In the beginning, there was a single printer. A Velleman K8200 I bought to tinker around with and see what all the fuss was about with RepRap and the 3D Printing movement. In late 2014, I spent 2 weeks and 200+ parts/wires/connections getting that thing to even print, let alone do it well. I'll never forget my wife's look of bewilderment when after a week of tuning and calibration I had finally produced.... a cube.
That first printer was my workhorse, but most of it's time was dedicated to printing parts for itself. Around that time SeeMeCNC released the Rostock Max V1 Delta Printer and then there were 2 printers in my house. I started selling aircraft models around work as going away presents, and these funded the purchase of more printers. I found myself selling off the Elliptical Exercise Machine (which was repurposed as a clothes hanger) to make room for 4 Rostock Max V3s to create my first printer "farm".
With all of these printers I started to form an idea..... "Could I sell prints off of these machines to put my kids through school?". It would be a bootstrap model that self-funded, and allowed for some growth at the same time. I would need to scale up to meet the demand of 2 college educations, and I only had another year to do it before the bills started rolling in.
I opened this shop up in 2016 and started selling whatever I thought was functional or clever, mostly colorful junk I found on thingiverse. Around that time the Creality CR-10 3D Printer came out, and I found myself donating the Rostocks to the local high school, and I taught a class on how to use and maintain it. As far as I know, those Rostocks are still in use by LHS to this day. Later came the Prusa MK3, which complimented our current farm really well.
This brought about the need for more space that I didn't have, and I found myself tearing out closet doors and building the rack into my house. The outbox moved to the landing of the house, and the kitchen was consumed by Polyshers and other stuff I couldn't fit into my home office. My living room was the finishing area, and I would remove support with my wife while we watched TV. After a session, the floor was littered with tons of 3D Printed Debris, and my wife compared them to razor-sharp legos. We continued like this well into 2019, and the farm had grown to 23 machines. My garage became a photo and paint booth, and a storage area for all of our shipping boxes and supplies. At that time, 3DPD (as it was later known to friends and family) had consumed about 60% of the house. I'll never forget the soundtrack of the house... there were always printers running. When they weren't it was almost unnerving. When they were running at full capacity, our light fixtures would swing back and forth and the windows would rattle. First lesson learned: don't bolt multiple vibration sources into the frame of your house.
My daughter headed off to college in 2018, and 3DPD had scaled to the point we could just barely float the tuition, room, and board. But, it was working. After she headed off, we converted her old bedroom into an Creality Ender 3 farm and the operation had grown to 35 machines!
In 2018 we built up another 15 CR-10s and a good friend of mine hosted them in his house and even operated them in his off time from work. That brought us to 50 machines, but we really couldn't say we offered anything unique to the marketplace. Still colorful junk from the open domain. We decided to pivot at that point to only owned/licensed works, and "Site 2" was torn down and all 15 printers were donated to the high schools out here.
In 2019 my son headed off to college, and 3DPD was in full swing. We pivoted from colorful junk and started offering exclusive artwork and historical works. As our bust collection grew we quickly realized we were onto something, so we committed to the task and began working on a first-ever collection..... The Complete US Presidents. This was a long project as I wanted to launch 3 variations of 44 subjects. They all had to be sculpted, printed, finished, photographed, and listed. It was a TON of work and took over a year to complete, but it was worth it as we finally had something unique we could call our own.
By July of 2019 we quickly realized our house just wasn't going to hold 3DPD for much longer. There were 3D Printed Presidential Busts everywhere. We began searching for a place out in the outskirts of town in the country that had a 1000sqft workshop. We found the place we're in now, and in late 2019 we made the move. The prior owners were even nice enough to allow us to come in early to paint a couple of the rooms, and epoxy the shop floor.
October of 2019 is when 3DPD found it's own home, finally separate from the house that we reside. The workshop had plenty of power, water, finished walls, and a nice new epoxy floor. Ironically enough, It only took one day to move our household goods into the new place; it took 5 days to move 3DPD out and demolish everything I had built to fit everything into that tiny cramped office. The shop underwent a TON of electrical mods to support the racks, and we must have laid down a mile of CAT7 for the closed network.
In March of 2020 COVID hit, and I found myself locked down for 6 months and confined to my home. With idle hands and nothing to do, I focused everything on 3DPD. I spent over a thousand hours building 3D printers, creating modifications, working up new products, taking photos, and creating listings. I thought to myself.... "If all I have to show for the next 6 months is a high level character on Fallout I'll never forgive myself". The strange thing was, I didn't mind putting in 12 and 14 hour days building 3DPD. I really came to enjoy it, and it was about the only thing keeping me sane during the lockdown.
During this time, my buddy was chomping at the bit to "get back into the mix", and Site 2 was built up with 20 Prusa Minis, with 16 more residing at we all call "Site 1". With Site 2 back up, we could absorb the Christmas rush without having to shut down to clear the backlog like the years prior. In 2020, we only had to shut down for 2 days, largely because while we had enough printers to absorb the work, our infrastructure wasn't setup to handle the throughput.
So here we are now in 2021. Still locked down, and still creating new content and building new machines. We've made a lot of changes based on last year's lessons learned, and I think we're ready to face Christmas head-on! We're up to 105 3D printers now, and have over 160 unique and original subjects for the bust lines. We even worked up some really neat trailer hitch covers (this was a random idea, but we all liked them).
We completed our financial obligation to our daughter, and my son has about 8 more months before he's done as well. From there, I don't know what we will do. This was all born out of necessity, but has grown into something that has a life of it's own, and I honestly don't know what I would do with my time if I shut it all down and sold everything off. This hobby, and now digital factory, has brought us all a lot of joy, and there is a great sense of pride in what we have accomplished and the friends we've made along the way. We thank everyone that has made a purchase and helped us achieve our goals. You've encouraged us through challenges, made us retool and rethink our approaches with your feedback, and helped us all grow both personally and professionally.
To all that have supported us through the years: From the bottom of all our hearts, THANK YOU!!!