Rows of machines are printing big profits in a little Colorado town

June 16, 2015

On the edge of a field outside of Loveland sits a nondescript two-story building. Rabbits and prairie dogs play in a sundrenched grass, mud covered trucks sit askew on a rolling dirt of the parking lot, and the Front Range looms in the distance. But inside the building is a different world. Inside, row after row of machines are busily at work printing clones of themselves. Twenty-four hours a day, five days a week, 144 LulzBot 3D printers work tirelessly to create new parts for new LulzBot 3D printers. Sounds like the beginning of a horror film, no?

Ok, so the reality is nowhere near as creepy as it sounds. Humans are still used to actually assemble the printers, which somehow makes the entire endeavor seem way less post-apocalyptic. The office is also brightly lit and filled to the brim with colorful objects printed by employees. There is a giant Thor hammer, a toy octopus, and a hundred other things so bizarre they would probably never exist if they hadn’t been printed in one-offs.

All of these things are created courtesy of Aleph Objects. Aleph Objects owns and produces the LulzBot printer, and the growth of the company over the last couple of years has been nothing short of stratospheric. The company announced that in 2014 they had $4.7 million in revenue, an 809 percent increase over two years ago. Revenues so far this year have already topped all of last year’s and could reach as high as $10 million. Employment too has grown, up to 84 people from 17 just a year and half ago.

But probably the most interesting aspect of Aleph Objects is the company’s openness. They are, for all intents and purposes, an open source company. That means all of their software and hardware is free to be copied, modified or converted by all their users. If you want to know how to make a LulzBot 3D printer, you can actually download blueprints off their website. In fact, they take the value of openness so seriously that they refused to let me print a Built In Colorado logo keychain when I visited, because it would have required uploading a logo subject to copyright.

In addition to the company’s current line of LulzBot printers, Aleph Objects also sells an impressive array of printing materials. It turns out that today’s 3D printers don’t just print with plastic anymore, but can create with materials like wood, iron, copper, stainless steal and a ton of different types of malleable and super-strong plastics. The company is also working on creating a desktop scanner, which would allow people to scan objects and then print them out on their LulzBot printers.

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