By Roger Lo ’16, Massachusetts Gamma Alumni Secretary
As a relatively new member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, I find great value in looking up to my elders for advice, experience and respect. It was not chance that the Massachusetts Gamma Chapter houses great alumni like Adam Riess (Nobel Physics laureate) and Drew Houston (founder of Dropbox); this chapter prides itself on cultivating intelligent, independent and successful men. I have had the fortune to meet the newest class of brothers who have or soon will cross the bounds between school and the real world, and they are undoubtedly ready to follow in the footsteps of those before them.
I’d like to introduce four impressive brothers who exemplify the hardworking, innovative and intelligent standards we hold this Fraternity up to: Mateo Pena Doll, Forrest Pieper, Chris Haid, and AJ Perez. These four brothers are the founders of New Valence Robotics, a company that promotes the education and use of 3D printers in school. The following are snippets from the numerous articles that newspapers and online magazines have printed to showcase the talent and ingenuity of the company.
Their prime product, the NVPrinter, was born in the dingy basement of the Fraternity house, one that over the years has become a makeshift workshop for projects exactly like these. Today, New Valence has built and leased three printers, two in public high schools and one at MIT. They are hoping to have eight in circulation by this spring and 100 by next fall.
In short, New Valence wants to democratize 3D printing technology. Stated by CEO AJ Perez, “Most technology has three phases: It starts with education, then innovation and commercialization. Our product is meant to expedite that “education” phase. We are working exclusively with schools and colleges so students can create 3D models and bring ideas to life.”
Enabling creativity is what the New Valence Printer is all about. Students can use software like Solidworks or Autodesk to design a digital 3D model and queue it up to be printed. Perez calls it “Bring Your Own Model,” or BYOM. What makes the vision for the NVPrinter unique is that all of the machines run on a singular cloud-based network. When a school leases the printers, all of the model files students create and the actual printing queues live in the cloud. This means anyone with administrator access to the system can print anything from any printer via a connected device, be it a desktop computer or a smartphone.
The founders are very serious about making sure the printers are churning out models. If a school doesn’t use a printer more than a few times a month, the lease will be ineligible for renewal and the machine will go to a different institution.
“There is no shortage of demand,” said Perez. “There is a lot of enthusiasm from parents of students as well as teachers.”
Moving forward, New Valance is working on some basic software models for teachers. As an example, Perez said, “Say a teacher is teaching her students about the human body and is explaining ball and socket joints. We want that teacher to be able to search for a ball and socket model and print it. This way students can have the experience of holding it and actually playing with [the joint] versus reading about it in a book or watching a video.”
The goal is to expose and educate as many people as possible about the potential of 3D printing as a method of manufacturing. By getting started on the education phase now, the innovation and commercialization phases can begin as soon as possible.
“We want to democratize the commercialization of things,” Perez said. “3D printers can do that. Especially with our printer, anyone can be a small-batch manufacturer without having to know anything about 3D manufacturing.”
NVbots has already started its own campaign to bring 3D printing to the classroom. During the Fall of 2013, the NVbots founders piloted a course in design for 3D printing for middle school students. On a weekly basis, Chris Haid and AJ Perez would drive out to the Joseph Lee School in Dorchester, MA. Students would be tasked with creating a 3D design in an online application called TinkerCAD, working in teams. Each group designed under a theme for the week, which could be anything from animals to accessories. In each session, students would go through the design process outlined by the NVbots founders to create a new 3D model that they would then submit for printing and actually get to hold and touch for themselves. By the end of the ten week course, students had designed advanced objects such as glasses and jewelry boxes, while developing a much deeper understanding of how to work with 3D printers.
Besides education, these founders are also very keen on keeping their product innovative and fresh. With other printers, users have to keep an eye on the print job to make sure no complications arise. The NV printers automate the whole process and even make it possible to print objects from afar, via an internet connection. Perez elaborates: “you can access your printer through the cloud. Instead of having to physically be there, you can access a live video feed. A robotic arm scrapes off the part and automatically starts the next job.”
The Phi Delt team is currently looking for a more permanent work space to grow their business after they finish their masters degree programs at MIT this spring. Co-op spaces and incubators like MassChallenge are actively trying to recruit New Valence.
In addition to work space, New Valance will soon be looking for investors to help fund the company’s rapid plan to scale.
*Excerpts taken from BostInno and Boston Business Journal