Ask almost anyone who works in a manufacturing environment and they will tell you the development of the 3D printer has been a godsend.
For the uninitiated, 3D printing is essentially the process of making three-dimensional solid objects from digital designs, and as 3D printers have become less expensive, faster and easier to use, manufacturers such as aerospace companies, auto companies and even medical supply firms have come to depend upon 3D printing technology to build complex parts, prototypes, even customized prosthetics.
Recently, the 3D printing craze also has caught on among hobbyists, who are using the technology to create everything from homemade guitars to working lawnmowers.
But there’s an “in-between” segment of 3D printing consumer on which entreprepreneur Abram Whitehead is focusing: the person who wants to benefit from the flexibility and low cost of a personalized, 3D-created product, but who doesn’t necessarily want to jump with both feet into the technology.
That’s where Whitehead’s St. Louis-based company, Think A Little Bigger, comes in.
“We’ve developed a product line called ‘Forever Loved™’, using 3D printing. It’s a way for people to get memorial products that are personalized. Products that bring an image of a loved person in a physical sense, not just a two dimensional way. We really recognized 3D printing as a way for people to personalize things, and in a way they’d be able to afford. For instance a custom sculpture of a loved one might cost six thousand dollars. We can produce a high quality artist crafted sculpture for around a thousand dollars.”
Busts of loved ones, personalized Christmas ornaments, customized pieces of furniture (such as lamps), cake toppers and what is called a ‘Cubicle Climber™”, a sculpture of a person in a climbing pose that can be placed on the side of a work cubicle, are among the items Think A Little Bigger offers customers, along with the startup’s most popular product: miniature sculptures of a customer’s pet.
“Production” takes place in a small office dominated by a very big 3D printer, at Think A Little Bigger’s home base at the Center for Emerging Technologies in midtown St. Louis. The company actually boasts two 3D printers, the larger one that creates products in plaster, and another that produces plastic items.
Whitehead says a customer who wants to create a personalized 3D item can expect the process to take about two weeks from start to finish. So, for example, if you wanted to create wedding cake toppers that looked more like you and your spouse, and not like a generic Ken and Barbie doll, “you would meet with us up front for about an hour,” says Whitehead. “We would scan some photos of the subject, do some post processing work, and in a couple of weeks you’d have the product, for about $200 to a thousand dollars depending on what you want.”
With the cost of 3D printers dropping all of the time, Whitehead says Think A Little Bigger wants to distinguish itself from others that might jump into the personalized 3D printed product market by becoming “the experts at what we do.”
Says Whitehead, “3D printing is one of those things that sounds really easy to do. But there’s an ever changing technological blend of methods and materials involved in 3D printing. So for us to be experts is very important.”
“People are astonished when they first see a 3d printer,” he adds, “because it seems like you should be able to go online, download a file, press a button and then out pops a docking station for your iPhone. But it never really works that way. It takes a lot of practice to perfect the craft.”