Quirky shows 3D printing at work (photos)

Quirky shows us how it uses crowdsourcing, 3D printing, and a team of experts to bring new products to life every week.

CNET Reviews staff
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Quirky has a new home

Crowdsourced product development company Quirky invited journalists to tour its new Manhattan offices this morning. Normally vendor facility tours have an overly promotional feel to them, but in Quirky's case, we saw it as a chance to check out how a company that makes real consumer products uses 3D printing.
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Quirky founder and CEO Ben Kaufman

Quirky is built on a democratic, partly crowdsourced business model. Anyone can submit a product idea to Quirky's Web site. Quirky's online community then refines the idea by making suggestions. As products rise in popularity on the site via a voting system, Quirky's own team of professional designers and engineers also votes twice a week to select the most popular ideas to turn into real consumer products. The original inventor, the relevant commenters, and Quirky itself all share in the profits once each product comes to market.
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Prototyping hardware on display at Quirky's new studio

Quirky lured us to the tour with the opportunity to check out its 3D-printing hardware. The orange device on the left is actually a laser cutter Quirky uses to prototype packaging material. The black box on the right (behind Gaz Brown, Quirky's head designer), is a Connex 350 3D printer from Israeli firm Objet. Quirky has nicknamed it "Bertha."
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The Connex 350

You can read aabout the full specs of the Connex 350 in this PDF. The machine, which costs about $250,000, can print multiple types of materials, including multiple kinds of materials simultaneously.
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High-precision printing

Quirky uses the Connex 350 to print out design prototypes of products in development. The company says its overall in-house production process can come pretty close to replicating the final, fully manufactured product. Brown told us that in addition to the 3D printer, he expects that one day Quirky will add a laser-sintering machine that can print 3D objects in different kinds of metal.
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Laser cutter

This machine is the $55,000 Universal Laser Systems PLS6MW laser cutter. You can read more about it, or perhaps even order one, here. Depending on the lasers installed, the PLS6MW can cut through metal, plastic, wood, and textiles. Quirky used it today to cut a sample product packaging sheet (the white form in the upper-right corner).
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Package sealer

Quirky uses this Formech 300XQ vacuum-forming sealer to create plastic package enclosures. This unit costs about $3,500.
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Wall of ideas

At the back of Quirky's office, this metal wall lists all of the products the company has voted to bring into production. There were roughly 200 ideas on the wall when we came through.
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Team effort

To bring those ideas to life, Quirky employs a team of designers and mechanical, electrical, and manufacturing engineers.
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Workshop tour

The second stage of our tour brought us through Quirky's design workshop. Here Kaufman opens the door to the spray room where Quirky's designers apply a finish to each product prototype to replicate its final appearance.
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Spray shop interior

The spray shop in action.
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Hard at work

Quirky's in-house designers create prototypes from all kinds of materials, including cloth.
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Building a better toaster

The designer in the foreground was working on a concept for a collapsible toaster made from foam core and the cannibalized innards of a traditional toaster.
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Jake Zein, one of Quirky's early success stories

As a high school student in a pre-college program at the Rhode Island School of Design, Jake came up with his first concept for a more efficient power strip. After reading about Quirky in an in-flight magazine, and consulting with an intellectual property lawyer, he posted his initial design on the company's Web site.
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Pivot Power in various stages of development

After Jake's idea made it through the feedback and approval process, Quirky eventually sent the Pivot Power to a large-scale manufacturing facility in Asia. Pivot Power went on sale in the U.S. in June 2010 (our colleagues at ZDNet wrote about it here), and it's currently available for purchase from Amazon.com, Target, and other major retailers. Sales so far have netted Jake more than $100,000.
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Product development showcase

Quirky's storage room shows a number of products in different stages of development, along with an assortment of reference and other objects. On the top of this shelf sits a pair of MakerBot 3D printers. Kaufman said that while Quirky and MakerBot don't have any business relationship, the two companies have a few investors in common.
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Quirky products on display

Quirky has a product showcase at the front of its office, which shows that the company has introduced products across different categories, from tech to home and office accessories.

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