Creating Connections: How Two Engineers Changed the Game for Networked 3D Printer Systems
Eight years ago, John Dogru and Anton Vedeshin, PhD., founded 3D Control Systems. This is their story.
Our Vision: Create Easy Access To Manufacturing
"All dreams can come true if someone has the courage and confidence to achieve them. Starting a business is always difficult. Specifically, a startup building something 8 years ahead of the market." John Dogru
Eight years ago, most people thought we were crazy to build an OS for 3D Printing.
The usual reply was,
“Why do you need to network 3D printers?”
Even just 3 years ago, top 3D printer OEMs told us,
“I don’t understand, we only sell 1 printer at a time to a customer.”
“Why would anyone need to network farms of 3D printers?”
“We will build our own software.”
“We will wait for standards to appear.”
When we asked them, “Can you imagine a customer trying to manage 10 different 3D printer brands, with 10 different software tools, and trying to scale?”
Usually, they went blank. Then the answer was: “We will become the ‘Apple’ of 3D Printing.”
But even Apple allows compatibility with a variety of network protocols and allows anyone to write applications on it’s platform. Right?
In 2020, everything changed. 3D Printer Management became a real problem and pain point! In a post-COVID world, how do manufacturing enterprises do more with less people?
One word: Automation
“For 8 years, we had been fighting for our customers to scale 3D printing by hacking the machines, attaching network capabilities, and making them work the way we knew they should.”
- John Dogru, CEO and Co-founder, 3D Control Systems
OEMs started to open up APIs and to acquire software companies to ensure their printers could be made easier to use, access, and manage on networks.
It all started with the top 50 universities in the world like MIT, Harvard, and Rice. Duke was one of the first pilot customers of the fledgling startup, 3DPrinterOS. Today, Duke has the world's largest real-time university-based 3D printing network in the world, with over 7,000 students 3D printing on over 200 printers in real time, any time of the day, from anywhere. Another customer, Google, has over 30 locations worldwide running 3DPrinterOS. Even in a post-COVID world, anyone can print safely through the web browser, from the comfort of their home, any time of day, making their ideas a reality with one click.
As the company grew, a few lessons became clear. When pursuing a passion, give your all and stay fully devoted. When you can clearly see the future, it doesn't matter how slowly the market moves, as long as you don’t stop and you focus on staying ahead by helping customers faster than anyone else. The secret of getting ahead is to execute relentlessly, no matter what challenges arise.
This is the history and background of two dedicated people who had, and continue to carry, a vision to make it easy for the entire world to manufacture with one click. These are “the doers and masterminds” of producing one of the most productive, forward thinking and innovative companies in the industry.
3D Control Systems is built entirely on hard work and the lessons learned in those founding years. The team's technical skills have proven they can make the impossible possible, by working days, nights, weekends, and holidays to help their customers make 3d printing easy and scalable. They were connecting 3D printers online before printers even had onboard network capabilities.
The two individuals who are behind the achievement of 3D Control Systems are John Dogru and Anton Vedeshin, PhD. They started from nothing, bootstrapped the company, and now lead a global presence that continues to set an example, breaking the barriers to democratize 3D printing. Carrying forward the power and momentum of the best and brightest early adopters in academic institutions allowed them to build, measure, refine, and iterate the product at a faster rate compared to starting with slow moving enterprise clients that were stuck in their old school ways.
We’ll be publishing more Installments of the inspiring story of 3D Control Systems history and founders in the weeks to come. Stay tuned for more.
Winners Don't Do Different things; They Do Things Differently
This article is part of a series on how 3D Control Systems was founded. To read part 1, please click here.
In the previous part of this story, we highlighted our founders’ passion and commitment to bootstrapping the company, starting with agile universities rather than slow-moving enterprise clients. One reason for the company's success, apart from the hard work and strategy, is that Dogru and Vedeshin both have excellent software and electrical engineering backgrounds. They have a unique point of view, and a combined total of 70 years experience in building software and hardware.
Both our founders came from the early personal computer hacking world, manufacturing PC’s at scale, building and selling companies. Prior to creating 3D Control Systems, John Dogru built and sold 2 tech companies. In the fast-moving 3D printing market where 3D Control Systems operates, many of our competitors' founders are coming from the worlds of venture capital, sales, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering. For founders actually involved in the work of the company, it takes real computer and software know-how to connect disparate software and hardware systems, especially as fragmentation in the industry continues to grow. This core foundation of knowledge has been beneficial for Dogru and Vedeshin to crack the ‘missing link’ in 3D printing and develop 3D Control Systems. Historically and statistically, technical founders have created some of the most successful tech unicorn companies in the world, due to their ability to solve complex technology problems themselves.
Dogru and Vedeshin have been using computers since they were 4 and 10 years old, respectively. They have a wealth of knowledge in programming and designing technology platforms. They have been involved in the evolution of hardware and software which is embedded into the core DNA of the company.
John started off on computers before the age of 4. He grew up on campus as both of his parents were completing their PhDs in Petroleum engineering at the University of Texas Austin. His cousin had his PhD in Electrical Engineering, frequently stopping by Radioshack after picking him up at school to purchase parts to build robotics and gadgets, and helped him build his first CPM computer.
This was the period of the PC industry when each PC was sold with a different set of software. As a result, hardware manufacturers realized that they needed software to sell their hardware. That’s when companies like Microsoft came around and revolutionized the PC industry and information age.
History Repeats Itself
Today, the same mega trend is happening in digital manufacturing. 3D printing manufacturers are building software to sell their 3D printers and are slowly realizing that by selling closed hardware/software systems, it drastically reduces their ability to scale and sell more hardware. Over 80% of the market is running on closed hardware, and many 3D printer OEMS are trying to force their customers to only use their products and services and commit to a brand ecosystem. Because this approach closes doors for the customer and limits their ability to fulfill their needs, the closed ecosystem approach may actually be hurting 3D printer OEMs.
That’s why companies such as Materialise and NetFabb were born: from solving the customer’s problem of managing different 3D printers in a factory. These players have developed leading software for this purpose, but they still try to lock their customers into their entire software stack. It’s a trend seen across manufacturing, even with massive industry players like Siemens. This desire to force customers to only use your entire software stack limits the ability for 3D printing to achieve mass adoption.
Imagine if Apple only let your Macbook use Apple-developed applications? Where would personal computers be today?
Probably something like this:
A Lack of Openness to Innovation
Unfortunately, most of 3D printing does look like this today. Not only does every 3D printer manufacturer still build their own proprietary software, they are also starting to become increasingly similar by acquiring and building the same hardware technologies as their competitors. Doesn’t this remind you of the computer industry 40 years ago?
Just imagine the Dell.com of the 3D printer market.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, a new 3D printer vendor can simply purchase stock hardware from China, put a sticker on it, and with a $100 license of 3DPrinterOS, go to market. Why spend the money to reinvent hardware and an OS everytime you want to sell a computer? Michael Dell simply put a sticker on a computer, purchased a license of windows, and sold it online. Seems like he did pretty okay, right?
The extremely high barrier to entry for a 3D Printing OEM is part of the reason why the market has not exploded. Stop spending money recreating the wheel. “The best artist copy ”, said Steve Jobs. To create something truly valuable in the 3D printer space, vendors need to focus on making it easy for the user to get value from their 3D printer experience. Reinvented, expensive hardware and a closed software stack don’t accomplish that. So what does?
The Minds Behind 3D Control Systems
John Dogru's Background and History
John Dogru started as a hacker in a boarding school before receiving a full scholarship to study electrical design and software engineering at the College of Texas, Austin, which ranks among the best in the United States. During the dot-com boom, Dogru joined a startup called Austin Digital, which made aircraft data record retrieval systems. These automated aircraft data record retrieval systems allowed airlines to obtain information from aircrafts as soon as possible, reducing the latency from six months down to minutes. They helped the airlines adjust service intervals based on how hard the plane was flown; thus, accessing all flight data after every flight was critical. The platform worked with all major airlines, including FedEx, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, and others. At Austin Digital, Dogru received his first taste of what it is like to program and build products and take them to market. That startup was later acquired by General Electric.
While still in school, John began working for Dell Computer as a lead engineer in automated manufacturing and developed an automated motherboard testing system. Motherboards used to be tested via integrated circuit testing (ICT), and the cost to test every motherboard with this technology required approximately $1 million per test station. Dogru developed an automated software testing platform able to retrieve the failure analysis data at a much lower cost. At Dell, his platform became the gold standard of how computers were tested.
During his time at Dell, Dogru learned about just-in-time manufacturing. At the time, Michael Dell, the Chairman and CEO of Dell Computer, was just realizing the power of just-in-time or “zero-time” manufacturing, having learned about it from his mentor, George Kozmetsky. At the time, Dell stated, “Zero Time provides valuable insight into the critical success factors of the digital age: total customer experience, velocity, and operational efficiency-all components of Dell's direct model."
Dr. George Kozmetsky: The Visionary who Shaped the Austin Technology Industry
“Technology continues to shrink the world. There is no choice other than to participate in the global community. Science and technology is too precious a resource to be restricted from drawing the world together. That is what the 21st Century is all about.” — George Kozmetsky
Dr. Kozmesky and Dell’s adoption of zero-time automation inspired Dogru to build products that served the customer at the point of need and time of need, with zero latency.
In his time at university, Dogru managed to gain valuable professional experience. He went from a startup that provided just-in-time data for aircrafts to an enterprise that manufactured just-in-time computers. At the time, Dell was the most advanced manufacturing company in the world. If someone requested a PC through Dell.com, the inventory of parts needed would only be purchased at the time of need. Thus, supplier trucks would be sitting outside of Dell’s manufacturing plants, depreciating by the day, by the minute, by the second, and Dell would only pay the price of the hard drive when the order was made and that truck opened its door to the manufacturing plant. The sales system was connected to the manufacturing plant, and in real time the assembly line would start to produce the computers for that specific order. The computer industry was innovating so quickly that building a computer and putting it on a shelf would leave it outdated within months. For that reason, it didn't make sense to build a computer and mount it on a rack because hard drives were $200 one day, $190 the next, and then $100 not long after. With zero-time manufacturing, Dell was revolutionary.
Learning from Dell Computer
There is an inflection point right before a technology experiences mass adoption. With 3D printing, the knowledge is here, the technology is here, and the tools are here, but the implementation to combine all of these disparate systems has been lagging. This is the opportunity that the 3D Control Systems team is focused on: to unlock the power of digital additive manufacturing for billions of people.
Following his time at Dell, and later as the lead engineer pioneering motherboard testing automation, Dogru worked as an internal auditor for the CFO to gain an understanding of corporate controls, IT security systems, disaster recovery, and financial systems, and helped work on large pre-project implementations such as the world's largest NCR 44 node implementation.
Still, Dogru always wanted to launch his own company. Thus, he began learning how startups are established and researching how larger manufacturing operations build parts on demand.
At the time, the industry was constantly looking for new technologies and competitors, and Microsoft was manufacturing the Xbox. Dogru spent a long period working with Dell's top executives and learning how an organization operates, including business controls, security, innovation, mitigating risk, and intellectual property control. In two years, he began leading a project called Symphony, Dell’s new state-of-the-art internal and external facing sales tool. This included spearheading the point-of-sale technology team at Dell, which is responsible for processing all orders from Dell.com and by phone. As the lead program manager, Dogru was in charge of 85 software developers and more than 120 project owners.
Following his time at Dell, Dogru launched his own startup, NuScribe. NuScribe was a medical voice recognition company before Siri existed. On average, 25 doctors would spend half a million dollars per year speaking into a tape recorder and then having someone transcribe it. Voice recognition on the Pentium 2 running on Windows was still quite slow. He sold that company for $9 million.
Thereafter, Dogru moved to Estonia, where he worked on numerous projects in online marketing and many intriguing technologies. He was semi-retired, yet always on the lookout for the next big thing.
Anton Vedeshin’s Background and History
Since adolescence, Anton was always curious about electronics and mechanics. In fifth grade, Anton began playing with hardware, soldering things together and trying to figure out how they worked. He used to make up theories for how a bulb or a microwave works and operates — by just pressing a button, something happens.
He didn't play video games, viewing them as trivial. Instead, he used to write small programs on the computer. The computer didn't have a hard drive at that time and Anton would regularly stay up all night working on the computer until the sun came up. One day, he stayed up all night working on a new program in BASIC. In the morning, he slept for a while, woke up at 12, and saw that the computer froze, and it did not have storage. All his 550 lines of code were missing.
In tenth grade, Anton TOP 10 ranked for programming competitions in the city and in the country. In eleventh grade, he was among the top ten in the nation, as well as the first and runner up in his city and town. Anton did not study programming in school, he studied on his own. Anton had achieved such high marks at gymnasium that he became part of an Honor Roll recognized by the president of Estonia.
In twelfth grade, he competed in the TalTech programming competition and won the second prize, which helped to earn him a ticket to TalTech University in Estonia. During his time at TalTech, Anton founded his first software development company at age 21. His first client was a government agency, and he also worked for various European Commission projects.
When the global recession hit in 2008, people were losing jobs, many IT projects were closed and companies were laying off people as well. In this difficult time, Anton began working as a consultant in the banking and insurance sector. He used the money he earned as a consultant to pay his software engineers because he didn't want Estonia to lose momentum in IT, and they continued to build government projects, even though the government couldn’t pay.
In early 2009, Anton started working on a lab process automation product for skin samples. Starting from scratch, he got the best people in the city, ordered a bunch of hardware and electronics for experiments, and assembled his first 3D printer—a Prusa Mendel version. It took several months to create the first prototype for a fully automated mobile laboratory medical processing unit used in the fields for the rapid diagnosis of skin diseases and pathologies using skin samples and biomarkers as inputs.
As Anton and his team did not have much experience in hardware and firmware development, they moved all the business logic and important IP into the cloud, the hardware robot was basically a player of commands coming from the cloud, also sending back the telemetry data, so the cloud can make a decision and send a next command to the robot. Thus, they basically sent g-codes from the cloud to this machine, which was comparable to moving all of the different stuff and giving back the photos, results, and computer processing. It might be similar to the 3D printers we use nowadays.
Anton and his team created protocols for such communication: cloud-to-hardware-to-cloud. Initially, it was a $50,000 project, but it quickly grew to nearly a $500,000 project as soon as the medical robot needed to be FDA approved. They created three prototypes and the last was a pre-production prototype. The medical equipment they created was very similar to 3D printers, but with syringes, tubes, cameras, reagents, various fluids, chemical solutions, and more. At the time, Anton couldn't comprehend why every piece of medical equipment had so many buttons. However, the medical gadget they created had just one button, which was to turn it on. Additionally, one could use any laptop or computer nearby to operate it and view everything since the software was hosted in the cloud. One of the objectives of that customer at the time was to retain as little business logic as possible within this machine because they were afraid that someone would buy it, place it in laboratories as a sample, and examine the software, firmware, and internal operations. This valuable experience was used by Anton at 3DPrinterOS, where Anton and Dogru connected. As of now, 3DPrinterOS platform has more than 55,000 3D printers by more than 175,000 users around the globe.
Today, Anton holds a Ph.D. in cloud computing and cyber security, and is the author of numerous cybersecurity and digital manufacturing scientific papers (e.g., IEEE, ACM, Springer) and patents. He also teaches Cloud Computing and Data Security at TalTech and has developed multiple security and e-government solutions for the Estonian government and EU Commission.
Anton knows very well how to process sensitive data on every level of networking and computing. Anton’s stack includes C, C++, GoLang, Python, Java, Haskel, Rust, PHP, Cassandra, Hadoop, Spark, Aerospike, Redis, Postgres, Radoop, H2O, Deep Learning, AI, ML, BitKey, Kali Linux, IronKey, Ethereum, Solana, Polkadot, Cosmos, Cardana, Corda R3, Hyperledger, AWS, Azure, GCE, and GovCloud.
Anton realized that although he knew a lot about technology and business, he still needed someone with great sales abilities, negotiating skills, and the ability to take charge of any meeting and persuade others.
Dogru and Vedeshin
When Dogru moved to Estonia, he met Vedeshin, and the two began investigating 3D printing technology. The first 3D printer they bought was the MakerBot. Following their purchase, they realized that these 3D printers were exactly where PCs were 40 years ago, where they had started. They established a lab in Estonia and spent many sleepless hours developing the product that would become 3D Control Systems.
Following this, they met Aaron in the United States and incorporated it first in the United States, and then the Alchemist Accelerator. They then traveled to Silicon Valley to pitch the new product that he was developing with John. 
Following that, they attended Alchemist Accelerator. They received the funding in the summer of 2014, and it was critical that they quickly form a team. They employed a total of 24 and 25 engineers. Prior to meeting with MakerBot, they provided them with information about desktop 3D printing.
The Origin of 3D Control Systems
With the combination of Dogru’s experience in the computer industry, automated manufacturing, how to launch items inside corporations, how the sales cycle works, and how sales automation works, Dogru and Vedeshin assembled the beginnings of 3D Control Systems. Since then, they've been doing 3D printing integrations to the cloud and making it easy for over eight years, long before the advent of APIs.
They've been doing it for over eight years, and they saw the vision a long time ago that if one can go from design to production with a single click, this is the future.
Eight years ago, most additive manufacturing users did not have as many top-of-the-line machines as industrial machines. So, they started with the early adopters, such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft. They started in universities, and the university area grew the quickest since universities are early adopters and can validate concepts.
As a pilot, they started with Duke University. The college only had ten printers and ten students, but John and Anton showed that there is another way to get things done. Instead of having someone send a design from their computer to the administrator to someone who will operate the machine, they intended to create a system through which their clients could operate the machine completely remotely and autonomously. As a result, the self-ruling stage became an important factor, and today Duke has the world's largest real-time 3D printing deployment in a university, with more than 200 printers and 7000 students.
After these successes at Duke, they extended to MIT, Harvard, and Yale, and students at these institutions quickly acknowledged that 3D Control Systems could be the next Microsoft for digital manufacturing.
Indeed, Dogru and Vedeshin have proven that they have made 3D Control Systems the simplest solution for networked additive manufacturing. The company has the world's most prominent desktop 3D printing management platform, which is widely used by universities and businesses too, including Google and John Deere, organizations that use lots of desktop printing for design and prototyping.
Now, they're taking what they've learned in other markets, and are applying it to advanced manufacturing. In the advanced manufacturing world, 3D printing only makes up less than 5% of production, but 3D Control Systems is working on a new solution that can integrate industrial additive from invention to production, with a hardware and software-agnostic platform.
The difference between the impossible and the possible is defined by an individual's level of certainty. This is how Anton and John structured their company, with the help of their committed employees and their day and night hard work. For Anton and John, there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Successful people are not gifted, they just work hard and succeed on purpose.
“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”