SwarmBuild working to launch advanced manufacturing marketplace

After growing up in Russia, spending years traveling with the U.S. Army and living in Israel, Boris Kogan ended up back in Iowa to grow his business, SwarmBuild. “We saw that this was a serious organization, with serious people who were very committed to making this happen,” Kogan said of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. “We were very happy to come out here, instead of a more traditional startup hub…there, you’re startup number 58,571 for this month – good luck if you can make it out the other end.” SwarmBuild hopes to create an online marketplace for advanced manufacturing and design. Users could upload their designs and offer them for sale, or connect with machine shops that could turn their vision into reality. Machine shops could use the service to find new clients. Kogan first saw the need for such a service when he was selected to compete in a global design competition. He had to assemble his prototype quickly, but struggled to connect with manufacturers who could fill his order. “Trying to make that prototype was just hellish,” he said. Initially, SwarmBuild intended to focus on 3D printing. When a competitor came out with a 3D printing marketplace focusing on desktop printing, Kogan turned his attention to more industrial manufacturing processes, including laser cutting, CNC and industrial 3D printing Hackerspaces, makerspaces and desktop 3D printing technologies are key ways people learn to think in design terms, he said. SwarmBuild hopes to help these users take their ideas to the next level, when they need more advanced manufacturing capabilities. Currently the website is a work in progress. Kogan hopes to have a design library in place…

UI, M.C. Ginsberg team up to offer prototyping services to aspiring inventors

The journey from idea to marketable invention can be long and winding - but a new program from the University of Iowa hopes to make the first step a bit easier. UI Protolabs, a new service organized by the UI’s Office for the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and JPEC, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, will connect aspiring inventors with prototyping services. The service is available to the general public, as well as UI students, faculty and staff. “It’s very hard to go to an investor of any kind, unless you have something in hand,” said Richard Hichwa, senior associate vice president for research at the UI. If the invention comes from within the University of Iowa, and a committee made of the Protolabs staff, Hichwa and David Conrad, economic development director for the University of Iowa, decides the idea has economic development potential, JPEC will cover the labor costs for the prototyping service, meaning the inventor only has to pay for materials. Two existing UI machine shops, in engineering and physics and astronomy, work together with M.C. Ginsberg’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing on evaluating and creating prototypes for new devices. Although all of these resources already existed in the community, they hadn’t always worked together in the past, making it hard for researchers from other departments and community members to tap into their expertise. “They were putting things together with string and bailing wire,” Hichwa said. The services available include design work, advanced manufacturing capabilities, including 3D printing and limited software creation for device prototypes. Being part of the UI allows Protolabs to go beyond simply making copies of objects. For example, on...

The most exciting thing about the maker movement is…

With open-source designs and DIY manufacturing, some have said the maker movement has the potential to do for physical things what the Internet has done for communication (“Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” by Wired’s Chris Anderson is a great primer). The movement is about to come to the Corridor in a big way as the Cedar Rapids Science Center prepares to open its maker space in May, and Iowa City’s STEAM Room Fab Lab in the planning stages. Hundreds of visitors got a sneak peek Saturday at the Science Center’s third annual Mini Maker Faire. Artists, hackers and hustlers were  working with robotics, 3D printers, wood, glass, musical instruments and more.  I asked everyone the same question: What’s the most exciting thing about the maker movement? This is just a sampling of what I heard. What do you think? Joe Spanier of Nemesis Robotics was showing off a 3D printer he had built from scratch. He had designed it to be accessible to makers and maker spaces, open-sourcing the design and using materials that are cheaply and readily available. The only custom parts were 3D printed themselves. He’d been working on that printer for about six months, but he’s been exploring DIY manufacturing for about five years, beginning with CNC mills and routers and advancing to additive manufacturing in the past two years. Spanier programs robots for a living, and said he became more passionate about his day job when he was able to bring it home. “It’s the fact that the industrial revolution is happening again - we’re bringing it home. I think it’s really important, for America to...