Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is a fascinating place, Polish food delis besides Asian supermarkets, bingo halls adjacent to hair extension salons, despite being voted ugliest building in London by Time Out readers it remains a symbol of London’s multi-cultural society. The shopping centre is the crux of a controversial on-off redevelopment plan, which started in 2006 yet has never come to fruition.
It may come as a surprise to some that such an antiquated building, set for demolition, could be home to bleeding edge technology such as 3D printing. In a kiosk on the second floor, nextdoor to said hair extension shop, lives Replicator Warehouse, the first 3D printing shop on the London high street.
Yes, while other companies we may or may not have featured have claimed to be the first 3D printing outlet on the London high street, Replicator Warehouse had already been going about their business in zone one for close to a year now. It is an easy store to miss, bearing a resemblance to a mobile phone case kiosk but once you spot the unmistakable sight of countless ABS and PLA models you know you'd found a 3D printing store,
We met Company Secretary, Chiaki Ishii at the store after a rather hectic Maker Faire on their patch in Elephant and Castle, “Please excuse the mess, we have not had chance to clean up since the Maker Faire this weekend”, the ultra polite Chiaki tells us. Chiaki regails us with the story of how she set up the company with partner and Company Director Kornel Farkas, “The time seemed right to open a store for 3D printing, Kornell knows a lot about the technology and he has been building printers for a long time. So I told him we had to make a business out of his passion”
The store not only offers the parts for the RepRap Prusa kits that Kornel is an expert in building but it offers a variety of 3D printing filaments and services including an in-store scan-to-print service: “Our main customers are architects who are looking to create models for their ideas, they send us a model and we print it for a very reasonable price. We also offer a service to scan your head with our equipment and then make a print of you, it takes some time to clean up the model on our software but it is a very popular service.”
What may seem like a strange place for a 3D printing store actually works perfect for Replicator Warehouse, they are only a small team and are already too busy to fulfil orders off the street. The store has had to change to appointment only due to the interest generated by passers by. The recent Maker Faire in Elephant and Castle at the London College of Communication shows that there is a hunger and passion for the technology in the area.
Despite RepRap accounting for the majority of makers' machines it is still unusual to find on the high street is a shop selling kits and parts to build a RepRap Prusa, the majority of RepRappers buy their products online from a variety of sources. Maplin have recently started selling their kits for the Velleman printer but there’s one big difference; whereas Maplin leave you to build the kits Ikea style, Replicator Warehouse offer workshops and demo days to show how it is done first hand. Plus seeing as Kornel has built countless RepRap Prusa kits too there isn’t the issue that a member of staff isn’t going to know how to help you.
Replicator Warehouse is very much like the technology it offers, a little rough around the edges but with a real spirit of community and the chance to make things better. We’d be delighted to see more of these kiosks around the country, Replicator Warehouse are very much blazing a trail for this industry, here’s to hoping they can make it a success.