The constant buzz surrounding 3D printer technology is finally making its way into the mainstream and a new company in Chicago is welcoming consumers to try out the revolutionary concept firsthand. The 3D Printing Experience, a new space that opened in Chicago Monday, is educating the public on how the technology works by offering a chance to watch or experience the printing process.
Customers can have their head scanned and replicated in a 3D portrait, create jewelry or smaller objects like iPhone cases, and can request custom printed items. The setup includes around 20 printers, including an industrial grade printer that co-founder Julie Freidman Steele tells TIME is the first of its kind available for public access. Most industrial 3D printers are typically not available for retail use. The industrial grade printer runs about a quarter of a million dollars, while other printers in use include smaller mini printers that are available for purchase for about $1,000 as well as the MakerBot machines, which run around $1,800 to $2,400.
“We’re trying to create that mass adoption of manufacturing to bring it back to the United States and to anyone, for that matter, anywhere in the world,” Steele says.
Printing costs around the $20 mark, but customers are welcome to play around and design objects for free. Though the space has only been open a few days, Steele says she’s already printed a violin and as well as a prototype for a inexpensive water filter for people in Haiti to use in investment meetings. “What’s really unique is we have no inventory,” Steele says. “We can print anything on the spot.”
The company also runs workshops every evening, ranging from introductions to scanning as well as creating 3D objects such as iPhone cases. Customers can also score $100 worth of 3D printing by completing “quest cards,” or VIP cards that entail learning about the different processes involved, such as the different materials 3D printing uses.
“You can talk about 3D printing but unless you have an intimate experience with the technology it’s really hard to understand,” Steele says. “So we try to make sure everyone has an experience.”
With an increasing independent workforce, Steele says it’s important to educate the public in 3D printing and manufacturing their own things. She said there’s no immediate plans to open a space in other cities, but is open to working with social entrepreneurs to do so.
“We had a lawyer, an engineer, an artist, someone from the inner city and a young kid all talking about 3D printing where they would otherwise never get to come together,” Steele said of the opening. “They were all on the same level. It’s really neat to see how the playing field is completely even.”