People sometimes have difficulty remembering people they have lost contact with or even loved ones who passed away long ago. It is then that they turn to photos or videos to help them refresh their memories.
Fred Chen (陳仁德) was thinking about someone from his past when he thought about making 3D printed figurines instead.
“Why not print out a replica of yourself so that your loved ones can always feel your presence when you are not around?” said the 50-year-old Chen, who recently opened a 3D printed figurine store near Wanlong MRT Station in the Jinmei area of Taipei’s Wenshan District (文山).
While 3D printing technology has been around for more than 20 years and used to make various sorts of prototypes, Chen opened the store, named “EGO,” as a way of commemorating one of his best friends who passed away two years ago.
“I hope my friend’s two-year-old son could one day remember what his father looked like through the figurines I made of him,” Chen said on Saturday last week.
For Chen, 3D printed figurines can help revive people’s memories.
“It’s like a time capsule,” he said.
EGO has so far made about 50 figurines for customers that range from retirees to street performers and newlyweds.
Chen says his female customers are more likely to request changes to hair color or the removal of wrinkles, while most men care less about their appearance than technical issues, Chen said.
Nevertheless, making the figurines is “a work that matters more to humanity,” he said.
“I really like the moment when customers smile after seeing their 3D printed figurines,” he said. “To me, it’s like a kind of accomplishment that people accept themselves, rather than complain about defects they were born with.”
EGO uses a NT$3 million (US$98,900) full-color 3D printer to produce the figurines.
Unlike typical 3D printers that fuse acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or poly-lactic acid (PLA) thermoplastics to print out models in layers, the full-color 3D printer make figurines composed of powder-like polymer-plaster composites.
To solidify each model, the 3D printer sprays glue onto powder layer by layer, and during the same time, the powder is colored with ink spattered from inkjet printheads equipped in the machine, Chen said.
Using the full-color 3D printer, it takes a day or two to produce a figurine, but then workers still have to wax the 3D model to smooth out the surface, which means it takes about a week for a customer to receive their miniature replica, he added.
In line with prices set by overseas rivals, he added, EGO charges customers NT$8,000 (US$264.67) for a 10cm tall 3D printed portrait, NT$10,000 for a 15cm figurine and NT$14,000 for a 20cm version.
Although pundits have speculated that 3D printing would trigger a third industrial revolution and change the course of human history, Chen said there are still too many limitations that prevent companies from using 3D printers to reduce manufacturing costs.
“It may take more time than people tend to think for the so-called third industrial revolution to happen with 3D printers,” he said.
Chen said he hopes his staff of four employees could produce as many as 200 figurines a month and plans to develop chain-store operations in Taiwan in the long term to stimulate demand for 3D printed figurines.
Market researcher International Data Corp (IDC) last month predicted that Taiwan’s 3D printer market would see 64 percent growth in unit sales this year, driven mainly by demand from local precision-machinery manufacturers for faster product delivery and lower manufacturing costs, along with falling average selling prices.