While many of his peers are eagerly awaiting college acceptance letters in the mail, Cameron Maciel doesn’t see the point in taking that next step.
After all, a local makerspace is equipping him with the manufacturing tools and skills necessary to make his dreams come true. Makerspaces offer an array of equipment and classes, allowing people to tinker and make things.
“After you graduate high school and you already have a completed product you can sell, what’s the point?” Maciel said, while refining the parts for a semi-automatic screen-printing press he’s building at Vocademy Makerspace in Riverside, California.
It’s the invention that will make his screen-printing business more efficient and that he hopes to take to market one day.
“A lot of people in high school feel they have to wait until college to build what they want to build,” Maciel said. “For me, I didn’t want to wait that long. I wanted to get started now. But I didn’t have the tools then.”High school senior Cameron Maciel discusses the problem he's trying to solve and his dreams for the future.
Maciel found those tools at Vocademy Makerspace, which opened down the street from him in 2013, with starting capital that included $62,000 in crowdfunding.
After paying the monthly membership fee and taking training courses, Maciel 3D printed the parts of his semi-automatic printing press, a process by which a 3D object is created by laying down successive thin layers of material, usually plastic filament.
After perfecting the measurements via trial and error, Maciel built the real functional version out of sheet metal, based on the 3D-printed prototype. 3D printers that print metal still cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Maciel crafted his press out of aluminum using a milling machine, lathe, sheet metal brake, vertical band saw, and drill press.
Such industrial tools are popping up in makerspaces and individual garages as they have evolved to become more affordable and user-friendly. Now anyone can bring an idea for a product to life and profit off that ingenuity.
“There's definitely a gold rush that's happening right now as a result of this technology enabling people to explore their ideas,” said Joseph Chiu, who founded Toybuilder Labs, a Pasadena-based business that sells 3D printers and 3D printing filament.
3D printing has gotten the most attention in recent years. Entrepreneurs are hastening to solve all sorts of problems using the technology, from building houses to printing human organs.
Makers are “hoping their unique idea may resonate with buyers and if they do a good job, they'll be able to turn that into a successful product,” Chiu said.Makerspaces like Vocademy Makerspace in Riverside, California are democratizing access to the tools of making.
Chiu himself is cashing in on this phenomenon by meeting demand for the technology. “It's the gold rush and then the people selling the pans and the shovel to the gold rush,” he said. “There's business to be made in both sides of this.”
The cost of 3D printers has fallen dramatically as inventors and entrepreneurs have brought new versions of the technology to market.
In 2009, key patents expired on 3D printing technology pioneered in the late 1980s, allowing anybody to tinker with and build upon those blueprints.
That resulted in an explosion of open-source 3D printers and the home and hobbyist models that exist today. Within years, prices fell from many thousands of dollars to as little as $300.
That competition piles pressure on service providers to constantly stay on top of the latest technology. Bryan and Maya Jaycox were early movers when they started a 3D printing and laser cutting shop in Los Angeles in 2011.
Over the years, the two have seen a lot of shops and makerspaces pop up offering similar services as The Build Shop.
“As somebody trying to keep a business running, it’s definitely a battle to try and keep yourself relevant in a marketplace that has the potential to become oversaturated,” Bryan Jaycox said.
Now that anyone with a 3D printer in their garage can offer printing services or sell printed wares, competition based on price point could drive a “race to the bottom,” he said.
The Jaycoxes have had to contemplate the place that a shop like theirs occupies in the market. “There’s that constant battle to establish yourself as a quality provider, to make sure you’re not caught in that trap of constantly depreciating prices,” he said.
While 3D printing entrepreneurs are flooding the market, other manufacturing skills are in short supply — those required to create strong functional products based on 3D printed prototypes.
That includes hands-on skills like machining, sheet metal working, welding, injection molding and the programming involved in operating modern, computer-controlled equipment.
Travis Ripley is helping to fill that skills gap, serving as a digital fabrication specialist at a studio in San Diego, where he manufactures all the physical details that go into a restaurant or retail space, like the bar, seating and windows.Travis Ripley jumpstarted his career in manufacturing with visits to makerspaces up and down the state.
But Ripley sure didn’t acquire those skills through a traditional education, instead taking classes at makerspaces up and down the state, an education that cost him about $5,000. Ripley met entrepreneurs at these makerspaces, who inspired him to follow in their footsteps.
“They were making their own Kickstarters and doing this whole thing,” Ripley said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to do that. I’m going to be my own boss.’ I don’t aspire to be a millionaire, but if it takes me there, whatever. It’s just, I want to make products that help people.”
Ripley is starting to stock up on manufacturing equipment at home so that he can start his own shop one day. So far, he’s got a router, which cuts shapes out of various materials. He built it himself using open-source blueprints available online. He also owns a 3D printer that actually printed the parts for additional 3D printers that he gave his friends.
Ripley is still paying off student loans from his $80,000 degree in game design and development from the Art Institute of California in San Diego.
“I’m not really flushing [the degree] down the toilet — it helped me,” he said. “But I was like, I’ve got to do something bigger and more grandiose.”