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Future Now: 3D Printing in Denver

A model of city buildings took 10 hours to print.

Debra Wilcox and Kenton Kuhn opened The 3D Printing Store in late 2012.

Debra Wilcox breaks apart the printed mold to show the 3-d sphere.

Kenton Kuhn takes a finished product out of the printer.

A few samples of what can be printed.

A 3-d sphere.

3D printing might just change the world, and Denver is on the leading edge. In November 2012, Debra Wilcox and Kenton Kuhn recognized the need for a three-dimensional printing shop and opened The 3D Printing Store in northeast Denver. The cutting-edge technology has uses in prototyping and manufacturing, but customers also include artists and hobbyists.
It seems like Star Trek technology has come through the wormhole and landed in Denver, but three-dimensional printing has roots in the real world of the 1980s. The first 3D printer came to market in 1988, but innovation has hit warp speed by 2013.
 
A quarter-century later, 3D printing is doing for manufacturing and prototyping what computers and the Internet have already done for the creation and design of objects: democratizing them. Denver is right in the middle of this technological revolution, with the opening of The 3D Printing Store being one of the prime cases in point.

Debra Wilcox and Kenton Kuhn opened The 3D Printing Store in late 2012. A 3D idea from the back of a cocktail napkin
 
"This was something of an idea born on a cocktail napkin," explains co-owner Debra Wilcox. "Most people are intrigued by the idea of printing something, but few know how to create a three-dimensional drawing that can become a print. It's a process, and we're able to help individuals and businesses alike with design through the printing of their ideas."
 
The 3D Printing Store is excited to be in Denver -- Denver is Kuhn and Wilcox's home city, but equally important, Denver has established itself as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Since opening in November, Wilcox says they've had an incredible response, with a startling amount of interesting ideas that they've wanted to print, working with one of a kind prototypes, artists and engineers. 
 
"We're part of a growing number of small businesses who are serving customers locally, and in the process, creating jobs and providing a cost effective way for people to make an initial prototype," says Wilcox. "We've already had many customers who need a model that they could use to show to investors in order to take their ideas to the next level for mass production. For some local businesses, we can manufacture items on an as-needed basis so they don't order more than they need."

Scratching the surface
 
The timing couldn't be better for the store's opening. Public interest continues to grow, only further sustained by presidential endorsements and international brands like Nokia. North of Denver in Loveland, 3D printer manufacturer Aleph Objects is taking off.

In his 2013 State of the Union Address, Obama cited the revolutionary power of 3D printing. "The President's assessment of 3D printing as a new way to think about manufacturing is true -- the technology is mind-blowing, to put it lightly," says Wilcox. We are often told that ‘if you dream it you can do it,' and this sentiment has never been more true than with the capability of 3D printing -- and we've only just begun to scratch the surface." 
 
In terms of volume and variety, the store will be taking on all projects that they can print, with the exception of certain large objects and materials. Clients range from would-be inventors with a vague idea of what they want printed to others who have a completed design in hand and want to use the store's machines to print a prototype. 
 
"The technology and our services allow for almost any project to be completed," explains Wilcox. "We're not a mass production facility.  We're best at custom projects or small production runs. There are some limits to printing and those are related to the ability of the current printers to print certain materials and very large objects. Metal printing is possible, but very expensive -- while we don't have those printers in the store, we have the ability to get those items printed for customers."

Almost any imaginable objectA few samples of what can be printed.
 
So far, The 3D Printing Store has printed works of art, handles, planetary gears, circuitry covers and model train cars. They've also made some of items that show what the technology can do, like printable mustaches, pieces of chain printed as a single object and a functional one-piece nut and bolt.

Another fun item in the works: a printable bottle opener for a series of public workshops with Tentiko, a company that books authentic experiences in Denver. These 3D-printing workshops are slated for April 27, May 25 and June 22 and will include wine and beer.
 
Tentiko Co-Founder Jim Chesebro says the response has been strong. "People have been excited about 3D printing in general and this class in particular," he says. "We're trying to figure out a different 3D printing class to run in between -- we don't want to do a bottle opener every two weeks."
 
Chesebro says 3D printing captures people's imaginations. "Everybody I know says they kind of want to get a 3D printer," he says. If they can't rationalize buying one, "They want to see it. They want to be involved.
 
Wilcox thinks the sky's the limit for The 3D Printing Store. She and Kuhn hope to open additional locations as demand dictates. "We've been approached about and have considered other markets," says WIlcox. "We are confident that our model will continue to be successful." 

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Samantha Alviani.

Samantha Alviani is a freelance writer and contributor to Confluence and Westword.
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