Sarah Lin is the founder and creative director of Idea Beans, an Onehunga-based company that offers a range of 3D services including design, scanning and printing.
When and how did you start your business?
My background is in 3D CAD [computer-aided design], and before I started this company I was doing 3D design for exhibitions and events for 12 years. I first saw some 3D printers at a trade show and thought they would really expand what I could do with my skills.
So in 2012 I bought a printer, registered my company and started off printing things like prototypes and toys for clients, as well as thinking about what I could design myself with this technology to create things that people hadn't seen before.
What was the opportunity you saw to build a business with 3D printing technology?
In the events industry, we were doing a lot of experiential brand activation and playing with different ideas. I thought 3D printing would bring something new to what I was doing; that it would be great to create just simple things like customised promotional items - a little 3D printed key chain that looks like a company's logo, for example, or something clever to hold your iphone. Then people started asking if I could do things like put a scan of themselves on an iphone cover, so I went into 3D scanning as well as printing.
Who uses your services and what other kinds of things are they asking for?
3D design-wise, clients will come to me with a sketch of their idea for a product, so I'll turn their sketches into CAD models and print their prototype to see if it works. And we'll probably go through a few revisions until they're happy with it.
Nowadays I also get clients who can do the design themselves and come to me with their own 3D CAD files and I'll just print what they want. For example, one of my clients is a local baby shoe company. They'll design a new shoe sole, but their manufacturer is in Indonesia and it will take too long to get a sample made up there. So they bring me their CAD file, I'll print it out, and if they're happy with it they'll tell their manufacturer to put it into production. It saves them a lot of waiting time.
Do you manufacture products as well as prototype?
Yes, I manufacture products and parts for people. At the moment I'm printing hundreds of sinker plugs for a fishing skipper. That client comes to me and says 'can I have 100 units this week, and 100 next week?'. It's not practical for him to get them injection moulded and they don't take too long for me to print.
I've found you need to educate people about this technology because there are so many things you can do with it; it's not just for mechanical engineers, it applies to all levels of life.
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What have been the biggest challenges in building your business so far?
With this business I'm trying to help people bring their ideas to life, but I do want to develop some products myself. That's been challenging because it's very hard to find a product that hasn't been done before, so you need to invest a lot of time to come up with an idea and spend time making the prototype - which you don't get paid for.
One example of a project I've been working on is I've been scanning the bodies of pregnant women each month, from four to nine months, with the idea of creating a visual diary for them of how their body changes.
I've also wanted to find some more meaningful purposes for my printers - because I've got six of them - so I found this organisation in the States called E-Nable, which sources people with 3D printers to help them print hands for local recipients. I got matched with a little girl from Hamilton, received her measurements and other details and printed a hand for her.
Since then I've had three more requests from other recipients. As well as being able to use the technology in a meaningful way, I've found the learning process from that experience rewarding.