Interview Date: May 2013
Hi Hugh, give us a little background on yourself before you discovered
3D Printing? (degree, relevant work experience, interests, etc)
A: I graduated 2011 from the University of Exeter
with a degree is Computer Science. I worked for a year as a programmer
and now as a software architect.
And how did you get into 3D Printing?
A: I always found 3d printers fascinating and
when I heard about the Reprap project I just had to get one. Initially
I thought they'd be loud, expensive and smelly but last November
I went to a talk on 3d printing and saw one in real life. It was
quiet, odourless and relatively cheap so I brought one. It arrived
in late december and I had absolutely no idea what to do with
it. 2 weekends later I got some decent prints from it. At first
I was printing test pieces and toys but I then started on printing
a full set of spare parts in case anything broke and I realised
how useful the printer could be.
In the early part of 2013 you founded 3Distributed, tell us more
about your company and what you guys do?
A: 3Distributed has 3 founders: me, Andy and
Neil. Currently we have a successful online shop and we sell a
lot on Ebay. We sell printed parts and 'vitamins' - motors, electronics,
heated beds... We also supply Nylon 618 filament and will be offering
PVA very soon. Moving forwards we are launching a new product
in the next few weeks which we will unveil in due course and long
term we hope to launch a consumer printer of our own design.
How many 3D Printers do you currently have, what types are they?
A: We have 2 Printrbots, 3 Mendel 90s (and 2
being built), 2 rostocks, a Prusa i3 and another printer which
we have modified so much I wouldn't know what to call it. They
are in various states of building and print readiness.
How have you found using them and what is the quality of the 3D
A: The Printrbots and the Mendel 90s produce
great prints. The rostocks we are still experimenting with and
should be getting good prints from in the next week or two. The
quality across all these printers is very much the same.
Do they always print perfection first time or is there an element
of ongoing calibration and tweaking?
A: The Printrbots print perfectly every time
to the point where we often start it remotely when we're not home.
The Mendel 90s are almost there and the rostocks are experimental.
Who is your main client base currently, is it mainly the maker
community or more general consumers?
A: Currently 95% of clients are makers. We also
get a few product designers. I expect this to change over the
next few months to probably around 50/50.
Do you ship worldwide or to UK only? Where have you seen most
A: We do ship worldwide. Only 50% of our orders
are from within the UK. The rest are mostly from Europe although
we've had a lot of orders from Russia and Brazil.
What has been the demand for your products and have you seen a
A: The demand for printed parts is always the
hardest to meet as it takes so long to print the parts. Apart
from that the highest demand is for nylon filament which has some
great properties. Across the board all our products are selling
How do you think 3D Printing will evolve over the next few years?
A: If you believe the hype everyone will have
one in their homes. I don't think that'll happen for a while but
I think that a lot of industries will start using them. When printers
become easy enough to use and I think every DIY person out there
will have one. I also expect online printing services like Shapeways
to continue growing rapidly and for lower end equivalents to show
When do you see 3D Printing breaking out of the maker / hobbiest
community and into the mainstream?
A: At the moment I don't think any of the printers
on the market are easy enough to use. This will change gradually.
Right now, 50% of people I meet have heard of 3d printing. In
a year or so I expect about half of them to of seen an actual
printer, or used an online printing service. As to how many will
own one it's hard to predict.
Many people say 3D Printing will be bigger than the internet,
do you agree and why?
A: No. The power of the internet is the ability
to communicate and to share. 3D printing is going to be huge,
but the internet will underpin every part of it and this is only
one small part of what the internet offers. Financially I think
3D printing could become as big as social media - but they both
rely on the internet.
What issues or hurdles do you think the industry will experience
over the next few years?
A: People are used to things just working. Although
the current group of makers are pretty tolerant to printer breakdowns
this is a major barrier for mass adoption. We are also still missing
the 'killer app' - when I tell people about 3d printing they think
it's impressive but take a while to work out why they'd ever want
There are many players coming into the market at all levels from
individual designers through to billion dollar companies, who
are your favourites and who are the ones to watch?
A: Makerbot are a great business and Up have
the best consumer printer. The billion dollar companies like HP
and 3D Systems are unlikely to win in the 3d printing world unless
they massively change their game. The ones to watch are the many
small companies turning repraps into businesses.
For anyone buying a 3D Printer is 3D Printing easy to get to grips
with (software / hardware, etc) or do you need to be a technically
A: I think overall it depends how much effort
you want to put in and what budget you go in at. At the cheaper
end you need to be very technical - for £400 you can build
your own printer, but you'll have to upload the firmware yourself
and build the machine - and that's after sourcing all the components.
At the higher end there are a few ready to go printers from Makerbot
and Up which should work pretty much out of the box. In between
you can get kits with a wide range of difficulties. The software
side can is easy once you've set it up, but the initial work can
be a little technical. Once a 3d printer is set up right it tends
to be very reliable.
you have any advice for people thinking of setting up a business
in the 3D Printing arena?
A: Do it! This is a booming industry and at the
moment the entry cost is incredibly low. I spent probably £600
before I broke even and the rest of the business has grown purely
from its profits.
3Distributed Contact Details:
Contact: Hugh Halford-Thompson