The UK's 3D printing sector was all a twitter in springtime this year as a serious media campaign invaded the industry's inboxes announcing the arrival of the world's largest 3D printing store in London.
The venture capital company behind the store and its concept of course is iMakr, which is why TCT Show + Personalize invited Founder and Director Sylvain Preumont - the man responsible for one of the biggest consumer 3D printing stories to come out of the UK this year - to speak at this month's event.
TCT Magazine had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the iMakr store in fashionable Farringdon and meeting Preumont and the iMakr team once the crowds had dispersed a few days later. It was during this initial tête-à-tête that Preumont's enthusiasm for 3D printing - and bringing this emerging technology to anybody, anywhere - came through loud and clear. Indeed, iMakr was built upon this philosophy.
Preumont's TCT Show + Personalize presentation is entitled 3D Printing: Bubble or not Bubble? The themes his talk will cover begin by investigating the fact that even though there are not many listed 3D printing companies out there, the few that are doing business seem to be doing it rather well. This success coupled with business developments such as the recent acquisition of MakerBot by Stratasys raises the question, "Are we looking at some bubble, much like the Internet in the late 1990s?"
"It's this very question every investor is trying to figure out when entering the 3D printing field," the Director said. "Is it time to go? Is it too early? Is it too late?"
"New era of individual empowerment"
Preumont sees his creation as one of the organisations spearheading the so-called 3D printing revolution. He stated: "iMakr aims to bring this new era of individual empowerment to the general public, not only the tech-savvies," adding that thanks to the raft of media coverage iMakr has received "from newspapers to blogs, from TV to radios" both at home and abroad, the company is in a good position to take the responsibility of spreading this message.
"We are only at the beginning of something, but by nature hype never lasts very long - it just becomes normal. Think smartphones. They were super-hyped a couple of years ago and now just about everybody has got one. Over time, 3D printing as a novelty will vanish, just because it will be everywhere," Preumont said. "There will come a point when kids will ask their parents 'is it true that you didn't have [a 3D printer] when you were young?'"
Immersing children in 3D printing is something close to Preumont's heart. He feels strongly that school-age youngsters should be given more hands-on access to 3D printing technology both in the classroom and at home.
"They will design and print toys, games, figurines, jewellery, gifts for their friends and parents - and eventually disruptive things," he said. "Over time their natural imagination and open-minded creativity, along with their tendency to spend so much time on things they enjoy, plus the power of social media to share their creations, will bring the world more new things in a couple of decades than in the last century."
"Creating something special"
There are so many things that Preumont admits pique his interest when he looks at the burgeoning 3D printing market, education and then turning that training into a business is one of the notions that would naturally excite a venture capitalist.
"There are many aspects of 3D printing that excite me. New materials and the mix of materials, easier-to-use software and smoother user experience, but above all, new usages [interest me]: people buying a machine 'just because they can' and then creating something special, starting to sell it and eventually making a business out of it. And then they come back to buy another machine," he chuckled.
The notion of having the freedom to create is central to iMakr and Preumont believes that the ability to create does not necessarily have to lie solely in the hands of those who are trained to create or who perhaps fee they have the authority to create.
He said: "iMakr store and iMakr.com customers keep asking 'what will I print if I can't design my own things?' We're happy to provide them now with MyMiniFactory, a platform to literally download objects for free - 3D-printable files - that they can print at home. They're all curated to be both useful and beautiful and are guaranteed to print well and we're very excited by the extraordinary welcome that it has received."
Sylvain Preumont is a consumer 3D printing evangelist who wants to spread the iMakr philosophy across the UK "and beyond" and he is one of a growing number of consumer 3D printing mover-shakers that believe bringing this technology to the man on the street will bring significant change for the better.