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Local Interest In 3D Printing Grows

Griffin 3D is a local start-up that makes original design 3D printers. Here, the Griffin Pro Mini, prints an octopus at the Science Center's First Friday event in November.
Rebecca Smith/St. Louis Public Radio

Most people have heard of 3D printing, but few have ever seen these printers up close and in action.

Scott Rocca, co-owner of Griffin 3D, a St. Louis start-up, is trying to change this by showcasing his company’s printers at numerous events, such as the Science Center’s First Fridays. People can come and watch the printers. Soon they will be able to buy their own. 

Rocca and his business partner Doug Muncy met at the Arch Reactor hacker space meetings and later at 3D printing meet-ups Rocca helped organize. These 3D printing meet-ups have grown, with the group now at more than 360 members.

Muncy had developed his own design for a series of 3D printers, and with a little help from Rocca and Kickstarter, the two are looking to begin sales of their printers in December.

Griffin 3D printers are delta-type, and feed a plastic filament into the machine, where it is melted and reconstructed into the three dimensional shape.

Terry Wohlers, of Wohlers Associates Inc., a consulting firm for new developments in 3D printing, says while the interest in 3D printing is growing the industry for hobbyist machines is somewhat flooded.  

“We estimate that more than 400 companies, mostly start-ups, offer a material extrusion machine worldwide,” Wohlers said. “This compares to 35 companies that offer an industrial 3D printing system.

Hobbyist machines are those that cost less than $5,000, and Wohlers said they also tend to be lower quality.

While the printers produced by Griffin 3D are considered hobbyist printers, Rocca believes they have found a use for their machines that will set them apart.

Muncy is currently working with a customer to make them a 3D printed prosthetic hand. He said some individuals have found these prosthetics not only save them thousands of dollars, but are more functional than professional prosthetics.

The co-owners of Griffin 3D, Scott Rocca and Doug Muncy, take their printers to many events and expose people to the world of 3D printing.
Credit Rebecca Smith/St. Louis Public Radio
The co-owners of Griffin 3D, Scott Rocca and Doug Muncy, take their printers to many events and expose people to the world of 3D printing.

Wohlers said this prosthetic project in the world of 3D printing is relatively new, and he projects that 100s of prosthetics have been produced since the project began.

Rocca said they are currently working on filling their Kickstarter orders and preorders for the printers. He added that they hope to open source the design in the near future.

3D printing as a business model

While Rocca and Muncy prepare to sell 3D printers of their design to the general public, Bill Plemmons of St. Peter’s, uses the machines he built to print whatever it is his customers request.

Some of his past or current projects include small sailboats for a board game, prototype models and any trinkets that customers may find on Thingiverse.com - an online aggregator of 3D designs.

One of the most common things he prints is prototype models. Plemmons said individuals will come in and ask for a model of their prototype product, as 3D printing costs are nominal compared to injection molding, the traditional prototyping method.

He said the low cost of 3D printing has allowed him to make profits off of products like go-pro camera brackets. Plemmons said he prints these at very low cost and then sells them on eBay.

But he didn’t start his business just for the profit.

“It kind of wraps up everything that I love – a little bit computers, a little bit electronics, a little bit robotics, and it is very interesting stuff," Plemmons said. “I kind of fell in love with it and decided it was something I wanted to do.”

He discovered the world of 3D printing after losing his job at a factory after nearly 25 years. He said he wasn't sure what he wanted to do until he began to read about how versatile 3D printing is and how much the printers had come down in cost.

His business covers many bases. He prints already made designs, designs products for customers, builds and sells 3D printers and helps individuals learn how to use their own printers properly

Plemmons said he would like to expand his business even more by talking to schools about purchasing 3D printers, so the younger generation could be introduced to 3D printing technology at an early age.