Over the weekend, Sanjay Mortimer passed away. This is a tremendous blow to the many people who he touched directly and indirectly throughout his life. We will remember Sanjay as pioneer, hacker, and beloved spokesperson for the 3D printing community.
If you’ve dabbled in 3D printing, you might recall Sanjay as the charismatic director and co-founder of the extrusion company E3D. He was always brimming with enthusiasm to showcase something that he and his company had been developing to push 3D printing further and further. But he was also thoughtful and a friend to many in the community.
Let’s talk about some of his footprints.
Think about the 3D printer nearest you. Perhaps it’s tucked into a corner of a garage or making parts at work. Is it a Prusa MK3? A Big Box? A Toolchanger? Maybe something custom with a Hemera extruder? Then even if you didn’t know it, Sanjay’s hands were in your workshop, ensuring that your experience pushing plastic through a tiny nozzle was nothing short of best-in-class for its time.
Back in 2012, Sanjay was a full time teacher by day. But off hours, he and Dave Lamb were cooking up modifications to early versions of RepRap printers, specifically, the hotends. Following a moderate success concocting their latest hotend design in the school machine shop, they sold out their supply in two days, looped in their friend Joshua Rowley, founded E3D, and the rest is hotend history.
E3D has since grown into the well-recognized company that it is today. And even though Sanjay graduated to E3D’s director and spokesperson, he carried a eureka-enthusiasm with him like he never left the workbench! Instead, his come-hither attitude made us feel like he was pulling us into E3D’s early “Chicken Shed” workshop to give us the grand tour of their latest and greatest.Sanjay in the old E3D “Chicken Shed” ca. 2013.
Of course, Sanjay didn’t design all the bits and bobs that come out of E3D himself, but, as spokesperson, he championed all of it. And the concepts that emerged under his watch were plenty. In the last decade, he helped standardize a hotend ecosystem of interchangeable parts, something that lets us hackers mix and modify 3D printer hardware to our own delight. It lets us experiment with their own screw-compatible hardware, something that lets the community as a whole push the bounds forward by enabling small tweaks that build off a working end-to-end setup.
With Greg Holloway, he helped lay the groundwork for modern, economical toolchanging, a means of picking up and parking hotends reliably enough to be able to do so thousands of time without a hitch. And he helped take this setup one step further by teaching 3D printers how to subtract, that is, both add and remove material precisely that would be impossible to do with a conventional setup. Throughout this time, Sanjay emboldened us with a furious enthusiasm to keep tweaking our machines in pursuit of something faster, better, more performant .
Sometimes it’s hard to see the people behind the ethos of companies, but with Sanjay it wasn’t.
It’s clear that Sanjay cared about educating the community he was a part of. Conversation in product interviews with Sanjay were different; they were technical. While other companies would eagerly cite their patents to tell you why their products were valuable, Sanjay would engage you with the technological achievements themselves. It was clear that he understood the competence of the community he engaged with, and he would treat conversations as such. That difference let him swoon over upcoming geometry changes and special wear-resistant coatings to a crew of people who could appreciate those changes like he did.
That education ethos extended much further that simply in product discussions. E3D’s documentation has been an omnipresent staple since they started launching products, and it has made leaps and bounds in the last year. And E3D’s toolchanger design is entirely open source. These aren’t just kind gestures; they’re directly tied to the ethos of people who started the company and a hat tip to the hacker community where they came from, Sanjay included. He led by example, showing us how to stake out a profitable company while being generous with community knowledge.
I first interacted with Sanjay over a YouTube video I posted, where he shared his excitement for a project I was making slow progress on. As a grad student spending long nights tinkering in a school building, it was a thrill to have literally anyone, let alone Sanjay, reach out of the blue to tell me that they liked my work. With some encouragement from a friend, I took that project to the 2019 Midwest RepRap Festival. On the night before the event, I met Sanjay at the counter of a pub waiting patiently for the bartender. Pulling out that same mechanism from the YouTube video, he immediately recognized me with a huge grin on his face, bought me a beer, and sat me down at the table with his mates to share it with the rest of his crew.
In that moment, I realized that there was something wonderful about Sanjay. Sure, like many, I knew him as an enthusiastic persona championing the work of his company. But in that moment, he became an authentic, thoughtful human being who would champion you too. That friendliness rocked my world. To him, I could’ve been anyone. But, with his warm attitude, I think he knew that anyone could bring something new to the table of 3D printing.
Knowing a bit more about Sanjay now, I’m sure others have had experiences like this.
It’s rare that we get to tag alongside someone at the forefront of a field while they take you with them every step of the way, but that’s our time spent as hackers with Sanjay. He’s led us on a tremendous journey building hardware. He’s shown us how to grow up and take our childhood enthusiasm with us. And he leaves us with a phenomenal legacy and example of how to share and learn from each other.
Rest in peace, mate.