collaboration with Aleph Objects, makers of LulzBot.”

The company is focused on innovation based firmly in reality, and has a business ethic that drives them forward to scalable results built on firm foundations of what they understand of the entire industry. Now, IC3D will be releasing the information underlying their filament; materials and techniques will stay the same in the filaments’ production as IC3D pursues certification from the Open Source Hardware Association for the materials.

Teams IC3D and LulzBot together and enthusiastic! [Photo: LulzBot]

The project will be starting with opening up IC3D’s ABS filament, and has been in the works for a few months now in preparation for the full release. As Cao tells us of the decision for IC3D to step up to the open source plate:

“IC3D has accepted the challenge to go Open Source for filament for the following reasons:

* Aligns with our company philosophy to ‘Democratize Manufacturing and Unlock Human Potential’
* Aligns with our goal that ‘Anything can be made Anywhere by Anyone.’
* The Open Source documentation for filament provided by IC3D will enable more people to manufacture their own consumables.
* If more people can make filament, there will be more material options and at a high quality for the entire 3D printing community.”

Michael Cao at IC3D HQ [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

Open sourcing may be a somewhat contentious topic for some, but it always has had and will always have its place in the 3D printing community — especially looking toward the desktop sector. Small businesses, hobbyists, enthusiasts, curious engineers with a hankering for tinkering… there’s no limit to those who can benefit from an open mentality. That the first open source filament project is coming about from these two companies in particular should be a huge comfort to the pro-open source crowd, as both IC3D and LulzBot are well-known brands offering validated quality. Both companies’ openness with their customers and the community at large ensure a transparency not often found in business today, 3D printing-related or no, as they engage with and work to truly understand the needs of the communities they serve.

Cao put it well, indeed, as he told me:

“Both companies share the values of freedom to innovate, experimentation, a commitment to quality, and provide a platform to unleash human creativity.”

We’ll be keeping in close contact with IC3D and Aleph Objects as they move forward with the open source filament project, and will have more details in May upon the fuller announcement. We’ll also be talking to industry professionals in the near future about open sourcing, its pros and cons, and some misconceptions surrounding the practice.

In the meantime, you can check out the full (20-plus-minute-long) open source filament announcement from MRRF here, as LulzBot shared:

Discuss in the Open Source Filament forum at 3DPB.com.

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