Bilby 3D has just officially opened their Sydney store and service centre. Brent Balinski spoke to co-owner Lee Bilby about the joys of being part of the 3D printing geek community, the democratisation of manufacturing offered by it, and about some newer printing materials.
“And that took us down a path for a long time, where we were determined to change the world for other people who were travelling the same path we had.”
It was a willingness to have a go that saw the Bilbys start importing their own 3D printer filament, both because there was nobody else to do it and because they saw an opportunity supplying to other “geeks”.
It was the same attitude that saw them tinkering and competing with each other over who could build the best machine, eventually importing these as well.
“As everybody was doing back then, we were importing all our plastic filament for a long time,” said Lee Bilby.
“And you had to get it through Customs, and nobody at Customs knew what it was, either, and it was quite tedious. And we thought ‘this is quite silly; we own a distribution house, let’s buy it in bulk and other geeks like ourselves can buy it off us and we’ll ship it out’.”
Makers before there was really a word for the Maker subculture, their “having a go” has seen their 3D printing business outgrow their former Bega headquarters and relocate to Alexandria, just out of the Sydney CBD.
Proudly noting that they have supplied Ford, Boeing, the Department of Defence and almost every university in Australia, the couple has just officially opened its Sydney store, training and service facility, with plans to serve the needs of the city’s businesses and hobbyists.
The couple sells machines including MakerBot, Roland and Printrbot (who they partnered with last October), services and upgrades machines, runs classes and sells consumables (some of which they make themselves) out of Alexandria.
“Some of that is we’ve written custom profiles that work, for example, with the MakerBot software to get resolutions outside what they say comes out of the box,” Lee Bilby told Manufacturers’ Monthly of the classes, which also cover things like CAD design and surfacing techniques.
“For example 50 micron prints that you wouldn’t be able to do without custom software: we teach people about that.”
Among the filaments sold are some novel offerings from the company (which opened a factory to manufacture these in China about two-and-a-half years ago).
These include filaments that change colour when exposed to UV or heat, a wood composite (Laywoo brand, made by CC Products in Germany), and new metal-based products.
There was a definite demand for newer materials, as seen at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show event in Las Vegas, agreed Bilby.
“And there’s so much demand for metal,” she said.
“In November last year we released the bronze filament, we’ve got copper coming out next month and even gold filament coming out. And that’s awesome [laughs].”
Also new – unveiled at the event – were two new products from Printrbot: the sub-$2,000 prosumer-level Printrbot Plus and an upgrade for Printrbot Simple 2.
Of the partnership with Printrbot, Bilby said it was a natural match as the companies shared a similar ethos. This involved embracing the DIY spirit of the Maker culture, making the technology as accessible as possible, and welcoming users’ desire to tweak things to suit (Printrbot founder Brook Drumm has spruiked his machines as “perhaps the easiest 3d printer to customize and change”).
The ability to get things done on your own and the much-heralded “democratisation of manufacturing” offered by 3D printing are great things, she said. And it was great news for small local companies.
“People that have an idea and in the past they never would’ve got to market,” she said.
“But because of 3D printing they can come up with that idea, they can play around with iterations and designs and in some cases can 3D print the end-stage product and put it out on the market.”