Marking the finish line of a marathon lasting the better part of a decade, Medford, MA-based 3D printer startup Inkbit has announced that the first commercial Vista printer to be installed is now operational. Inkbit’s inaugural customer is Saint-Gobain, the French manufacturing conglomerate. The company is deploying the Vista at Saint-Gobain Research North America, in Northboro, MA (the Boston metropolitan area).
A spinoff of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Inkbit was co-founded by two MIT engineers: Davide Marini, who is now the company’s CEO, and Wojciech Matusik, the company’s CTO. With this background in mind, it’s unsurprising that Inkbit would design a product that represents a new threshold being crossed in the history of 3D printing. Specifically, the Vista is the first commercially available 3D printer utilizing machine vision to achieve real-time feedback control.
Saint-Gobain is among the oldest companies in the world, one of well under 1,000 on the planet founded before the 17th century that’s still continuously operating. It’s perhaps thanks to its willingness to innovate that it’s still thriving. Recently, Saint-Gobain released an analysis about the promising results possible with additive manufacturing (AM) techniques at its Barcelona Sekurit automotive glass plant.
Saint-Gobain found that by adopting AM in its production line, it was able to save $182,000 and reduce lead times required for tooling by 93%. In the post about that report, I wrote, “When you start to consider the possibilities for Saint-Gobain increasing the number of AM applications it employs, as well as its incorporation of AM in additional divisions beyond Sekurit, the potential for significant long-term cost reduction becomes clear.” Additionally, the company has become increasingly involved in additive construction. Adding machine learning and AI to that foundation, on top of what it has already done with AM, illustrates how serious Saint-Gobain is about the role of the technology in its future.
Thus, Inkbit’s first customer is a keen one. The fact that the Vista is already capable of volume production means that Saint-Gobain has moved past merely testing how it wants to use AM, and has moved onto the phase of testing how it can create entire alternative digital supply chains that are automated from top-to-bottom (or if you prefer, “end-to-end”). The entire industry, as well as any sector banking on the future of AM, will be watching closely what’s done with the Vistas sold in the first year of the machine’s availability. It’s likely that AM will only scale up once the precedent for automation that Vista has set becomes commonplace.
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