By David Russell
3D printers are fast becoming a tinkerers best friend, with prices for the desktop versions becoming increasingly affordable and sales doubling annually. There’s no need to be alarmed, though. Despite what sensationalist headlines might lead us to believe, it’s pretty much impossible to print a gun at home. But the question begs to be asked… if you buy a 3D printer, what on earth do you print?
That’s the problem Adelaide engineer and 3D printing enthusiast Andrew Karas is attempting to solve. He’s created Trinpy, a fledgling startup aiming to offer customers an unlimited number of 3D designs that can be downloaded and printed. Designers upload their designs to the site, which are then on-sold to customers, meaning they get paid for their work. Andrew told Inside South Australia that as 3D printers become more advanced in what they are able to print, it’s getting harder and harder to produce the designs.
“The people that bought them (3D printers) early on were designers, engineers (and) serious hobbyists who could generally design their own models, but as the printers are getting better… the people buying them can’t design the models…. they’re the people that will need Trinpy,” said Andrew.
“At the moment around 20% of people who own a 3D printer can’t design, but that proportion is expected to rise substantially as the printers are sold to more mainstream customers.”
It was the rapid advances in 3D printing technology that lead Andrew to leave his confortable, well-paying engineering job and launch the Trinpy marketplace.
“One of the things that’s changed are the materials you can use. When I first bought one you were limited to two different types of plastics, now you can get flexi rubber (and) all sorts of wood and metal filaments… they can even put carbon fibres into the plastic.
“They are a blend of plastic with other materials…. Its very hard once you’ve polished it to tell the difference between, let’s say bronze, and a 3D printed bronze. It’s when I saw these materials coming out that I thought… ‘this is a game changer’.”
Andrew says within a few years printers will be able to produce much more complex products using these materials.
“You’ll be able to go into a store and do a full body scan and then you’ll get a bike that is perfectly tailored to you.”
Parts for appliances are another application Trinpy can tap into. Andrew is currently talking to manufacturers about getting the designs for a broad range of common plastic parts uploaded to the site, so that if a customer breaks a plastic part in their vacuum cleaner or blender they can print and replace the part, instead of replacing the whole appliance.
He’s also looking to partner with manufacturers and resellers of 3D printers. “Some of these businesses sell thousands of printers a month, if we can partner with some of them we can go from being very small to one of the biggest players in the market.
“We’ve already partnered with one company (Redstack) in Adelaide that sells CAD software and 3D printers; for every printer they sell the customer gets a subscription to Trinpy.
Andrew recognises there are a few challenges ahead of Trinpy, not least of which is getting a critical mass on manufacturers and resellers on board to act as referrers.
“It will take a bit of an Apple-esque feat to get the whole of the manufacturing industry on board… like Apple did with music, but that’s the goal.
“Then there are issues with IP that will come up… whether or not a digital design is patented the same way as a physical design.
“The 3D market is (also) pretty small, which could be a challenge or an opportunity, depending how you look at it.”
While there are a couple of competitors operating in the space, Trinpy, uses a different revenue model, which is a subscription model similar to that used by Spotify and stock photography websites.
“Everybody (each designer) gets a cut of the total downloads… what that allows me to do is bundle the subscription with 3D printer manufacturers and resellers so subscribers can download whatever they want.”
Andrew is a recent graduate of Venture Dorm, a pre-accelerator program operated by Flinders University’s New Venture Institute and the Majoran co-working space. As the runner up of program’s pitch competition, he is taking Trinpy to the SXSW startup accelerator weekend in Austin, as well as to New York and San Francisco to visit tech giants such as Google.
He’s hoping to meet people with connections in the 3D printing industry, as well as venture capitalists who operate in that area.
“There are heaps and heaps of companies there doing cool stuff over there, so I want to see what they are doing and lean from it.”