Doctoral graduate invents his way to Kickstarter success

Published: December 12th, 2013

Category: Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tim Elmore will receive a doctorate in mechanical engineering on Friday, but he’s already achieved unusual success as an inventor.

Since April, Elmore has sold more than 1,000 of what he calls the Filastruder — a much cheaper and more efficient tabletop filament extruder for 3D printers.

If you’ve never seen a 3D printer, they work like a hot glue gun on a mission. Taking instruction from a digital blueprint, plastic filament is fed through a heated nozzle that’s on the move. It lays down layers of melted plastic until a desired shape takes form.  Or, until it runs out of filament.

“The first time I went online to buy filament, I just said, ‘No,’” Elmore said. Prices for spools of filament were too high for his hobbyist budget. He had already saved money by purchasing a 3D printer that cost less than other models because it required occasional tinkering. So he decided to save even more money by making his own filament.

He looked at the $100,000 extruder machines that are on the market – the ones used in giant laboratories and manufacturing setups – and decided to scale one to a tabletop version. It took him a week to design it, another week to order – or in some cases print out – all of the parts, and a week to put it together. For the price of buying one spool online, Elmore’s new machine could produce 10 spools and he could blend custom colors.

“It definitely opens more ideas per dollar,” he said.

Elmore took photos of his tabletop filament extruder churning out spools of plastic and posted them to a message board for the 3D printer he was using. After finding wide interest, he decided to go to market. He started a Kickstarter campaign online, and friends with marketing experience were happy to help. Their initial goal was  $5,000. In the first 24 hours, they raised $50,000.

In 30 days, Elmore had raised $212,278 on the crowd funding website, and in doing so had promised to ship more than 770 Filastruders around the world. Orders were also coming into his website, including one from curious NASA engineers.

Elmore assured Scott Banks, his doctoral adviser, that this would not be a problem.  His suppliers had enough parts to cover a larger order, and his friends were happy to help with assembly and shipping. This would in no way impinge on his ability to revolutionize spinal imaging machines, and he would graduate on time.

True to his word, Elmore has continued his daytime research. The current O-arm-style spinal imaging machine that is used in hospitals around the country surrounds a patient within a metal “O” and, in doing so, impedes a surgeon’s mobility. Elmore has built a new imaging platform – top to bottom, hardware to software – that allows X-ray transmitters and detectors to perform the same imaging tasks, just without all the bulk.

The platform started off with an Xbox controller and some simulation software. It has since become a full-fledged machine capable of performing high-precision tasks.  As Elmore is approaching the stage to receive his doctorate, the National Science Foundation is stepping in with funding to take his prototype to the next level.  Next stop: the operating room.

 

 

Credits

Writer
Jen Ambrose, jenambrose@eng.ufl.edu, 352-392-8049

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