Kodama, who you know from the hit Trinus 3D printer and now the soon to be released Obsidian 3D printer. I and others who purchased the right to be the first own these, have heard the grumblings coming from the Kickstarter community that the Obsidian 3D printer was actually the intellectual property of another company “Furling Technology”.
Now we have learned Furling was actually a Kodama business partner responsible for the physical design of the printer. After signing a “Nondisclosure Statement”, decided to leave and pursue creating and selling a clone of the Obsidian 3D Printer. I was able to contact Michael Husmann founder and CEO of Kodama and interview him via email questions gathered from the Obsidian community.
First let me post a disclaimer, as I already stated I did purchase an Obsidian printer and am waiting like everyone else for said delivery. I do not work for Kodama now or ever and have been given no compensation for this article from Kodama. The questions below came from the Obsidian Creatives Facebook group from a question I posed on that group.
So, without any other delay here is the interview.
What was your biggest surprise from the Obsidian Kickstarter campaign?
There were quite a few to be honest. This wasn’t our first Kickstarter campaign, it was our second. So the first (very positive) surprise was to receive about $250k (one quarter of a million!) in 7minutes. That was mind blowing.
During our pre-campaign build up we collected over 20,000 sign ups on our landing page! We put a lot of work into making that happen, but it was the extent to which we gained momentum was still a great surprise. A lot of people think that you can just launch a campaign by pressing a button, sit back and watch the money come in.
First, that’s the wrong way of thinking about crowd funding: Kickstarter is so much about building a community of people that support your project, the money is just one aspect of it. Secondly, the real work starts the moment you go live. From that moment on, it’s nearly a 24/7 job until the last minute, this is because so much is happening at once, and you have to grow the campaign, interact with your growing community and…take care of business as usual too.
Another surprise was the resistance to pay for shipping: costs were similar to those of our previous campaign, but this time people got very upset and decided not to back the product because of that, so we had to change it during the campaign.
Delivering a box all over the world isn’t cheap, especially on a global scale to over 80 countries. So this eats up our margins a little, but we had to listen to the market’s feedback.
How do you feel the introduction of the Obsidian will affect the 3D printing community at large?
Well, when you look at the current landscape, not many plug-and-play machines come to mind that are reliable, perform at a high-level, and are affordable (under $250).
It’s hard for a novice 3D maker to start their journey without having to spend around $1,000 or even more for something decent. Buying clones from Chinese factories or DIY kits is the only affordable option, but it comes with a lot of risks and disadvantages due to low reliability and no future support for the machine. When it comes to machines that are upgradable and customizable, there just is no competition. That’s the core difference here: users can choose their specs and spend between $200 for the basic machine to $500 for the full set.
And they can go all in upfront or upgrade over time while they’re learning and progressing. It’s never been done before on this scale.
We want to empower makers, no matter their level, and this reflects in everything we do: not just our beautiful and adaptable machines, but also our customer service, and our global system of warehouses ready to send accessories and filaments worldwide and quickly as possible. We’re building a community.
Obsidian is the result of this attitude, and it has something magical about it: new people contact us all the time via social media and our support system, saying they can’t wait to get one, asking where they can purchase it now!
The passion and creative energy we put into Kodama’s products is contagious.
What do you think 3D printing will look like in the next couple of years? What is Kodama’s vision for shaping that future?
I like the quote from Peter Drucker saying “the best way to predict the future is to create it”. That’s exactly our attitude in the 3D printing space: currently, the barrier to entry into the space is very low for companies. Many machines are open source and made of existing standard components. On top of that, factories clone existing machines at a lower standard, which means the industry isn’t getting any radical innovation. Just a marginally better old machine.
This situation is creating a bubble, confusing consumers and compromising the reputation of the whole industry. Even established brands like Prusa looks very basic and contains very little significant innovation or change: most parts are sourced from other suppliers and used to assemble the machine. We had the MK2 in the office and…let’s just say it wasn’t our favorite. My opinion is that the landscape will change, with a few brands creating innovative machine that move the plot forward. Not just a slightly better version of what people already have, but something that sets completely new expectations in the space.
We want to be at the forefront of that, and we see it as our duty and responsibility to make machines that wow people and empower more makers to create.
If you could still change one feature of the Obsidian (big or small) and not affect the delivery schedule, no matter how disruptive it may seem, what would you change?
Last year I had to make a decision. I proposed to our then contractor engineer to increase the build volume to 15x15x15cm, and asked what the consequences in time, cost, and weight would be. It became clear that to do so would have added another few months of work, more weight to the printer (and therefore higher shipping cost), and increased production costs. Back then, such a strong change didn’t make sense. I think that was the right call, but that’s one change we could have made earlier, before launch. Dual color would also be a nice feature, but it would delay the schedule and mess with the molds and design too much. This is too trivial a change to justify that.
I can’t think of anything else: most things we wanted to improve we included in the V3 prototype (our current model which we launched on Kickstarter). I asked that questions for months, maybe too many times, before launching so…good to see it was for something [laugh].
Have you made any changes that turned out to be not what you expected both good and bad?
Honestly, most of the changes turned out to improve the machine. To name a few; ABL (auto-bed leveling), the whole mechanical structure of the machine has been improved, PCBA is now upgradable (stealth driver for example), and now we are even working and testing flex steel to become the standard build platform in the near future.
What is your favorite feature of the Obsidian?
Ah – hard to choose one. Here’s what comes to mind first: the ability to upgrade and customize. And obviously all the design and details we added to the machine.
What was your inspiration behind Obsidian, after the Trinus?
It was a natural progression after Trinus. With our first machine, Trinus, we offered high quality prints and a high-quality machine at an affordable price. Even though we made it a modular kit and reduced assembly time below 30 minutes, it was still in the “KIT” category.
With Obsidian we wanted to have a full plug & play device, but also create a stunning, beautiful machine. Trinus looks good, but it’s still very industrial and functional. We wanted obsidian to look attractive, so it can be displayed anywhere at home. Until today there is not even one 3D printer I admire aesthetically, like an Apple product, premium car brand you name it. I wanna trigger that magnetizing feeling that people have with certain objects, products, nature, or even people. The WOW effect. I experience that every time I see my favorite car: the Audi TT. I feel happy just looking at it. That’s the feeling we want to trigger in our products, starting with Obsidian!
From your experience what’s the biggest “don’t” for a 3D printer Kickstarter project?
Ha – don’t launch a 3D printer on KS! No, on a serious note, I think this is no longer a good time to crowd fund a product in the 3D printing space, we have been fortunate to catch the last train. But of course, I may (and hope to) be wrong.
But more specifically, I think that pricing a printer above $2000 on Kickstarter would be certain failure in my opinion. Unless this happened through upgrades, and people could choose the features they want to include in their printer.
What are the biggest challenges you are still facing and what have you learned on this project that is new from your last project the Trinus?
Well, the main challenges has currently to do with time: having the project delayed, and still dealing with a few unknown variable like new suppliers, sampling and quality checks is tough. Making our own mobile app seems more challenging than expected: it’s important to find the right agency to partner up on that, but it’s not easy.
It’s easier to make a machine like Trinus than Obsidian: it’s a good but simple design. Trinus has 2 plastic molds, while Obsidian has 32. Also, for Trinus we partnered up with a Chinese company for engineering, and Flextronics for assembly. That made things much easier. This time we need to learn many things, at the same time, do a lot of things by ourselves. It’s been a huge learning curve.
In Kodama’s road map for the future, are you planning on expanding out of the FDM 3D printing space by bringing other affordable printers to market using the SLA (Stereo lithography) or MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) / Poly Jet techniques for part building? Basically, is Kodama planning on creating a 3D Printing product ecosystem based on more than just one fabrication technique?
My core principle is to bring value to society and our industry: at Kodama, we don’t do things to compete, or purely to chase money. Competing keeps you in the game of small, incremental steps. Like I explained earlier, many players in the 3D printing space bring very little value to the marketplace, but instead bring confusion and saturation. Cloning is an extreme example, but cheap printers are still part of this phenomenon.
We would only go in a certain direction if we thought we could bring something totally new to the party. That’s why we don’t want to compete with Formlabs for example, as they look at different customers and technologies, and have a different mission. Opportunity is everywhere, but you have to say no to be able to keep working on your strengths. To answer your question, yes mainly we will stick and focus on FDM but also have an eye on metal- and high temperature 3D printing, but I’m not yet ready to tell you more at this stage.
Do you have any plans for current/future printers to support multiple filaments?
Yes, that’s on our roadmap, both multi-color and multi-materials. But for now and for those models single colors is ok and makes the most sense.
It’s easy to look back and see if what you did at the time was the right move. We know now what happened, but there was a long period of time with no information. Bearing in mind how upset some of the obsidian backers are, do you think that not telling the backers about the taking of the design information by an engineer that left Kodama was the right decision?
I wouldn’t say it was wrong not to tell backers what was going on, mainly because events were still unfolding. But I also didn’t want it to look like we made a vital mistake and at the same time I hoped that the development and production would be much faster so that we could catch up with the delay before delivering the news regarding what happened.
I also didn’t expect that individual to clone Obsidian and market internationally, so we kept finding out things as they happened, rather than all at once: initially, I thought they only focused on filaments, and we even had an agreement drafted to grant them right to resell obsidian in China.
A couple of days after drafting the agreement I left to the US on business And the radio silence started, until months later I found out the bitter surprise. So overall, we had to wait to understand what was actually going on and manage our own strategy before we could go public and reveal misleading and potentially damaging information.
How will what happened with Furling affect future developments at Kodama?
We like to think it turned out to be “good” for us, as we had to source new (and better) supplier and manufacturing partners, and also gain full A-Z control of the product and manufacturing. We have realized how wise the phrase “trust is good, contracts are better” is, but that said, contracts don’t protect you much in China and we wrote a whole article about our experience (link in the next answer). I think we will be more careful in future, learn from our mistakes and also move our R&D to Europe, where contracts are enforced and quality is more transparent. Most likely it will be Berlin, Germany.
What is your opinion of clones and copying in China and how affects honest well thought out projects like the Obsidian or the Trinus?
We have just published an article on this topic, which will answer this question in much more details than I can here. It’s a good read, and it explains the backstory of cloning and our experience. Check it out: https://medium.com/@Kodama3D/the-art-of-copying-how-a-3d-printer-clone-was-stopped-fro m-launching-on-kickstarter-and-failed-on-bb63e68cf273
What is your project plan / time frame? (Backers would like to know when they will see their printers)
Well, we can’t wait to have the machines ready and in the hands of our backers. I have worked as a project manager at Apple, so you would expect me to be able to provide some ETA or a clear time frame, but right now I know that just wouldn’t be accurate, and I don’t want to backtrack on my word. There are a lot of external factors influencing each other: once all parts are ready and molded, then it would be easy and almost mathematical to calculate how much time is needed. Extrude the plastic and metal parts + Get all components + Assembly + Shipping and delivery time = timeline. Unfortunately we are not there yet as still improving the machine, and finalizing suppliers and the BOM (bill of manufacturing – the final cost of production)… as soon as we have something more tangible, we will eagerly share it in an update.
Thanks Michael for your time. Please leave comments below and have a great life!