Q&As with Industry Innovators – Circuit Cellar Issue #323, July 2017
Founder/CEO | Zimple
C. J.: Tell us about your background and technical interests.
NICOLAS: I am an embedded system engineer, with a background in electronics and mechanics. I fell in love with 3-D printing four years ago, and then I started to make some personal projects (RC cars, lights, toys). My cofounder, Antoine, is a data scientist student passionate by the internet.
C. J.: How did you get started with 3-D printing? A school project? A personal project?
NICOLAS: I started to work with 3-D printers four years ago, with a Prusa i3. Since my childhood, I have always loved making things. I have tried all the construction games! After my preparatory class, which is a two-year intensive program preparing you to pass the competitive examination for engineering school, I bought my first 3-D printer in order to restart making things, with my own ideas and designs. Being able to design, print, and try something I’ve got in my mind is a huge pleasure for me. Since I’ve tried it four years ago, I never stopped to make things!
C. J.: Your company Zimple’s focus is “3-D printing without toxic emissions.” What led you to this mission?
NICOLAS: After using a lot of different 3-D printers, I found that all of them have some problems regarding their use. So with Zimple, we want to share the solutions I found to counter the problem I’ve been facing with my 3-D printers. The fumes released by 3-D printers was the biggest problem for me. It really smells bad and gives me headache. After looking into research on the subject, I realized that this issue was really important and theses fumes were very harmful. So, tired of keeping my window open with my printer nearby, I decided to develop a solution. I had the idea of this solution: “hoovering” the particles directly at the nozzle, because I found it more elegant, less expensive, and more scalable on my different printers than building an enclosure.
C. J.: It seems logical that the air around a working 3-D printer isn’t as clean as the air in an empty room. But is there hard data on the negative effects of exposure to printer-related toxins?
NICOLAS: Many studies about the emissions when processing thermoplastic are available on the Internet. The results are unambiguous: they are very toxic and released in huge amounts. After talking with many people around the 3-D printing industry and the thermoplastic ecosystem, we realized that this problem is known by every professional. They are all aware of the fumes released by the fusion of thermoplastic, and so they use big and powerful exhausting systems when melting plastic. Desktop 3-D printing is a very new technology. It’s the first time that a real manufacturing machine can be placed in a living room, on a desktop near an engineer, or in a school room. And this is the problem: people tend to forget that 3-D printers are real manufacturing boxes and not computers. The technology will reach the point where everyone will be able to use it as we use photocopiers, but even photocopiers have a particle filter inside it. It’s just a question of time before all 3-D printers will have a built-in filter.
C. J.: Tell us how you came to develop Zimpure, which is a compact air filtering system. In terms of engineering, what were the biggest problems associated with designing the system?
NICOLAS: With Zimpure we wanted to develop an efficient and compact filtering system. The two main challenges in terms of engineering were: First, to find a way to exhaust all the gases and particles, without using a huge and loud exhausting fan. Then, to use the filter that will be able to filter all the nanoparticles and gases released. Testing these two points isn’t easy, because you can’t see the particles. Even if the ABS smell disappeared when we were turning on Zimpure, we wanted to know how efficient it was on both issues: nanoparticles and gases. To do so, we’ve collaborated with a laboratory (CEA) in the Laboratory of Climate and Environment Science department (LSCE). They kindly provide us the measuring instruments we need to conduct our tests. After testing our prototype, we improved it to reach our goal: a 99% particle filtration ratio and more than 90% for the gases. We are now proud of, and confident in, our product, and we rely on it every day in our office and home.
C. J.: Give us an overview of Zimpure. Tell us more about what it does and its benefits.
NICOLAS: So Zimpure is a very compact (160 × 120 × 124 mm) and silent (around 50 dB, a bit less than some printers). And it’s a really efficient exhausting and filtering system. (It filters 99% of the particles and more than 90% of the gases released while printing.) It is also a very affordable product. We sold it for $108 (€99) on Kickstarter. The final price is $162.80 (€149). The enclosure or cover we can buy costs between $273 and $327. That’s not possible for many of us. That’s why we choose to make Zimpure more affordable.
C. J.: Compatibility with the many 3-D printers on the market could be a problem. How are you dealing with compatibility?
NICOLAS: Our Zimpure is the same for all the 3-D printers. The only change concerns the suction head, because printers don’t have exactly the same extruders. That’s why the users will print themselves their suction head, depending on their printer. Being able to ask our customers to print a custom part gives our project an affordable cost. It also connects us to our community in a very pleasant way. We can talk about the emission issues and compatibility design. We love it! Community is the strength of 3-D printing. We are designing and testing suction heads for a lot of 3-D printers. The final user will be able to download his own suction head on our website. He will just have to print it and Zimpure will be ready to clean! Many 3-D printer users are designers or engineers, so we think they will probably adapt or even improve our suction heads for their specific needs. We will share some CAD files in order to make them easier to modify.
C. J.: You exceeded your Kickstarter goal in April 2017. What are your plans now?
NICOLAS: We are currently running our production—a batch of 500 Zimpures. When it is, done we will go in different fab labs and resellers to test new suction heads on other 3-D printers and to present our product. We will send all the Zimpure units before the end of June 2017 for sure. Some backers will even receive it by the end of May.
C. J.: Any new products in the pipeline?
NICOLAS: Zimpure is going to evolve this year, and two other products are coming.
C. J.: Where do you see the 3-D printing industry going in the next five to 10 years?
NICOLAS: 3-D printing is going to be more and more used by everyone in society. Personal 3-D printers will maybe take longer to come up, but we think everyone will be able to access them and more and more products using the technology will appear. 3-D printing is a disruptive technology that enables us to mass produce custom products. It will be used more and more for production purposes and not only prototyping.