December 02, 2019

Physics Alumni Cofound a 3D Printing Startup

After building a 3D printer for a class during his senior year, John Kray BA ’17 enlisted the help of Zach Rose BA ’18 to build and sell innovative desktop 3D printers. Their most recent model is so easy to use that Lewis & Clark purchased one for the physics lab.

  • Kray (L) and Rose (R) at the grand opening party of Hydra's offices at General Industry.

by Amelia Eichel BA ’20

During his junior year at Lewis & Clark, physics major and environmental studies minor John Kray BA ’17 started a peer-to-peer 3D printing service. After months spent tinkering with the 3D printer he had purchased, Kray decided to build his own in the advanced physics lab his senior year. After graduating, he founded Hydra Research, a startup that provides 3D printing services to businesses and individuals who needed affordable, custom parts.  

When physics and mathematics double major Zach Rose BA ’18 graduated, he joined up with Kray and they got to work on building an easy-to-use and affordable 3D printer. With the help of open source software and files, they launched the Nautilus 3D printer. Kray pointed out that many of the innovations in 3D printing are being driven by open source communities. Rather than spending months learning how to program 3D printing software, they found user-friendly software online and incorporated it into the Nautilus by programming a simple plug-in. 

The Lewis & Clark physics department bought a Nautilus printer this semester, and students in the advanced physics lab are using it for their projects, from printing avionics components for a model rocket to gears for a robot.

“We were excited to purchase a Nautilus 3D printer from Hydra Research because it is capable of industrial quality prints in multiple materials and yet it is very easy to use,” Associate Professor of Physics Stephen Tufte said. “With 3D printing, what the students can create is only limited by their imagination. As evidence of the ease of use, the students programmed the Nautilus to make the nose cone of a rocket on the same day that the printer arrived.”

The printer has enabled L&C students to print and test multiple iterations of their projects at virtually no cost. 

“The thing that gets us excited about 3D printing is that is a very affordable and accessible way of making parts,” Kray said. “We 3D printed over 60 parts to build our 3D printer (the Nautilus), and each one of those parts, each prototype iteration, probably would’ve cost us about $6–$10,000 because injection molds are so expensive to make.”

Physics major Clare Shapiro BA ’20 taught herself how to use AutoCAD software to create a 3D model of the parts that she, Morgan Taylor BA ’20, and Alicia Lehman BA ’20 needed for their six-legged robot that moves like an insect. 

“The printer has allowed us to be more imaginative when designing our project because there is no worry about being limited to the standard parts in the workshop,” Shapiro said. “It also allows us to combine multiple components into a single piece, which helps when consolidating space and troubleshooting problems during construction.”

Kray and Rose gave a physics colloquium on campus in October where they demonstrated how to use the Nautilus. They then talked about their startup journey and revealed their next development: tool changing. Tool changing allows one printer to switch between materials in the midst of a printing job. This would allow for hard, flexible, dissolvable, and multicolored materials to be used during one print job, alongside engraving and cleaning tools.  

 “That’s what we see for the future of 3D printing, and that’s the next big product we’re going to be working on,” Rose said.