Have you ever wanted to get an idea from your head into your hands as quickly as possible? Vancouver’s Tinkerine is creating a three-dimensional printing ecosystem that opens the door to just this kind of easy innovation and exploration, thanks to support from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).
Dream, design and go!
As a student at Simon Fraser University in 2010, Eugene Suyu was turned on to the potential of 3-D printing, a process that translates two-dimensional images into 3-D models by applying layers of material until an object takes form. At the time, most 3-D printers were slow to print, and cumbersome to move from location to location.
Fresh out of school and inspired to change things up, Suyu and his partners launched a bootstrap start-up in 2012 to build a better desktop 3-D printer. Before long, they knew they were on to something.
Now CEO of Tinkerine, Suyu and his partners developed the DittoTMPro, one of the first desktop 3-D printers retailing under the US $2,000 mark, putting it within reach of consumers, designers, educators, architects and other small-office professionals. The DittoPro was also smaller, more reliable, faster and offered finer print resolution.
The accolades came quickly. In 2014, DittoPro was selected as one of the top 10 3-D printers by industry product reviewer Make: magazine. It also won the Best 3-D Printing Product award at the Consumer Electronics Show Asia 2015.
Leapfrogging the competition through technology
“Our first printer changed the industry standard in terms of ease-of-use, aesthetics and price,” explained Suyu. “But we knew continued R&D had to be at the foundation of our strategy to grow.”
"Being able to tap into the NRC-IRAP network, funding and advice enabled us to leapfrog the market from a technical perspective. It gave us the acceleration on the R&D side we would never have had at this stage."
So Tinkerine approached NRC-IRAP for help with a research project that would enable it to bring together its goals of enhanced reliability, performance and usability for future models of the DittoPro.
“We discussed business strategy and what they needed as a technical competitive edge to get noticed in the market,” said Jerome Kashetsky, an NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA). A decision was made to focus on calibration in order to create the first desktop 3-D printer that didn't require a technician to return the printer to factory settings after shipping. With NRC-IRAP's support and advice, Tinkerine hired an engineer to develop the necessary software and to provide the new hire with a clear R&D roadmap to achieve this goal.
The new software will go into the next DittoPro release to make it a genuinely plug-and-play experience, part of Tinkerine's strategy to create an entire 3-D printing ecosystem with online training and course content that will enable teachers, students and other users to turn their project ideas into reality quickly and easily, explained Suyu.
“Being able to tap into the NRC-IRAP network, funding and advice enabled us to leapfrog the market from a technical perspective,” said Suyu. “It gave us the acceleration on the R&D side we would never have had at this stage.”
Sky's the limit
The future is looking bright for Tinkerine. U.S.-based IT research and advisory firm Gartner predicts global sales in the 3-D printing market could reach $14.9 billion by 2019. Already, 2015 was a milestone year for the company, with growth to 15 employees and a near tripling of revenue to $1.28 million between 2014 and 2015.
For Suyu, “To say the sky's the limit for this technology is not too far fetched.” School boards in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby are adopting the DittoPro, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses the DittoPro in its labs. With its eye on the educational market – and growing a generation fluent in 3-D printing – Tinkerine hopes to achieve strong sales growth year to year, while continuing to bring forth technology that empowers the next generation of innovators.