3D printing isn’t the future—it’s now. In the last year and a half, four new 3D printing services have opened in the Miami Valley, and the most recent additions are each trying out something new.
A “maker space” with beer
The Proto BuildBar on First Street in downtown Dayton is perhaps overly hipster: the employees are wearing gas station attendant shirts and retro eyeglasses, and the music is 90’s indie rock. But Proto BuildBar is more than a hip hangout. If you’re a techie, it could be a dream come true. They have a dozen 3D printers and rows of workbenches with soldering guns and magnifying glasses.
“We are the world’s first build bar,” says General Manager Alex Todd. “We are a small scale coffee shop and bar housed together with a 3D print and maker space. It’s kind of a cool concept. You can come in and rent time on 3D printers.”
Beyond the printers, they have tools to build all sorts of things, from plastic robots and race cars to tube clocks and guitar effects pedals.
“We also offer a lot of really, really cool electronic soldering kits,” Todd says. “You can start with easy, prebuilt circuit boards, all the way up to full-on Arduino kits, guitar pedals, things like that.”
Todd is quick to note that you can make almost anything with this equipment.
“If you have an idea in your head, we’re equipped to train you, even if you’ve never soldered a joint together. If you’ve never messed with 3D CAD design, we’re here to help you,” he says. “You can come in with nothing and leave with something.”
Say hello to Mini-Me
Proto BuildBar isn’t the only new 3D printing business in Dayton. In November, Doppelganger Laboratories launched in a kiosk at the Dayton Mall. As the name suggests, Doppelganger specializes in making duplicates of people, “mini-me's” or clones. In this case, they’re six to twelve inch, full-color, ceramic-style figurines.
The enormous 3D scanner consists of a platform with two giant mechanical arms that circle and take pictures; the whole scanning process takes just twelve seconds.
Keith Beason is the spokesperson for Doppelganger Laboratories, and he says people are unaware of how high quality 3D printing can be.
“I think the biggest obstacle with Doppelganger Labs is the educational curve,” Beason says, “to explain to people that this is not the conventional or traditional 3D scanning and printing that they’ve seen. The specs on this system are similar to the specs that are used in the auto industry, and the actual figurine that you get is more than just a toy. It’s a keepsake.”
They resemble Hummels, those ceramic figurines that everyone’s grandmother or great aunt had, though Beason is quick to distinguish them.
“With those, the only difference with that, that was a person’s rendition of a person, where this is the person,” he says. “So, It’s very high tech.”
Beason says the scanning and printing system they use runs “upwards of $300,000,” which suggests that Doppelganger will have to sell a lot of figurines to make up the costs.
A viable proposition
But are these businesses here to stay? Kim Woodbury of the Small Business Development Center at Wright State University evaluated both 3D companies.
“I do believe Proto BuildBar is sustainable because it’s not just the printers,” says Woodbury. “It’s got a lot of diversity there. You can eat. You can visit. You can build other electronic goods. They have the work benches there, et cetera.”
When it comes to Doppelganger, Woodbury is impressed by the figurines, but what about their overhead?
“I’d have to see the money they’re gonna need to make to pay for it,” she says, “but once they pay for it, it’s gravy.”
In the end, it may be too early to say if Doppelganger will become a gravy train or if Proto BuildBar will become downtown’s newest social hub. But one thing’s for sure: retail 3D printing is here, and there’s money to be made.
Jason Reynolds is a 2014 graduate of WYSO's Community Voices class and an Assistant Professor at Southern State Community College. Community Voices is taking applications through Dec. 19 for its 2015 class, which starts January 10. Click here for more information and to apply.