Last Update: Tuesday, 12 November, 2013 9:48 PM




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Interviewee: Hugh Halford-Thompson
Company: 3Distributed
Interview Date: May 2013

3Distributed Workshop - 3D Printer

3Distributed Workshop - Neil

3Distributed Workshop - Hugh

Q: Hi Hugh, give us a little background on yourself before you discovered 3D Printing? (degree, relevant work experience, interests, etc)
A: I graduated 2011 from the University of Exeter with a degree is Computer Science. I worked for a year as a programmer and now as a software architect.

Q: And how did you get into 3D Printing?
A: I always found 3d printers fascinating and when I heard about the Reprap project I just had to get one. Initially I thought they'd be loud, expensive and smelly but last November I went to a talk on 3d printing and saw one in real life. It was quiet, odourless and relatively cheap so I brought one. It arrived in late december and I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. 2 weekends later I got some decent prints from it. At first I was printing test pieces and toys but I then started on printing a full set of spare parts in case anything broke and I realised how useful the printer could be.

Q: In the early part of 2013 you founded 3Distributed, tell us more about your company and what you guys do?
A: 3Distributed has 3 founders: me, Andy and Neil. Currently we have a successful online shop and we sell a lot on Ebay. We sell printed parts and 'vitamins' - motors, electronics, heated beds... We also supply Nylon 618 filament and will be offering PVA very soon. Moving forwards we are launching a new product in the next few weeks which we will unveil in due course and long term we hope to launch a consumer printer of our own design.

Q: How many 3D Printers do you currently have, what types are they?
A: We have 2 Printrbots, 3 Mendel 90s (and 2 being built), 2 rostocks, a Prusa i3 and another printer which we have modified so much I wouldn't know what to call it. They are in various states of building and print readiness.

Q: How have you found using them and what is the quality of the 3D Prints produced?
A: The Printrbots and the Mendel 90s produce great prints. The rostocks we are still experimenting with and should be getting good prints from in the next week or two. The quality across all these printers is very much the same.

Q: Do they always print perfection first time or is there an element of ongoing calibration and tweaking?
A: The Printrbots print perfectly every time to the point where we often start it remotely when we're not home. The Mendel 90s are almost there and the rostocks are experimental.

Q: Who is your main client base currently, is it mainly the maker community or more general consumers?
A: Currently 95% of clients are makers. We also get a few product designers. I expect this to change over the next few months to probably around 50/50.

Q: Do you ship worldwide or to UK only? Where have you seen most demand from?
A: We do ship worldwide. Only 50% of our orders are from within the UK. The rest are mostly from Europe although we've had a lot of orders from Russia and Brazil.

Q: What has been the demand for your products and have you seen a rapid uptake?
A: The demand for printed parts is always the hardest to meet as it takes so long to print the parts. Apart from that the highest demand is for nylon filament which has some great properties. Across the board all our products are selling well.

Q: How do you think 3D Printing will evolve over the next few years?
A: If you believe the hype everyone will have one in their homes. I don't think that'll happen for a while but I think that a lot of industries will start using them. When printers become easy enough to use and I think every DIY person out there will have one. I also expect online printing services like Shapeways to continue growing rapidly and for lower end equivalents to show up.

Q: When do you see 3D Printing breaking out of the maker / hobbiest community and into the mainstream?
A: At the moment I don't think any of the printers on the market are easy enough to use. This will change gradually. Right now, 50% of people I meet have heard of 3d printing. In a year or so I expect about half of them to of seen an actual printer, or used an online printing service. As to how many will own one it's hard to predict.

Q: Many people say 3D Printing will be bigger than the internet, do you agree and why?
A: No. The power of the internet is the ability to communicate and to share. 3D printing is going to be huge, but the internet will underpin every part of it and this is only one small part of what the internet offers. Financially I think 3D printing could become as big as social media - but they both rely on the internet.

Q: What issues or hurdles do you think the industry will experience over the next few years?
A: People are used to things just working. Although the current group of makers are pretty tolerant to printer breakdowns this is a major barrier for mass adoption. We are also still missing the 'killer app' - when I tell people about 3d printing they think it's impressive but take a while to work out why they'd ever want one.

Q: There are many players coming into the market at all levels from individual designers through to billion dollar companies, who are your favourites and who are the ones to watch?
A: Makerbot are a great business and Up have the best consumer printer. The billion dollar companies like HP and 3D Systems are unlikely to win in the 3d printing world unless they massively change their game. The ones to watch are the many small companies turning repraps into businesses.

Q: For anyone buying a 3D Printer is 3D Printing easy to get to grips with (software / hardware, etc) or do you need to be a technically minded?
A: I think overall it depends how much effort you want to put in and what budget you go in at. At the cheaper end you need to be very technical - for £400 you can build your own printer, but you'll have to upload the firmware yourself and build the machine - and that's after sourcing all the components. At the higher end there are a few ready to go printers from Makerbot and Up which should work pretty much out of the box. In between you can get kits with a wide range of difficulties. The software side can is easy once you've set it up, but the initial work can be a little technical. Once a 3d printer is set up right it tends to be very reliable.

Q: Do you have any advice for people thinking of setting up a business in the 3D Printing arena?
A: Do it! This is a booming industry and at the moment the entry cost is incredibly low. I spent probably £600 before I broke even and the rest of the business has grown purely from its profits.

3Distributed Contact Details:
Contact: Hugh Halford-Thompson
Tel: 07789231917

3Distributed - Hugh

3Distributed - Neil

3Distributed - Andy
3Distributed Workshop - 3D Printer
3Distributed Workshop - 3D Printer
3Distributed Workshop - Hugh






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