|A simple 3D printing and electronics prototyping setup on a single tabletop.|
While the initial investment can be relatively high for an individual, collectives such as makerspaces can buy one or more 3D printers and make income from activities ranging from educational workshops, hardware prototyping for local entrepreneurs, and fulfilling short-run orders for local businesses.
ProgressTH exists as a private fabrication lab, but still processes requests for 3D printing services. We work with at least two companies that are involved in highly customized and short run production who could otherwise not afford to approach a traditional factory for the designing and fabrication services they require.
Also, as part of our collaboration with Bangkok-based children's hospital, Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health (QSNICH), we regularly perform prototyping and short-run production services to create a wide range of highly customized solutions for nurses, doctors, and technicians.
|Laser cutting at FabCafe Bangkok.|
While we do not make much income doing this because it is not our primary focus, those that do focus solely on 3D printing services can make a decent living here, basically running a "desktop factory."
Additionally, makerspaces like FabCafe Bangkok offer both 3D printing and laser cutting services, along with many unique workshops that teach people how to innovate, design, and physically fabricate their ideas into tangible products.
Skills & Equipment Required
In order to start your own 3D printing service, you obviously need a 3D printer. But more than that, you need to be able to actually 3D design. While there is a learning curve, it is not as steep as some might think, nor does it require years of specialized training or an expensive engineering degree.
|Plastic 3D printing filament.|
The hardware required is obviously a 3D printer and plastic filament. Just a few years ago, you could count on both hands the number of 3D printers available to purchase. Today, the choices are almost overwhelming.
We personally stick with opensource designs that rely on tried and true architectures for which many companies and suppliers provide spare parts for. Our printer, a Thai-made ExtraBot, is a clone of Ultimaker's Original+. It shares many characteristics, parts, and electronic components with many RepRap builds.
When our heating element's wire was malfunctioning, we were easily able to find a local supplier who shipped 2 new ones to us for around 70 THB (2 USD). Because the heating element and the assembly it is a part of is also opensource, we found many videos online that showed how to assemble and disassemble it, allowing us to repair it ourselves.
Owning and maintaining a 3D printer is not like owning a paper printer. The "hotend" of a 3D printer can reach temperatures of between 180-250+ degrees Celsius. Caution and commonsense is required, as is patience and proper safety when performing repairs. But if you invest the time required to properly learn these skills, you will be confidently 3D printing in no time.
In addition to local makerspaces here in Bangkok, we also have Gravitech, an electronics company that designs, prototypes, and manufacturers hardware for the maker, engineering, and prototyping community here. Until recently, their factory was in the US, and other products they offered were imported from around the world, including from the US, Europe, and China.
However, they now have their own microfactory in northern Bangkok at a facility called RICH. Because of the dropping costs and increasing capabilities of manufacturing, this localization of manufacturing is now possible. While Gravitech is an experienced company, and such microfactories are still out of the reach of most makerspaces, the march of technology almost inevitably ensures that it won't be for long.
|Gravitech's Bangkok-based microfactory can produce hundreds of electronic boards a day. Designing, prototyping, manufacturing, testing, and delivery can be done in just days.|
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