Interview: Filastruder Makes 3D Printing Even Cheaper


Filastruder ran a successful Kickstarter campaign last month, ultimately raising over $200,000 for a product that produces inexpensive material for 3D printers. The filament used by most 3D printers is pricey, running upwards of $20 a pound. That’s a pretty serious disincentive to experimentation, especially for larger parts. But raw ABS plastic is available for just $4 a pound even in small quantities, and that’s what Filastruder uses to make filament.

Filastruder undermines the “give away the razor, sell the blades” model that 3D printer manufacturers might otherwise employ. As 3D printers get cheaper and cheaper manufacturers will look for other ways to shore up profits. For example, the proprietary cartridge for the Cube costs almost $50 a pound, and Stratasys charges around $100 a pound for plastic for their industrial 3D printers. Filastruder reminds us that the raw material here is actually cheap and common. This may perversely encourage 3D printer manufacturers to use more esoteric materials to preserve the business model.

We had a chance to talk with Tim Elmore, the inventor of Filastruder. Here’s what he had to say.

HackThings: Please tell us a little bit about your project.  Who is it for? How did you come up with the idea?

Filastruder: The Filastruder is designed for makers, specifically 3D Printer owners. I came up with the idea because I was frustrated spending hundreds of dollars on filament when I knew the actual cost of the plastic was a tenth of what I was paying for filament.

HT: How did you choose Kickstarter vs. other fundraising sites or other ways of fundraising (VC, angel, etc)?

Filastruder: I chose Kickstarter because it is popular in the maker community, and because I had backed projects on Kickstarter and wanted to see things from the other side – the project creator.

HT: What did you do to prepare for marketing Filastruder before you launched on Kickstarter?

Filastruder: Not a whole lot of marketing was done to be honest. We focused on doing beta testing and posting our journey on Soliforum, a message board. We took a waitlist, but 95 percent of our backers were not on the waitlist.

HT: How do you think cheap filament will change how people use their 3D printers? Do you have any anecdotes showing this with the Filastruders already in use?

Filastruder: I think cheap filament will let people print and experiment more. Some of our beta testers have already produced enough filament for the FIlastruder to have paid for itself. Additionally, I think we’ll see the Filastruder bring about many new interesting materials to experiment with. I’ve been working with turning nylon powder into filament, for example.

HT: How did you choose your fundraising goal?

Filastruder: The goal of $5,000 was set with the expectation that half of the people on our waitlist would end up backing the project. Turns out, that expectation was a little conservative.

HT: You completely sold out of units. Did you expect to run out? Why did you limit the number available? How are you making these? Did you consider outsourcing manufacturing?

Filastruder: I definitely did not expect to run out, and that has been the toughest challenge so far – supply chain issues. We limited the number available because at some point it doesn’t make sense to use Kickstarter anymore. We’ve been succesfully Kickstarted! Also, Kickstarter takes five percent in fees, which is another motivation to move toward a more typical web-based order system. I am packing the kits in my garage, and the fully assembled version has been outsourced to OS Printing. Our partnership with them has been in place since before Kickstarter.

HT: Do you see more demand for the kit or the fully assembled Filastruder? Why?

Filastruder: I expected more demand for the kit, and that has been the case so far. I think that since most of the customers are makers, they desire to assemble it themselves. Once the kits sold out, we actually had some people ask if they could purchase a fully assembled version at the fully assembled price, but left unassembled so they could do it themselves!

HT: What kind of 3D printer do you use? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve made with it?

Filastruder: I own a Solidoodle 2 and a Solidoodle 3. The most interesting thing I’ve made is probably the hopper for the Filastruder. Without it, the Filastruder would not be possible!

HT: What do think was the single smartest thing you did with your Kickstarter campaign?

Filastruder: Probably a Skype call with John, our Kickstarter rep. The first day we launched, we had the chance to talk to him for about a half hour, and he gave us lots of valuable advice about keeping backers happy, QC/QA, and other experience.

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I'm interested to know what his next steps are, beyond incorporating different materials.