Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: 3D printing services
Operations Manager Jared Murnan is running California's first mover in 3D printing services in SF's Dogpatch neighborhood.
Owner John Vegher traded visual effects for 3D printing after working on such blockbusters as The Matrix Reloaded and Spider Man 3.
"He hunted around for a long time and discovered Stratasys PolyJet printers," says Murnan, who started running the company in 2015 after working in 3D modeling and visual effects. A decade later, the company has three of them, as well as a Stratasys uPrint SE Plus. "They are really still the best printers after all this time," says Murnan.
At first, Moddler had a lot of visual effects clients, but the mix has changed markedly over the years.
Filmmakers still come calling for figurative models and props, but technology companies and architectural firms now are Moddler's primary markets. "We do a lot of hardware prototyping," says Murnan. Clients include Steelblue, Paramount Animation, and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Moddler continues to print figures for stop-motion animation and other art-oriented clients. "A lot of that work is for bronze sculptors," says Murnan.
The company worked with Tippett Studio on the Holochess pieces used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Another high-profile project was making the figures for a stop-motion spot for McDonald's by Hornet Inc.
"Something that really sets us apart: We were likely the first 3D printing company that opened up in California," says Murnan of Moddler's differentiator. A decade later, companies have come and gone and pivoted models. "There are not very many companies focused on 3D printing as a service," he adds. "Our main focus from the beginning has been getting the highest resolution possible."
For prototyping clients looking for perfection before they move to mold-making, Moddler offers a means of pre-production quality assurance. "Injection molding could at least cost $50,000," says Murnan. "We'll help do iterations" on the way to a perfect match for a mold.
"It's been really interesting watching the industry change," says Murnan. "The consumer 3D printers have gotten much better." Meanwhile, the industrial 3D printers have largely plateaued. Case in point: Moddler's first printer remains the workhorse. Innovation "is not going as fast as we would have assumed it would," says Murnan. "The biggest jump in technology has been the materials." That now includes flexible filaments and mesh.
After many companies brought 3D printing in-house, there's been a realization that outsourcing might be a better model. "They're such complex machines," says Murnan. Clients bought machines. They quickly discovered they're hard to fix and maintain. "People over time have discovered it better to use a service like ours."
"We consider every job that comes through the door a priority," he adds. "I'm literally looking at it myself and quoting the jobs myself. Everything is very custom. . . . There are services that have come out that are like the Walmart of 3D printing. That's great for consumers, but we focus on enterprises and artists."
Challenges: "Honestly, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out what our clients are looking for," says Murnan. That guides future investments in printers that can handle metal or multicolor jobs. "It's figuring out what the next game plan is and what machines to buy."
Opportunities: Growth in the key markets of hardware and architecture remain the biggest. 3D scanning is also gaining in popularity. "We're taking on more of that work," says Murnan.
Larger-sized jobs are another specialty. "We can do big parts," says Murnan.
Needs: More capacity. "We run most of our machines overnight, which is great," says Murnan. "We're filling up our build beds every night."
Vegher is now working on 3D printer development with Carbon 3D, and Murnan likes what he sees. "The Carbon 3D machine is one of the most impressive 3D printers I've seen," says Murnan. "We need a certain zoning that we don't have for one of those machines. . . . We want to make sure we have the clientele that needs those parts."