print the legend Manufacturing the Future        

Netflix Documentary Print the Legend Looks Inside the 3D Printing Industry

October 6, 2014

Print the Legend is a compelling look at the 3D printing industry and the unlimited potential it offers. The film primarily follows two start-ups – MakerBot, who some may see as the poster child for 3D printing, and Formlabs – as they develop more affordable desktop options. Over the past few years 3D printers have produced everything from clothing and footwear to prosthetics, skull implants and even human organs.

One of the most controversial items ever 3D printed is a gun, known as the Liberator, which is addressed in detail in the film. Our team watched the documentary and addressed a few questions regarding the film below.

What is your take on the primary companies discussed in the movie – MakerBot and Formlabs? What do you see as their biggest challenge? What are they doing right/wrong in your eyes? 

MakerBot and Formlabs seem to both fit the Lore of the American Dream built out of a garage or basement, just as so many of our large innovative companies have. They showcase the real face of moving that dream from idealistic vision to mass reality. While neither technology is terribly new or innovative (we’ve been using one form or another for decades), the advent of ‘consumer’ and ‘desktop’ in this category is.

The similarity between the MakerBot/Formlabs approach and the earlier Microsoft/Apple approach stood out in the film. MakerBot (at least initially) was very much geared towards open source development and appears to be a very engineering/craft type of company while Formlabs, on the other hand, seems more Apple-like in their approach to user interaction and design.

MakerBot’s vision based around open source and community involvement is really what drove their image. Hardcore Makers and Hackers may lament the inevitable desire a growing company has to protect their Intellectual Property to maintain a competitive advantage, but a larger audience of consumers will now be able to enter into this realm without the technical barriers of having to build the machine from scratch.

bre pettis makerbot

Formlabs is a great example of the crowd-sourced funding craze, but also a real case of how hard it is to get something from concept to reality. Their story really is reminiscent of the Tech bubble stories from the 90’s – many will play and many will fund, but only a few will probably survive in the end. They are bringing a very high resolution printing technology to the desktop, which is very exciting. Their format is limited, however, and it’s unclear how scalable to larger print-sizes it will be. The larger stereolithography systems use proprietary laser-focusing and direct technology and software that is still protected by patents, even if the basic methods are now open. Formlabs may have to make the same sort of transition MakerBot did, or find a niche community and stay small if they are to survive.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for 3D printing companies today and in the future? 

Remember dot-matrix printing? Not many people under 30 will, but that was the personal printing resolution available to consumers 30 years ago (about 90 dpi). Today $100 gets you a pretty good printer you can print photographs on (around 720 dpi for inkjet). Desktop printers will have to become more reliable and repeatable, and make 90% of the prints succeed. Larger companies will have to adapt to a new competitors from larger automation divisions such as Cincinnati Inc. and others – 3DS is aggressively addressing this already with their continuous fab-grade printer development.

One of the biggest challenges for these companies is to deliver a better prosumer experience and close the gap to the Stratasys mojo. MakerBot is creating a community (via Thingverse) and is being slightly irreverent to differentiate themselves from the beige boxes of their parent company, but if they cartridge their filament to compete (like the mojo), they may loose to the likes of Flash Forge (and their Dremel collaboration).

3D printing in the future is going to need to continue to innovate and iterate new ideas and technologies without IP infractions or one company suing the other.

Print the Legend 3D printing

The other big challenge is going to be having an all-in-one printer. Most printers print just one type of material, which is fine from a prototyping standpoint. However, most things you buy aren’t just a single block of plastic. Being able to print a finished product instead of a finished part would be huge.

We were a bit surprised that nowhere in the documentary was anything ever mentioned about the software side of the process. The hardware seems to be the easiest part of adaptability for the public – the software is where the real learning curve is involved. One side of the industry where designers are putting up custom designs for the public to download and print is a great opportunity, very similar to the mobile app world, but, of course, that business model is yet to really be tested. However, the biggest opportunity for adaptability may be when the general public has the ability to create their own custom goods. We all like the ability to say, “I made this” to some degree, don’t we? We could see consumers printing off custom phone cases they designed and changing it up regularly.

Cody Wilson and his 3D printed gun was a big controversy in the film. How do you feel this has affected and/or changed the 3D printing industry?

Wow, what a radical. If you step back from the anarchy and hype of it, this message would come about eventually. He does have a point on raising awareness, and, if not him, someone else would do this same thing.

3d printed gun

The real message is that 3D printers are tools, like a lathe or mill – both of which can be used to make gun parts. Much will be debated on this topic, but there are two points: 1) a plastic printed gun is structurally weak and you might as well have milled it out of wood and put it together with duct tape, and 2) a structurally sound 3D printed gun is feasible, but you could buy an arsenal for what it would cost, and it probably wouldn’t work that well. Eventually, that may not be the case – when resolutions get better, we may see many, many more 3D printed objects out in the world, poor taste or not.

Something like this can potentially hurt the development of the industry as a whole – especially when it comes to adaptability.

What is your overall take on the documentary?

We went into the film thinking it was going to be more about the technology of 3D printing, but in reality it was more about the industry and the start-ups leading the way. As designers, we are constantly involved in 3D printing and some wish it would have focused more on the maker side of 3D printing – more about the history of it and how people are pushing the limits.

Formlabs 3D printer

In regard to the technology field, especially in the U.S., we have learned our lesson over time to pay attention to the small groups of people who tinker, refine and promote. The passionate vision of technical artists paired with the broad vision of enthusiastic entrepreneurs seems to be a powerful and entertaining combination.

While it was an interesting film, the story told is the same as any start-up movie. Start small, work hard, lose friends, sell-out. It does not help in showing a large viewing audience the benefits of owning a 3D printer.

What comparisons do you see between this movie and Facebook’s “The Social Network”?

In 2010, The Social Network fictionalized the dramatic building-up and falling-out around Facebook’s founding. Print the Legend is similar in that you get a look inside the ruthlessness of the start-up world. A new company may start with the best intentions, but soon financial decisions outweigh personal decisions and relationships. It really is an elephant in the room with both films and seeing how much power and responsibility can change a person.

Where do you see the 3D printing industry in 2-3 years?

Today, the clientele for 3D printers is primarily inventors, designers, engineers and makers in general. There need to be several advancements to the speed and quality of parts before the 3D printer becomes a household item. Over the next 2-3 years, we will most likely see faster machines, bigger and better parts, new materials and more applications. We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a desktop DMLS (direct metal laser sintering (3D metal prints)) machine.

Consumers should expect better executed, less expensive and easier-to-use printers from brands like Dremel. In addition, the patent for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) expired early this year so that methodology may be the next big game for desktop printers.

In terms of the software used, a major shift in usable 3D software is in the works from the offerings we’ve seen for free and for a much smaller price than we pay for professional software like SolidWorks.

Prosumers will see an increase in build size, resolution, functionality and material choice – bundling printer, scanner, laser-cutter, mill and even injection molding are all sweeping crowd-funding sites right now. Look towards multi-material production line 3D printing from the larger companies – maybe a laser-sintered metal frame sent on it’s way to a resin printer, then to PCB trace milling, then on to a electronics placing robot, and finally onto a filament casing printed around it all… maybe your phone was printed with legs!

  Customization will be king in five years.



Print the Legend puts a new perspective on the major companies behind 3D printing. One of the biggest challenges for any company trying to grow in this industry is finding an application of the technology that creates a demand that extends outside of designers, makers and engineers. Desktop printers have tremendously helped our industry by giving all firms, big or small, the ability to rapidly test and prototype ideas. This is great for certain industries, but does not yet translate into everyone needing to own and know how to use their own 3D printer. The more and more people who become aware of 3D printing and the benefits it provides, the more people will continue to push the technology and application of it forward.

The film is definitely worth checking out if you want an inside look into the makings of the 3D printing industry.


Up Down