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.
It all started simply enough. I had a part I couldn't find, so I thought maybe I could design and 3D print it myself. That simple idea kicked off a series of events that would alter my perception and life forever.
What was one printer became 2, then 4, then 6. What consumed a desk soon consumed the closet, then the room. An idea was forming, as both of my kids were soon to leave for college: "Maybe I can use this hobby to put them through school?"
We scaled the operation to have the capacity to cover the expenses, but we still were missing a key ingredient.... an original product. At the time, we were pulling models from the open domain and selling whatever seemed clever or functional, but there really wasn't anything that set 3DPD apart from the other print shops out there.
My wife, our resident historian with a Master's degree in education, pointed out one day the busts of historical figures were rare enough they couldn't be obtained by 99% of the population. They were reserved for museums, and the very wealthy. What if we used 3D printing to create original portrait artwork and make it available at a price that everyone can enjoy and draw inspiration from?
We partnered with world class artists, and began our very first line of original artwork, the complete US Presidents collection. It took over a year to sculpt, print, and photograph all 45 busts in 3 variations, but we finally had something to call our own.
As time passed we discovered we stumbled onto something. People were decorating their offices with our busts, teachers placing them in schools, and even movie studios were asking to put them in their productions. After receiving such positive feedback, we decided to dedicate ourselves to building the largest collection of original 3D portrait artwork in the world.
We moved out of our suburban home and into a place that has a stand-alone workshop with plenty of room to grow. No more printers in the house, swinging light fixtures, or 3D printed debris scattered all over the living room floor after a finishing session!
Everything was going great..... until COVID hit. I found myself idle, isolated, and in desperate need of something to take my mind off of what was going on in the world. So, I poured everything I had into the 3D printer farm. I worked 16 hour days for around 6 months to build up all of my printers, and finish up all of the engineering I needed to get the shop performing reliably and efficiently. We found ourselves answering the call in producing protective equipment, and we produced thousands of face shields for our local first responders free of charge.
We finished paying into the kids' educations, and I've found myself wondering exactly what to do next. I left my 9-5 day job, and now I focus on 3DPD full time.
After 6 years, 105 3D printers, and over a million print hours we've arrived at the present. We've created over 190 original 3D portraits which have found their way into classrooms, bookshelves, and offices all over the world. It turns out, we weren't alone in our desire for affordable and original portrait art, and 3D printing has enabled us to release subjects that otherwise couldn't exist.
I'm constantly out there tinkering, and finding more efficient ways to run the business. We're always trying to find new ways to not only produce a profit, but do it in a way that leaves the smallest impact on the environment possible. We're now focused on new methods of recycling, and avoiding unnecessary waste streams or replacing them with sustainable methods. And, we're passing those lessons learned through to the 3D printing community to try and make 3D printing truly a sustainable and environmentally friendly method of creating products.
To all that have supported us through the years: From the bottom of all our hearts, THANK YOU!!!