Exclusive Interview: A Deep Dive with Christina Perla from MAKELAB

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Christopher Lee and Charles R. Goulding sit down for an interview with MAKELAB Co-founder and CEO, Christina Perla.

3D Printing in Brooklyn

We recently interviewed Christina Perla from MAKELAB, a leading 3D printing business in Brooklyn. Positioned in a fast-evolving borough, MAKELAB showcases the forefront of additive manufacturing, perfectly merging technology and innovation. With her industrial design background, Christina is steering the company’s fresh alliance with INKBIT. This cooperation allows MAKELAB to leverage high-end technologies such as VCJ, enabling new opportunities in the 3D printing field. Her insights illuminate the future of the 3D printing sector, underlining the importance of their latest partnership with INKBIT.

Christina Perla

Christina Perla is the Co-Founder and CEO of MAKELAB, a Brooklyn-based 3D printing service that caters to a variety of industries including design, engineering, and consumer goods. Under Christina’s innovative guidance, MAKELAB has experienced substantial growth, affirming itself as a trusted provider for top-tier, personalized 3D printed models. Her aspiration has persistently been to merge creativity and technology, and through MAKELAB, she has managed to implement this vision by offering easy-to-use 3D printing solutions to both individuals and businesses.

As a graduate of Pratt Institute with a degree in Industrial Design, Christina’s academic background laid a robust groundwork for her journey as an entrepreneur. Her expertise and zeal for design set the beauty and quality standards at MAKELAB. Additionally, Christina’s conviction in the effectiveness of collective efforts is depicted in the inclusive work environment she promotes within her company. She is a prominent supporter of diversity in the tech sector, tirelessly advocating for increased inclusion and opportunities for marginalized groups.

Christina Perla’s impact is not only confined to her business. She is a dynamic participant in the entrepreneurial and design communities, often offering her knowledge on the changing scene of 3D printing and its possibilities to transform conventional manufacturing methods. Her commitment to advancing 3D printing education, combined with her support for diversity in tech, establish her as a reputable figure in her field. Christina’s ambition and progressive methods not only fuel the success of MAKELAB but contribute substantially to the more extensive 3D printing industry and tech community.

The Birth of MAKELAB

MAKELAB, founded by industrial designers from Pratt, Brooklyn, began its journey in 2016 as a design consulting firm. Christina reminisced, “We initiated with design consulting in 2016, navigating the industrial design process to produce market-ready products.” Their intensive involvement with 3D printing during this period laid the foundation for MAKELAB.

While MAKELAB’s inception involved balancing design consulting and 3D printing, the founders soon shifted their entire focus to MAKELAB, leading to a threefold growth. Their niche: industrial designers in consumer product development. Unlike platforms like 3D Hubs and Xometry, MAKELAB stood out by offering a dependable and local service, addressing a clear market gap identified in 2019

The company’s journey wasn’t always smooth, particularly with challenges posed by the global pandemic. Yet, Christina highlighted the company’s resilience, saying, “Despite COVID, we managed to grow slightly, a fact I’m profoundly grateful for.” MAKELAB’s story is one of spotting opportunities within challenges. With their resilience and deep understanding of their market, the company remains on an upward trajectory, dedicated to serving industrial designers who prioritize dependable, localized service.”

VCJ Printing

During our conversation, Christina provided valuable insights into the VCJ 3D printing technology developed by inkbit. She explained that VCJ utilizes a print head similar to PolyJet, which is able to deposit multiple materials onto the build plate in a single layer. The print head moves back and forth, laying down a line of material on each pass. According to Christina, one of those materials is typically wax, which acts as a temporary support substrate during the printing process. Optionally, a second build material can also be deposited for multi-material parts.

Prints made using VCJ Printing Source: MAKELAB

Christina elaborated, “the build plate shuttles back and forth, each journey depositing a single line of material. Initially, this material is wax and a potential second material for multi-material builds.” The wax serves as a temporary support platform.

Following the completion of the print, the entire structure solidifies into a substantial, unified block, which Christina named as a “cake.” This cake encapsulates the final pieces, surrounded completely by the wax supports printed alongside them. A critical stage involves immersing the complete “cake” in a bath. Here, “the parts and wax dissolve, followed by further procedures to erase the wax.”

The end-product of this process are parts devoid of any noticeable support marks or defects. Christina pointed out that, “the wax’s viscosity enables it to fill tiny channels, which consequently melt out. The outcomes are stellar.” VCJ holds a substantial edge over conventional printing tactics. VCJ’s application of wax supports enables it to create fully supported, complex designs without sacrificing quality or the finish of the surface. According to Christina, VCJ achieves an unmatched level of accuracy and surface quality, down to 40 microns, making it suitable for applications demanding precise tolerances, such as robotics and seals. Though cost is a consideration, the unmistakable value for brands is made clear.

Benefits of VCJ Include:

Precision: This refers to the use of machine vision to scan every layer during the print process, which allows for real-time adjustments and feedback. With this, each print layer is accurately aligned with the original CAD design, guaranteeing high geometric fidelity and precision.

Multi-Material Capability: It’s a machine that innately supports multi-material, facilitating the creation of parts possessing different material properties within a single print job. This is particularly useful in the production of complex multi-material parts or assemblies.

Embedding Non-Printed Components: With the assistance of the machine vision, it’s possible to include non-3D printed parts into an otherwise printed object. The system identifies the external object and adjusts accordingly.

Enhanced Material Properties: It provides the capacity to print with high-performance polymers and engineering-grade resins such as epoxies. This results in parts having greater durability and chemical resistance, in comparison to those produced with other 3D printing technologies.

Sustainability: Uses recyclable wax as a support material, which can be removed and reused, promoting eco-friendliness​.

The New Inkbit Partnership

Christina had been impressed by the capabilities of Inkbit’s VCJ 3D printing technology to produce complex designs with unprecedented precision and quality without any support marks or defects. As the co-founder of MAKELAB, she recognized the potential value this process could provide for their customers developing applications requiring tight tolerances. Seeking to leverage VCJ’s advantages, MAKELAB initiated discussions with Inkbit about a potential partnership. This would allow MAKELAB to expand their offerings and provide access to VCJ’s capabilities, further supporting the innovative work of their client base.

INKBIT’s VCJ Printer [Source: INKBIT]

MAKELAB engaged Inkbit in a partnership to make the expensive VCJ printer accessible for their customers instead of directly buying the said equipment. According to Christina, the ideal situation would be maintaining a machine on their premises facilitated through the partnership. This partnership opens up access to VCJ materials for their customers.

The partnership was born out of mutual understanding of the risks and limitations each startup faced. MAKELAB closely collaborates with Inkbit’s team and applies their in-house quality standards to parts produced by Inkbit. Quality was recognized as a significant aspect as it would lay the foundation for prospective growth and enhanced customer adoption of the materials and technology.

The initial arrangement requires Inkbit to print parts for MAKELAB with a lead time of seven days. However, both parties are looking forward to enhancing the capabilities together and expanding the availability of VCJ 3D printing for MAKELAB’s customers. Christina emphasized that their collaboration is symbolic of their joint commitment to ensuring top-tier results.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

The enduring Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit can be claimed by enterprises and startups that are in the process of inventing new or refining existing products, procedures, or software systems.

The adoption of 3D printing technologies could potentially enhance a company’s R&D Tax Credits. The salary expenses of technical employees who dedicate their time to the creation, assessment, and amendment of 3D printed models can be factored into the R&D Tax Credit as a portion of eligible time. In a similar fashion, if this technology is applied as a means of enhancing a process, the hours invested in incorporating 3D printing equipment and software are recognized as an eligible activity. Additionally, costs incurred from the use of filaments in the developmental phase may also be recouped.

Whether applied in the prototyping and testing phase or in the final production, the use of 3D printing is indeed a sign that activities qualify for R&D Credit. Businesses that incorporate this technology at any stage should contemplate on availing of the R&D Tax Credits.

The Future

Christina holds an optimistic view of the future development in the realm of 3D printing. She expressed, “my excitement around it comes from the fact that we are actually able to meet the promises we make to our customers. If a print fails, the responsibility falls on us. We absorb the risk and the hit.” Christina has been a part of the growth of this industry for many years. As one of the early adopters, she values collaborations such as the one between MAKELAB and Inkbit which has the potential to “deliver on specifications.” From her observation, the achievement of accuracy as precise as 40 microns with VCJ is noteworthy. This makes her exclaim, “the impressiveness of this cannot be overstated.” Christina has noticed an increase in customer demands for capabilities beyond the scope of traditional FDM and SLA through her work at MAKELAB. Her hope is to see the role of additive manufacturing expanded more into applications which require tight tolerances in areas such as robotics. In Christina’s vision, an industry where “deliverables align with promises,” would be the ultimate realization of 3D printing’s potential via trusted partnerships.

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