Bright Idea: A New Dimension

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Seattle startup Glowforge is developing a desktop laser device that can create three-dimensional objects from wood, leather, acrylic and other material. 

Unlike 3D printers, which build items by extruding a filament of plastic to create a three-dimensional model, Glowforge’s device is subtractive. It can cut three-dimensional objects from wood or metal, and cut sheets of metal, leather or other material that can later be assembled to make a product. It can also be used to engrave images such as corporate logos.

SoDo-based Glowforge recently raised $9 million, including investments from MakerBot cofounder Bre Pettis and its former CEO, Jenny Lawton. MakerBot, which produces low-cost 3D printers, was acquired by 3D printer giant Stratasys in 2013 for $604 million. Pettis and Lawton are now Stratasys executives.

“I want to reinvent the notion of what it means for things to be homemade,” says Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro. He adds he has always dreamed of having a Star Trek-style replicator that can create anything at the push of a button.

Glowforge plans to target the growing “do-it-yourself” maker movement among millennials. The trend has fostered local companies such as SoDo MakerSpace and Metrix Create:Space, which give users access to 3D printers and other machines to create their products.

 “We offer the virtues of being homemade with the speed, precision and flexibility that tech brings to the table,” says Shapiro.

Glowforge’s wireless desktop device is engineered to make it simple for designers and engineers to take a product from design to prototype to small-scale production, Shapiro notes.

While traditional laser cutters can cost in the range of $10,000, Shapiro says Glowforge’s desktop laser cutter will be priced at less than $2,500. The savings comes from using cloud-based software to manage functions such as calibration, which previously were performed by hardware. Glowforge also uses inexpensive sensors and other components from older iPhone models in its device.

“I want Glowforge someday to compete with Amazon Prime,” Shapiro says. “We can make a better product faster and cheaper than having it made in China, shipped over here and then having a drone deliver it to the door.” 

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