Irish Brothers’ Startup Makes 3D Printers Fed By Office Paper
Irish brothers Conor and Fintan MacCormack were into 3D printing before it was cool.
In fact, Conor first discovered the concept in 1986, when he was in secondary school, watching a BBC television special. The technology hooked the 16-year-old right away, just like motorcycles, rocket ships, and computers already had. He was in awe watching the 3D printer create something layer by layer, translating a computer design into a physical object.
“Seeing this print really opened my eyes to the possibilities,” Conor says. “It definitely inspired me.”
Years later, Conor and his older brother started kicking around the idea of building their own 3D printer that was better than what was on the market. It was Christmas of 2002. Electrical engineer Fintan was visiting friends and family in Ireland while on vacation from his job with a semiconductor parts manufacturer in Philadelphia. Conor, a mechanical engineer living in Dublin, was working on a project for Airbus at the time. Both had experience with computer-aided design and prototyping.
Their idea? A 3D printer that makes objects out of standard office paper, rather than plastic or metal.
Fast forward to today, and the brothers (along with Conor’s wife, Deirdre) are running one of the more intriguing companies in the 3D printing space. Mcor Technologies—based in Dunleer, Ireland, 38 miles north of Dublin—has grown to about 50 employees, according to Conor, who is CEO. That includes additional operations in the U.K., Boston, Atlanta, and San Jose, CA. The company says sales of its two 3D printer models grew 190 percent between July 2013 and July 2014, though it declines to say what those sales were or if it is profitable. Meanwhile, to fuel its growth, it has pulled in more than $14 million (11 million euros) from investors in Ireland, the U.S., and other parts of Europe, including $12 million (9.4 million euros) this past June.
The new funding, Conor says, will help Mcor in its quest to bring 3D printing technology “to the masses.”
Back when the MacCormack brothers shared their epiphany during Christmas of 2002, the whole 3D printing industry was only selling about 2,000 to 3,000 units worldwide each year, Conor estimates. This was before companies like Makerbot Industries, which was acquired last year by Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS), made it big and 3D printing reached the levels of hype (some say over-hype) it enjoys today, with bold predictions about how it could transform everything from manufacturing to healthcare.
“Everybody you would talk to about it at the time was just completely blown away” by the technology, Conor says of those 2002 days.
The problem was, the machines were still quite expensive. Even though retail prices were starting to come down, materials costs were rising. When Conor was earning his mechanical engineering doctorate from Trinity College in Dublin, for example, only one or two students were allowed to print a model each year because the materials were so expensive.
The brothers believed they could build a lower-cost 3D printer “purely on a technical basis,” Conor says. They initially set their sights on designing one that would cost 20,000 euros (or about $25,500), roughly a fifth the retail price of most machines at the time, he says. But perhaps more importantly, they wanted to create a 3D printer with virtually zero materials costs.
“What is the cheapest, most accessible material around? Paper,” Conor says. Using paper as the building block, he envisions a 3D printer in every school in the world so the next generation is “empowered to make things for themselves and, in turn, design better machines for the future.
“There is no reason why 3D printing should not be as mainstream as 2D printing,” he says.
Getting Mcor as far as it is today wasn’t easy, though, and it certainly wasn’t top of mind for … Next Page »
Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org