3D Printing: From Dissertation to New Business


A few years ago, Rich Ranky was at North­eastern, working on research for his PhD in Mechanical Engineering about how to build a force-​​measuring sensor into a plastic com­po­nent. Back then, Ranky was injecting con­duc­tive slurry into plastic pieces with a caulking gun. Now, his 3D printer, Donatello, prints patented sen­sors that mea­sure tem­per­a­ture, vibra­tion, heart sen­sors and elec­tricity, all for a cost between $10 to $15.

Ranky spun his com­pany, 3-​​Spark, out of North­eastern with pro­fes­sors Con­stan­tinos Mavroidis and Mark Sivak. He received $100,000 in seed funding from the Uni­ver­sity, and uses the school’s machine shops for most of his hard­ware development.

“I feel like Northeastern’s baby,” Ranky said, laughing. “They have been really, really good to me.”

Though he appre­ci­ates the exer­cise he gets from biking back and forth from North­eastern to Mass­Chal­lenge, Ranky is lob­bying the accel­er­ator to install a machine shop some­where in the building, per­haps in the new loca­tion at the Inno­va­tion Design Center. Until that time, things will con­tinue to be a little chaotic for 3Spark, but not nearly as chaotic as the printer itself.

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