Stepping into the Growing 3D Printing Industry

Daniel Cowen, Co-Founder of 3Doodler takes a look at crowdfunding and the 3D printing industry

The best way to nurture an idea or invention is to be surrounded by people who will develop and progress the idea with you, rather than inhibit its evolution.

The birth of the 3Doodler, the world's first 3D printing pen, was only possible because we opened out our idea to the right community. Crowdfunding helped us reach unimaginable heights, and also meant that we didn't have to cede our concept to anyone else's control.

Ideas often hit a brick wall when taken under the wing of larger companies, or to investors, who don't always share the vision of the company's founders. Nowadays inventors can garner the support they need before crossing those bridges.

In the new era of crowdfunding, anything is possible for people who have ideas and motivation, but lack the right resources. Backers are out there waiting for you; and can financially support your project and be an integral part of it.

So far it's worked out well for us, providing proof of concept and marketability much earlier than would have traditionally been the case. The secret sauce was having a great idea and the support of the right people at the right time.

The birth of an idea

The birth of the 3Doodler was created out of a shortcoming, and the need to find a solution.

One day my co-founder Pete Dilworth was watching his 3D printer printing away when it made an error. There was a gap in the print - insanely frustrating and usually a reason to start a new print from scratch! Pete just wanted to take the item off the platform, fill in the gap, and put it back on to finish the print. Then he realized he could do just that!

The first step was to take apart one of our Up! 3D printers, using the print head to create a very early version of the 3Doodler (called the "teacup" due to its look and feel). Over time the device evolved, with the form of a pen being the natural choice for a hand-held 3D printing device.

This is the concept we launched on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding community appreciated how far we had come, and enthusiastically gave their support to take 3Doodler into the final stages of production.

Who is 3D printing for?

Something that has surprised people was that almost half our Kickstarter backers were female; many had never backed a project on Kickstarter before; and most did not have a 3D printer.

This has never really shocked us. 3Doodler has always been about democratizing 3D creation, a movement that's taking over the 3D printing industry. No longer is the technology restricted to those with CAD software experience or the budget to afford an expensive 3D printer.

3D printers are becoming more affordable and the software more accessible, making 3D printing financially viable to smaller businesses and home users. But at present the hype surrounding 3D printing is wildly disproportionate to the number of 3D printers sold (its estimated that only 42,000 3D printers were sold in 2013; with 72,000 units forecast for 2014).

As this technology moves closer to the average consumer's reach, the vast potential it holds will become more widely understood. In essence, 3D printing can communicate an idea in physical form quicker than ever before.

What will you create?

Pen and paper are powerful tools. There's no quicker way to sketch out an idea, and its universal accessibility means people instinctively know how to use and manipulate them; but it's still challenging to convey 3D on a 2D plane.

As 3D printing becomes increasingly accessible, the room for expression and creativity within it will grow exponentially. The limitations of 2D will cease to apply.

As of this month there are over 55,000 3Doodlers out in the world, being used in ways we never imagined, including education for the blind, architectural prototyping, and product development. As that community grows and shares, the scope for creativity will widen. The same is true of 3D printing more broadly, its democratization providing a creative playing field for any person or company.

The 3D Printing Industrial Revolution

In today's increasingly competitive market for 3D printing it's important to carve out your niche, and for us this means encouraging people who may not have previously considered themselves makers to becomes makers.

With 3D printing, the design and creation of your ideas are unified. This landmark of innovation means that smaller companies and designers can experiment with new ideas, without having to overcome as many hurdles along the way.

The idea that we could, one day, 3D print organs and houses makes the industry increasingly important to our lives, as well as to the art and philosophy of creation. The pace at which this reaches mass acceptance will depend on accessibility, from both a financial and technological point of view.

The 3D printing space continues to be an exciting area to be a part of, as we explore the boundaries of what can be done. If the industry is this groundbreaking now, it's exciting to imagine what it's going to be like in 5 or 10 years; and we hope 3Doodler will play its part as a tool to sketch out that future.