The future comes to Pincourt, as owners of new 3-D print shop challenge the imagination
MONTREAL, QUE.: JANUARY 17, 2015 -- Claudia Schmidt left demonstrates the scanning procedure with one of the designers of MatterThings Mike Boutin right, in Pincourt, on Saturday, January 17, 2015. (Peter McCabe / MONTREAL GAZETTE)
As owners José Hoyo and Claudia Schmidt walk through their 3-D printing shop in Pincourt, explaining the differences between the 15 printers they have on hand, the same scene can be seen again and again outside the shop.
Passers-by slow their walk as they go by, some stopping completely to stare and point. A few even do a double-take, strolling by before inching back for another look.
“Almost everybody has heard of it, or seen it on television,” Schmidt said of 3-D printing. “But seen it live? Few actually have.”
It’s the appeal of their shop, MatterThings, which they consider to be the first storefront 3-D printing shop in Canada: people can actually walk in and see the machines at work.
Or, as Hoyo enthusiastically put it: “People can come in with a picture and we can make it an object. They can come in with an idea, and we can make it a reality.”
The process is still lost on many who enter the store, and a big part of running the operation is taking the time to explain it to people. The simplest explanation?
“It’s a robotic glue gun, really,” Hoyo said, explaining the rest as plainly as he could.
A string of biodegradable corn-plastic feeds the printer before being melted and laid down in successive layers, the whole process controlled by a computer program that knows the 3-D design needed. A small fan cools it off as it finishes and, before long, the object is ready.
Both Hoyo and Schmidt have always liked to tinker with things — he would assemble clocks and radios as a child, she took a liking to building websites. They later built a home together by hand over a five-year period.
While spending years in the aviation industry, they rubbed shoulders with engineers and eavesdropped on conversations about 3-D printing. When the machines themselves became easier to get a few years ago after early patents expired, they bought one and put it in their basement in Pincourt.
For them, the machine was a whole new way of tinkering and building.
After a few burns, they got the hang of the technology and put a message out online that they had a 3-D printer. Orders started coming in, and soon enough, people started asking if they could come see the machine in their Pincourt basement.
As demand grew, they started buying more printers, and three months ago, they finally opened up shop.
Though they haven’t paid themselves salaries yet, they plan to break even this year. “We’ve slept about four hours a night since,” Hoyo joked over the constant hum of the machines printing. “But that’s a good problem to have.”
Demands have varied since the fall, from teenagers completing school projects to seniors coming in looking for specific parts to antique cars.
“The most unassuming person who walks in will end up having the most interesting project,” Hoyo said. “A lot of it comes down to imagination.”
Most orders are for household items that normally couldn’t be replaced: knobs for washing machines, pieces for paper printers, toaster buttons, jewelry. One client recreated his wife’s broken cookie cutters so she could bake her treats again.
Michel Blais, 50, uses the store to order Beethoven busts to paint at home. Years ago he had asked a sculptor to make the same thing, and he says it took 10 months and costs $500. In the last two weeks, he’s been able to order 10 from the store for a fraction of the price. “The possibilities are just amazing,” he said.
These, of course, are the little projects one 3-D print shop has taken on in only a few months, but the owners see what the future could really bring.
Hoyo showed off a prosthetic hand they built: the palm, joints, finger sections all made of different materials and connecting in a way that makes it move like a real human hand.
It took about 3.5 hours to print the palm, and each finger component took between five and 20 minutes, Hoyo said. Around $40 of material.
His eyes light up when he explains the possibilities of providing 3-D printed prosthetic limbs to Third World countries. They get even wider and more expressive as he explains studies showing that in barely four years time, functional human organs will be able to be “printed.” After all, he said, a kidney for a rat has already been done.
“It’s going to change the world,” he said, closing the fist he created. “It really is.”
Last week, the shop’s printers were running full throttle as they tried to fill an order for 400 dollhouses. One printer was putting together parts of the roof, others were printing miniature couches, beds and lamps. One was shooting out eight miniature golden retrievers at the same time, all perfectly identical.
The day before, the shop was busy with a completely different project. A retired pilot, part of a local club that builds model aircraft, had an idea.
They sat him down in he middle of the shop on a large box, his feet elevated on two smaller cubes. In his hands was a makeshift control stick. They circled around him with a scanner they use for designs, and are now working on printing out miniature versions of him to put in his model airplanes.
Showing the result, Hoyo nodded in approval at its details. “You can even see his smile.”
MatterThings Inc. - 3D Printing
Pincourt, Quebec, Canada
1142, Rue Marie-Anne Est, Office #22
Montreal, Québec H2J 2B7
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- MatterThings Inc.