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Abby Sun, MEDILL

Michael Una shows the structure of  Shapeoko, a 3D carving machine sold by, 600 W. Van Buren.

Where 3D carving tops 3D printing

by Abby Sun
Jun 5, 2014

Drift Eyewear

Abby Sun, MEDILL has published a hard-cover book featuring inventor Chris Mantz and 3D carving customers.

 While the exotic technology called 3D printing has received lots of buzz recently, in fact its cousin 3D carving is becoming more important to small businesses seeking to minimize production costs, and to some hobbyists as well.


Here's the difference: 3D printing is an "additive technology" that melts materials and builds an object layer by layer, while 3D carving cuts a shape out from a chunk of material.   


Chris Mantz, CEO of a Chicago-based glasses frame designing company called Drift Eyewear, wasn't satisfied with the rate of production of his own hand-made frames, so turned to 3D carving two years ago.


“We didn’t really make money before making this progress,” Mantz said. "We are producing four times the amount we used to make.”


Michael Una, marketing director of Chicago-based, an online retailer that sells both 3D printing and 3D carving equipment and materials, says 3D carving is "accessible," pointing to a machine called Shapeoko starting at $649. Una said he has two main groups of customers for 3D carving: small business owners and independent designers; and “weekend warriors”, hobbyists who do their “designing during the weekdays and producing at weekends in their backyards or garages.”


In fact, Shapeoko itself emerged from a garage. In June 2011, Edward Ford, the designer of Shapeoko, and Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, launched a kickstarter campaign for their design “Shapeoko 0.3,” an early version of Shapeoko.


By June 26, according to Una, the project raised $11,078 with 125 supporters including 14 full machine orders and five partial orders. From April 2013 to October 2013, Inventables sold about 2,500 of the first commercial version of Shapeoko, and since then sales of a second version have doubled.


Meanwhile, as 3D carving has entered commercial uses by small business, 3D printing is attracting the attention of big businesses that require mass production.


Early this year the 2014 Global Manufacturing Outlook, an annual survey of 460 senior executives conducted by Forbes on behalf of KPMG, an international consulting firm, showed that 3D printing was one of the main strategies that global manufacturing companies intend to deploy to capitalize on market opportunities.


The materials used in entry-level 3D printers are limited mainly to nylon and plastic including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polylactic acid, which experts say are more appropriate for making industrial prototypes than consumer products. 


The 3D Printers Experience, at 316 N. Clark St, started a 3D printing interactive business a year ago. Encountering heavy traffic both online and through the door, the store turned from a 90- day pop-up, which is a short-term business with a finite assortment of goods, to a long-term retail store, and is now preparing to move to larger quarters. 


Jackson Levy, a digital fabrication specialist at the 3D Printers Experience store, sees the rise of digital fabrication in Chicago.


“Chicago is the city that has roots in manufacturing and has kind of been lost for a couple of decades,” said Levy, “but 3D printing, digital manufacturing as a whole is really something bringing back the nature of people to be active creators.”


The store has run workshops ranging from introductions to scanning as well as creating 3D objects such as iPhone cases. Customers pay $100 for classes learning about the different processes involved in 3D printing, such as the various materials 3D printing uses.


The cost of the store's 3D printing service depends on the size and complexity of the desired object, the level of detail and the volume of construction material needed.


The most expensive product ($1.80 per cubic centimeter) is nylon (used in the largest industrial machine in the store; it has better impact resistance), followed by acrylonitrile butadiene styrene ($1.05/cc) and then polylactic acid ($0.90/cc). To print a phone case, the price will range from $15 to $20.   


3D printing is also catching on nationally. Last year added a section of 3D printing and other "additive manufacturing" devices, and UPS announced six 3D printing pilot stores including one in Lisle, Ill.


An online poll of 86 small business owners conducted by The UPS Store showed high interest in trying the services, particularly people needing to create prototypes, artistic renderings or promotional materials.


Staples Inc. recently launched two 3D retail stores in Los Angeles and New York to introduce consumers and small-business owners to the emerging technology