Getting to know: Proto-pasta

An interesting past and an exciting future: Filaments.directory talks to Proto-pasta co-founder and brand visionary, Alex Dick.

The story behind the Vancouver based Proto-pasta is simply fascinating. With a deeply rooted interest in engineering, Proto-pasta's pursuit is based on an interest and opportunity to improve the 3D Printing experience. Filaments.directory was lucky enough to sit down with Alex Dick, one of the brains behind the brand, to talk history, inspiration, and how to combine engineering grade products with beautiful aesthetic finishes.

Behind the pasta

In 2013, material options for consumer 3D printers was dismal. 3D Printers were becoming popularized on platforms like kickstarter, but few, companies were addressing the lack of material options. Seeing an opportunity to improve the situation, engineering services firm, Protoplant, leveraged competency and interest in design, prototype, and manufacture of machinery to create their own extrusion equipment. This enabled the introduction of three new, function-focused materials, including Proto-pasta's first composite, quite possibly industry's first carbon fibre 3D printing filament. Proto-pasta brand filament was born.

Using a 1970s end mill converted to numerical control and fitted with an e3d v5 hotend as their printer, Protoplant validated these new materials function with test prints and mechanical testing. It was really quite unique to share engineering data for materials at that time. Creation of their extrusion equipment to produce these new materials started with an in-house manufactured screw machined on their Haas VF3. This screw, driven by their lathe, along with a barrel, pressure guage, die, and heaters produced their first filament.

It was clear from our conversation that Proto-pasta's engineering interest is still driving product. The range of filaments alone is proof of this with high temperature performing HTPLA and composites such as Steel, Iron, Copper, and Conductive. What's more, production at Proto-pasta has remained solely in-house on Proto-pasta-made industrial-grade extruders. Why? Freedom, scalability, quality and (most importantly) it's extremely cool!

"Building our own extruders takes time but allows us to better understand and adjust the process. In the end, we can make better product with more creative freedom!"

Whilst some filament brands may choose to outsource production and focus on either performance or aesthetic, it's inspiring to know that Proto-pasta continues to produce in-house in pursuit of both performance and aesthetic.

Find out more about the Proto-Pasta Story

V8 powered inspiration

A love of cars inspired Detroit native, Alex Dick, to explore colour and, more importantly, finish. Automotive exterior paint as well as interior components demonstrate a wonderful variety of finish and function. This inspired Proto-pasta to create a range masterbatches to adjust aesthetic of their filaments as demonstrated by their beautiful Metallic and Matte finish HTPLA materials.

Proto-pasta now commands a library of finishes and colour, based on factors like particle type, size, and loading. Consumers can embrace this creative freedom first-hand at one of Proto-pasta's filament-making workshops. Attendees participate in the design and making of their own custom filament! This foundation of colour and finish gives Proto-pasta incredible control over the specificity of the final product for unique, beautiful materials.

Check out the Proto-Pasta e-shop to see their materials in more detail!

A beautiful future

The most obvious takeaway from our conversation with Proto-pasta is how effectively they've built a comprehensive cloud of understanding of everything filament-related. With the combination of their engineering grade materials and library of aesthetics, Proto-pasta seems perfectly poised to create a beautiful, high performance future - something we're excited to see!

Proto-pasta Quick Facts

A quick breakdown of the most important things we learnt about Proto-pasta:

Origin: Born from an engineering services firm, designing and making is their passion and competency. Independence and access to tools is their creative foundation.

The name: Proto-pasta is a combination of Protoplant (the company) and the pasta like shape of filament - In their words #donteatthepasta

Core Values:

  • Feedback: Being in touch with the user community is very important to Proto-pasta, hence the workshops! Embracing personal freedom, pushing boundaries, and enabling the freedom of others is all closely connected.
  • Creative Freedom: The Proto-pasta team could be summed up as a collective of makers doing what they love (and very well)! Constant research and improvement seemed like a company ethos.
  • Premium Products: What good is a filament if you can't rely on it for a positive experience? Providing the highest quality, most unique products that are both useful and usable is where Proto-pasta hopes to make an impact.

Don't take our word for it

We asked Alex a few extra questions so that you can hear it directly from Proto-pasta:

FD: What do you think the next steps for the 3D printing indstry are?

Alex: On one end, the industry is seeing commoditization of basic machines and materials. The community is becoming more educated, but the tools are cheaply built, and the filament selection and quality could still be better. That being said, it's difficult to fund improvements with low cost items. Our focus is less on cost and more on value, providing something unique that people want and are willing to pay for. We want to have and give a premium experience while furthering creative potential. What does this mean for the future? For us, that means more customer connection through workshops, enabling custom colors, and application specific solutions. We want to push further with technical capabilities, but balance that with making beautiful things. That will mean new, more advanced materials and maybe some hardware too. Well, we already make our own hardware for internal use. I hope we can share that with the world as well if it's useful and interesting.

FD: What can people look forward to from Proto-pasta in the future?

Alex: I think those that will move the industry forward will be doing unique work. That's where things are interesting and that's where I want to be...

To find out more about Proto-Pasta you can go to their hub on Filaments.directory or you can head over to the Proto-Pasta website.