As 3D printing evolves and becomes a more common tool, new companies are sprouting up to refine the process and reinvent the way designers, engineers, and hobbyists work. Formlabs arose from a huge Kickstarter success to create an innovative high-resolution printer with an eye on quality and consistency.
Maxim Lobovsky drew on his experience at the MIT Media Lab with his cofounders David Cranor and Natan Linder to launch what quickly became one of the most highly funded Kickstarter projects of its time: the Form 1. The Form 1 and its successors don't use the typical plastic extrusion method you may associate with 3D printers; rather, it uses a process called stereolithography in which liquid resin is hardened by lasers.
The recently released Form 2 makes the process even easier. To be fair, shrinking a high-end manufacturing process into a desktop product comes with pros and cons — liquid resin can be difficult to work with and is more expensive than the ABS and PLA plastics used by extrusion printers — but it's an effective method of bringing 3D models into the real world at a high resolution with consistency.
As Max and his team continue to refine the printer and put stereolithography into the hands of people who can put the technology to use, we caught up to learn a little about how he works — and what he's been printing.
Location: Cambridge, MA (the Formlabs office is just across the border in Somerville, MA) Current Gig: Co-founder and CEO of Formlabs One word that best describes how you work: Intense. I only work on things that I am passionate about, so if I'm working on it, I'm going to care a lot about it. Current mobile device: Moto X (2013). It's time to get a new one, but no one seems to make a decent Android phone with a screen ≤ 5in. Current computer: Macbook Pro Retina 13". Running Windows 10. Makes it easier to run CAD programs, etc. And I like to be a bit contrarian :) The new Surface Book looks pretty nice. Despite what Apple thinks, a touch screen is useful on a laptop, even if you don't use it all the time.
What apps, software, or tools can't you live without?
We use Google Docs quite heavily. Working on a model or analysis of something collaboratively in Google Sheets is pretty awesome.
What's your workspace setup like? I would imagine there are probably some 3D-printed knicks knacks on your desk — what are they?
My desk is in a row of desks (we have open-plan seating) with many of the hardware engineers working on our 3D printers. I don't spend a lot of time there and often end up sitting at an open desk somewhere else in the office between meetings or conversations.
It was just my birthday so I have a number of 3D printed gifts from people in the office, most of which involve a 3D scan of me grafted onto other… interesting things. I have some 3D printed bits from some little side projects I'm working on like repairing a microscope and a little 3-jaw chuck for a lathe.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I am a pretty terrible writer. That's why my wife serves as my CEO (Chief Email Officer) and helps edit anything important that I need to send. She is skimming this post as we speak (and, no, she didn't suggest this answer). This isn't really a hack most people can implement, but having her input is something I'm fortunate to have.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
My email inbox ends up serving as my main to-do list. This probably biases me towards a more reactive-type of work style as I'm not emailing myself to create tasks.
Besides your phone and computer (...and besides a 3D printer), what gadget can't you live without and why?
I am interacting with my phone, my computer, or my 3D printer for probably 80% of my waking hours, so there isn't a lot of room for another gadget. I guess my Xbox One, but it's probably better if I lived without it...
Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what's next?
My mind definitely wanders between projects. It was something I was guilty about in the past, but I've learned to embrace it. It's usually a good time to get up from my desk, and chat with an engineer about what he or she is working on. Also, I think my mind's tendency to wander is the source of my ability to switch contexts quickly and jump into whatever problem is pressing at the moment.
Do you ever tinker around with printing projects or 3D modelling when you're not running the business and building the product?
Absolutely. I printed my wife's engagement ring in our new castable resin. I also occasionally print parts for my father's engineering consulting company or other interesting projects.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Googling. If there is a way to compete in Googling for something, I'd like to try :) My secret is being very curious and always needing to know the answer. That means that I have had a whole lot of practice…
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
I used to listen to music more at work (try to listen to mostly lyric free electronic or classical music). But my day involves running around the office or getting interrupted too much to be able to put headphones on.
What are you currently reading?
Most of the non-work reading I do is going into deep Wikipedia/Google holes. I end up doing a mostly breadth-first search until I have too many tabs open to keep track of. Reading about engineering, history, food, people, etc.
I've also been reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. His essays are amazing and it's very interesting to see him apply the same rambling, stream-of-consciousness style to fiction and non-fiction.
In that case I should fill this post with footnotes. How do you recharge?
Video games, hiking, beaches, bath houses (my parents come from Ukraine, so it's kind of a national pastime). Mostly, just spending time with friends (who are generally also my colleagues) over dinner, having a drink, etc.
What's your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
I am a night owl. I like to keep my alarm clock (my phone) far away from my bed so that I have to get up and walk over to it to make sure I don't go back to bed.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
He isn't alive anymore, but Edwin Land. He was the inventor of the instant camera (and founder of Polaroid). He was one of the most inventive people who ever lived and a very successful business man.
What's the best advice you've ever received? Doesn't have to be work or productivity-related.
My dad likes to say "would you rather be at the back of the fast train or the front of the slow train?" It's easy to be complacent, but if everyone around you is great and pushing you further, you will always be better. I think this is really important advice for people like me, who aren't necessarily type-A, to achieve the most that I can.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.