Erik de Bruijn - Ultimaker
Upon entering the ‘museum’ at the Ultimaker head office in Geldermalsen, you don’t quite realize that it was just in May 2011 that the company released its first 3D-printer
The endless possibilities of the Ultimaker 3D-printer
Now, three years on, co-founder Erik de Bruijn proudly presents his ‘first baby’. “Everything about this device is hand-made. Including the circuit boards. Each component had to be designed and developed from scratch. The RepRap project played an important role in the creation of this machine. Thanks to the open-source approach, everyone could have a voice in the process. This made it possible to link up with the latest innovative ways of shaping and developing components. It was the start of Ultimaker.”
The notion of ‘open source’ is something that runs throughout the emergence and growth of Ultimaker. De Bruijn: “Thanks to the Ultimaker 3D-printer, we have managed to secure a prominent position in the ‘Maker Industry’ over the past three years. This is mainly attributable to Ultimaker’s open source model. We share our ideas with our community online, and everyone is encouraged to respond with improvements or modifications. This generates a huge amount of new and interesting angles and proposals, so that the product just keeps getting better. It is Ultimaker’s goal to be the catalyst in the community, to elaborate the ideas and to increase our efficacy.”
Ultimaker 2: democratized 3D design
In the meantime Ultimaker2 has been released on the market: a new device that serves as a model for the latest generation of publicly accessible 3D printers. According to De Bruijn, the Ultimaker2 represents a further democratization of the production process. “The machine and certainly the software as well are very accessible. So each user can fully concentrate on ‘the thing’ that he or she is producing. And that’s exactly what we aim to stimulate: the creation of new and revolutionary products, by means of producing and exchanging ideas for 3D objects.”
Open source software
“That is also the reason”, Erik de Bruijn continues, “why the Ultimaker software, called Cura, is open source and freely available. Our goal is for the software to make 3D printing as easy as possible. All that 3D printing requires is contained in the software. And because it is open source, it’s getting better all the time.”
“Are we dreamers? No!”, says Erik de Bruijn. “Some competitors think we’re crazy, because our open source approach implies that all our technology is up for grabs. And indeed, we do make our source codes available, so that people can access the design drawings, electronic switches and software. But we also work with a license that gives us and others a right to use the improvements made by other people.
So I don’t think we’re mad – call it social instead, since we both give and receive. 3D printing – and especially 3D designing – is really taking off and improving practically by the day. YouMagine, our online community that links together everyone in the world of 3D design and printing, plays a special role in this development. It enables designers to share their creations with the world, and to work with and to learn from each other.”
Growing with the help of expertise
Established in 2011 by Erik de Bruijn, together with Martijn Elserman and Siert Wijnia, Ultimaker has evolved into an international organization within 3 years. There are pallets in the warehouse stacked with ready-to-use Ultimaker2 3D printers, ready to be shipped to all corners of the globe. “In 2008 I was still studying at Tilburg University, while putting together the first model in my student room. Now we have four production lines with five people continuously at work, and departments for Research & Development, Sales, Marketing & Support and even a department for Financial Administration. But to manage this kind of growth, you shouldn’t be too proud to enlist the help of experts. Starterslift* played an important role in this. Since we are so deeply immersed in the technology side of things, we are happy to call on external experts to help us set up a proper distribution network and a solid overall structure for the company”, says Erik. Now, Ultimaker has expanded production to the United States through a partnership with an American company. American customers can now order a ‘made in the USA’ Ultimaker.
Turning innovative ideas into reality
All growth is good, but Erik is also quick to point out another permanent challenge pursued by Ultimaker: “We want to facilitate a new world. We want to help ensure that big, innovative ideas can be transformed into reality. Our products are created with that goal. And besides that, we try to maintain a direct relationship with the individual user and with ‘future generations’. For example, we recently supported the e-NABLE project to the tune of 10,000 dollars’ worth of 3D-printers. With this equipment, we help e-NABLE to produce 3D-printed prosthetics for children in need.
As a co-initiator of the 3Ducatie project, Ultimaker collaborates with the Gelderland science and technology center for the education sector (Kenniscentrum Wetenschap en Techniek Gelderland) to create a 3D education set to familiarize teachers and pupils with the technology and potential of the 3D printer. The ultimate goal is to stimulate a problem-solving attitude and an investigative approach, which will result in a new revolution in the Maker Industry.”
*Starterslift has continued under the name Braventure
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