Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLxucPNqiqc&feature=youtu.be
One of the first things visitors to the Biz Dojo’s Auckland Maker Space see is Danny Dillen’s 3D printer – a black metal box resembling a computer CPU with the panels removed.
Most have never seen one before. Some imagine it prints on paper like the printer in their office. One thought it printed objects from thin air.
But conversations with those people are Dillen’s chance to make his craft - and its disruptive possibilities - known.
“I have two bookshelves full of what I’ve printed. Most of them are examples to get you thinking about what you can print.”
Dillen says 3D printing is more like playing with a giant toy than having a job, but he knows he needs to drag it out of the realm of home hobbyists if he’s going to make money.
New Zealand has a few well-established 3D printing shops, but only early adopters have these printers in their homes and businesses.
That said, Dillen is happy to be ahead of his time.
“It’s a bigger risk jumping into something that’s more established. If you’ve got so many people doing the same thing, how do you make yourself stand out? I think if you’re one of the early people and you stick with it, you’re going to go far because your name is constantly going to come up as one of the guys to jump into it.”
US inventor Chuck Hull was the first to jump into printing objects layer by layer, using a machine guided by a software-generated model, in the 1980s.
Giant 3D printing systems still run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while desktop 3D printers can still cost as much as $17,000. The price for home users and small businesses is now much more accessible: Dillen got his for $3000.
At one end of the scale, teenagers can make jewellery for a night out – at the other, medical professionals 3D-print prosthetics. Nasa has printed rocket engine parts, and there was the much-maligned 3D-printed gun.
Materials for 3D printers now extend to rubber, wood polymers, ceramics, glass and metal. US analyst firm Wohler Associates reckons the 3D printing market will reach US$3.7 billion by 2015.
In New Zealand, Dillen’s spreading the word and trying to secure customers. His potential market spans product design and rapid prototyping, material importing, printer distribution and general education.
And a neat arrangement with the Biz Dojo cushions the knocks he might take as an entrepreneur on the upside of a technology curve. The Maker Space gets a 3D printer charged at $95 an hour, while Dillen gets free workspace.
And the Dojo’s extensive network of potential customers is cream. “I think I’m winning a bit more than they are,” he says.
What is the biggest challenge your small business is facing in 2014?Related story: (See story)