Richmond, Virginia is my kind of town. The streets aren’t littered with Starbucks and, most days, you end up frequenting several local spots to take care of your daily needs. Sometimes, for some of you out there, those needs include having a design, prototype or end-use product 3D printed. With the internet at your disposal, there is an absurd amount of options to satisfy your printing needs. There are many websites that offer to print and ship your CAD files and sell 3D printers online, but what these websites can’t offer is personal attention and training. Having a physical location facilitates a lot more personal interaction, which I find always helps people communicate and understand new concepts better than any other method. Computers still can’t teach as well as people, and with so many newcomers finding new uses for 3D printing, the human touch is still what counts most. Especially when it comes to learning about 3D printing.
Enter 3D Central, Richmond’s newest one-stop shop for all of your 3D printing needs. The store has been in the works for about a year and is the brainchild of husband and wife team Chris Caswell and Cyndi Laird, their friend Andrew Sink, and long-time entrepreneur and businessman, Ian Sole. Caswell and Laird originally started their 3D printing business online, but they always hoped the business could expand into a storefront. When Ian met Chris and Cyndi, he was excited by the possibility of a storefront 3D printing hub that could service the thriving young community in Richmond.
The vision for a customer’s time at the store is to provide them with a “visit to the micro-brewery” experience. Customers get a first-hand view of how 3D scanning, printing, and design work and come away with much more than a cool 3D print. Customers gain an understanding of the different kinds of machines, materials, and trends in the 3D printing industry. One visit to 3D Central could have you leaving with an awesome 3D printed toy, a piece of jewelry, a prosthetic hand, or a brand new 3D printer to get you started printing on your own. They will also be offering classes for people to learn how to use 3D technology.
When you walk into the store, there are shelves of cool objects to choose from, including toys, games, costume accessories, and amazing products like the YUNI, a stereo headset designed for people with hearing loss in one ear. On one of the shelves is a 3D printed prosthetic hand that they said costs about $25 to make, but makes a huge difference in the life of a person in need. I have written many articles about how 3D printing is changing the lives of amputees through its ability to offer affordable prostheses, and it’s always great to see the one of these hands, whether at a Maker Faire or sitting front and center at new shop like 3D Central. It was even cooler when Chris told me that they donated several of these prosthetic hands through e-NABLE to kids in Syria.
Besides all of the great 3D printed objects for sale, 3D Central will offer a line of 3D printers and accessories, as well as custom 3D design, 3D scanning, prototyping/printing services and education and training classes. There is a whole lot of innovation and creativity packed into this little shop, and you can feel a spark the instant you walk through the door. If you want to talk shop, you are definitely in the right place. I was impressed with their level of knowledge and willingness to experiment with 3D technology. These people have answers, and if they don’t, they’ll help you figure out how you can find what you are looking for with only the best intentions.
Owner Chris Caswell is enthusiastic about the future of 3D printing and of 3D Central in Richmond. He says, “We are so excited to be here and offer this service to Richmond, which we believe is a great place to live and work – rich in history, steeped in culture, great schools and universities, and a vibrant, creative, business community.”
But what does it take to run a small 3D printing shop in a city like Richmond? Since 3D Central just opened, I’ll be able to follow up with Chris, Cyndi, Andrew, and Ian and report on the challenges and successes following their grand opening. With major companies stirring, making moves and creating monolithic organizations like the 3MF Consortium, it dawned on me that it would be interesting to take a closer look at a quick and nimble operation like 3D Central and compare it with the slower juggernaut waking up in Silicon Valley.
The next time you are in Richmond, Virginia, stop by and say hello to Chris, Cyndi, and Andrew at 3D Central and like them on Facebook to support the awesome work they are doing. 3D Central is located at 1308 West Main Street, just up the street from Virginia Commonwealth University. For more information call 540-327-1617 or email Ian Sole.