Iowa City man uses website to launch printer project

Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for various projects, was formed in 2008

In a room filled with tools and boxes of metal parts, Billy Zelsnack, 38, of Iowa City, works on his Kickstarter project - Printxel.

Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for various projects, was formed in 2009. Many have used the website to start their own creative projects ranging from art, comics, design, film to games and technology.

For many years, Zelsnack has been wanting a 3D-printer to help with his robotics projects, who works in contract computer programming. When he bought a Makerbot a couple years ago, he thought it was a project that was still cooking.

"I ended up spending quite a bit of time getting that printer to print nicely," Zelsnack explains in an e-mail. This sparked his interest to tinker with the machine and designed his own. Since then, he has built several printers, and finally Printxel.

Zelsnack went to Kickstarter to start his project early in May. In order to get the printer kit price down as low as possible, he needed to buy many of the components in bulk. Kickstarter became the platform for him to generate the exposure that he needs and also getting the funds to be able to buy the components at discount quantity pricing.

When the project went up, it generated a lot of interest. According to Zelsnack, the limited beta kits sold out in 11 hours. It was exciting for him to see his project take off as he has been working on it for quite some time and hear all the positive feedback. The list of backers and requests for the printer kept growing even after the project reached it's $7,500 goal. The project received $12,077 from 96 backers.

"I was flooded with messages of people wanting a kit, so I created a waiting list," Zelsnack says. At the two-week mark of the project, more than 1,200 people have joined the list and he decided to close the waiting list.

After all the excitement, it is time for Zelsnack to start building all the printers. He has been transitioning his working prototype into a production machine. A lot of time has been devoted to this phase of the development to resolve little details from the prototype.

After two months since the project started, Zelsnack sent out the first printer kit yesterday. From here on, he plans to set up a semi-assembly line and build multiple kits at a time. Most of the printer kits are for backers in United States, but Zelsnack states that some of them will be going to Germany, New Zealand, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Zelsnack has used his prototype printer to print busts of his sons that he scanned with the Microsoft Kinect. Other than that, he has also designed "a few weird things" for the house, like lids for spaghetti boxes and a doorstop for the top of a door so his cat can go downstairs. One of his backer who designs toothbrushes will be using Printxel to help with the process.

Zelsnack has set up a YouTube channel for his project, showing time-lapse videos of the printer prints, and various assembly videos.

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