Remember the time when internet cafés were popping up all over the place for people to chat and email before the technology was common in every home? Something similar is happening in 3D printing. Several 3D cafés have opened in Europe, Asia and North America for people to learn about the new technology and experiment with their own projects.
Dimension Alley in Berlin, Germany, is one of those cafés and was, according to its founders, the first to open in Europe. Its motto “from zero to maker” is meant to invite everybody who is curious about the technology – from schoolchildren to engineers to retirees. “The idea was to introduce 3D printing to the masses in a relaxing and inviting café environment”, says Dimension Alley co-founder Amin Torabi.
Dimension Alley just celebrated its six months anniversary and the founders Norma Barr and Amin Torabi are still intrigued by every aspect of the maker culture they hope to inspire. “3D printing technology is evolving very fast, bringing new possibilities every day. Educating people about these new possibilities at the same time that we are figuring it out ourselves is extremely exciting”, says Torabi.
The projects that have been completed at Dimension Alley range from abstract shapes to key rings to a lock holder for a bicycle. While most products are printed with PLA (corn starch based plastic), especially schoolchildren enjoy sweeter options such as sugar icing. One of the projects the founders of Dimension Alley, Barr and Torabi, are especially excited about is a 3D terrain model. The customer wanted to create a landscape model for an 80th birthday. It should depict the exact route the man drove to work for decades. Using mapping software, the duo printed and hand-painted the model. In addition to 3D printing and scanning services, Dimension Alley offers 3D printers and filaments for sale. It’s seminars range from one-day beginner to intermediate and business workshops.
In London, the new Makers Café opened its doors just days ago. Founder Soner Ozenc wanted to bring people together who are interested in the new technology and initiate collaborations, workshops and discussions. His goal is to create a space for makers, tinkerers, wonderers and designers who are exploring new technologies, new processes and new ways of looking at things and – as he states on his website – “for those of us who need our caffeine while cultivating these fragile ideas”.
In Barcelona, creative types can also enjoy a cup of coffee while working on 3D projects. The first Spanish FabCafé opened in March 2014 and offers laser-cutting and 3D printing. It is part of a network of FabCafés with other cafés in Tokyo and Taipei. A 3D café offering food, drinks and 3D printing has also opened in a popular section of Buenos Aires.
In Canada, several public libraries have started offering 3D printing services to educate students and the general public about 3D printing. According to CBC news there have been huge waiting lists for the 60-minute certification class that library users have to take before getting access to the 3D printers. Despite the wait, even teachers have been trying out the technology at the libraries to see how they can use 3D printing in their classrooms.
While 3D cafés and libraries are the most popular options for people who want to see what the technology is all about, there are also for-profit 3D labs that offer access for a monthly fee (such as MakerLabs) and are popular with people who print semi-professionally as engineers, inventors or artists or who work on student projects.
One thing is certain: The cafés and public space where schoolchildren and retirees can try out the new technology next to artists, designers and engineers will have a big impact on the acceptance and prevalence of 3D printing in the society of the future. Dimension Alley’s co-founder Torabi thinks that while “no one can predict where 3D printing is headed, there is no doubt that it is going to impact our life in many ways from supply chain, product creation, manufacturing, internal organization within companies to education.” He also believes that a variety of new type of stores that never existed before will open. 3D printing cafés are a good example of what is still to come.