May 15, 2014 Updated: May 21, 2014 at 9:09 am
Once the domain of hobbyists and technology entrepreneurs, three-dimensional printing has gone mainstream in Colorado Springs with the opening of the first retail store that will make small and mid-sized objects for customers.
The 3D Printing Store opened last month in a small industrial building off Garden of the Gods Road, the fourth Colorado affiliate in a chain that started 1 1/2 years ago in the Denver area.
The business offers 3D printing services for $20 to $30 an hour for customers who have their own designs for projects, and also sells printers for $1,600. The devices, which are about the size of a microwave oven, create objects such as cell phone cases and chess sets by forming them a layer at a time from spools of plastic filament that is the same plastic used in Lego blocks.
The store is a subsidiary of Colorado Springs-based MAM-A, which opened it as part of a larger strategy to move into other areas amid a steep decline in its original business: manufacturing and selling high-quality CDs to archive information and photographs. Although MAM-A still relies on sales of its CDs for most of its revenue, its sales have dropped by more than half since peaking more than a decade ago as USB drives and other methods of computer storage have eclipsed the once ubiquitous CD. Its workforce has dwindled from 130 at its peak to 16.
MAM-A, once called Mitsui Advanced Media-America and now owned by a Swiss holding company, also prints images on plastic cell phone and tablet computer cases for Denver-based Raiser Case LLC as fundraising items for schools and nonprofit organizations.
The 3D Printing Store in Colorado Springs has sold only a dozen or so printers and done a couple dozen 3D printing jobs, but company officials expect the operation to grow.
"We hope to grow the 3D printing business by doing prototypes and short production runs for manufacturers, engineers, designers and those who do this as a hobby," said Joe Weisenbach, who heads MAM-A's Colorado Springs operations. "We hope this will become half of our business within five or 10 years, and we are talking with another 3D printer manufacturer about becoming a reseller (retailer) for them."
Weisenbach said he became interested in 3D printing more than 15 years ago through a friend who services the devices. Last summer, he started researching ways to get into the business, and MAM-A eventually became a reseller for Minnesota-based printer manufacturer Afinia. Shortly after signing with Afinia, Weisenbach visited The 3D Printing Store in Denver, saw an opportunity and began talks with the owners about opening a location in Colorado Springs.
MAM-A was started by Japanese trading giant Mitsui, which sold a majority stake in the business to Milan, Italy-based Computer Support Italcard (CSI), then the largest manufacturer of recordable CDs in Europe. Competitive pressures forced CSI to shut down a few years later and sell MAM-A, its only profitable operation, to Hanschweiz Holding SA, a Swiss holding company. MAM-A outsourced its manufacturing two years ago to companies in India and the United Arab Emirates and sold its plant last year.
Address: 4250 Buckingham Drive
Phone number: 262-2451
General Manager: Joe Weisenbach
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday
Opened: April 1