3D Printing Shop Brings Delaware into Digital Age

joe ottoAt a time when the exploding tech market is dominated by so-called millenials, an enthusiastic baby boomer has stepped forward to bring Delaware deeper into the digital age with a 3D printing shop in Newark.

Meet Joe Otto, retired from a career in custom airplane manufacturing and aviation consulting, whose passion for technology and creativity has fueled Sovereign Air 3D Printing LLC.

The technology has been booming in the past few years, but many aren’t familiar with the concept, Otto said. Sometimes folks walk into the ultra-mod shop off Main Street and ask about printing wedding invitations or graduation announcements. “We have people come in and say, ‘OK, where do I put the ink?’” Otto said, chuckling.

3D printer

A 3D printer creates an M-shaped garden planter.

So, just what is 3D printing?

It’s when a machine takes information about an image – for example, from a USB drive – and converts that image into a real three-dimensional object. It “prints” the object by melding together layers of filament, usually a kind of biodegradable plastic lanyard at Sovereign Air.

That might sound like a passing fad, but Forbes cites a report predicting that the 3D printing industry, which generated more than $3 billion in revenue in 2013, will exceed $21 billion in revenue worldwide by 2020.

“It’s the most disruptive technology of the past five years,” Otto said. “And it’s fun being disruptive.”

3d printing objectsWhat’s so exciting, Otto said, is that the possibilities with 3D printing are endless. In his shop, there’s a bust of Teddy Roosevelt. A small replica of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. A vase, a napkin holder, a model of a T-Rex.

But 3D printing has its practical uses too. Inventors frequent his shop to print prototypes. Surgeons ask for bone replicas, and doctors at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore send scans of feet to create orthotics. In the back of Otto’s shop, industrial-size, heavy-duty printers make airplane parts for Boeing.

Otto and his wife, Ruby, hope to make 3D printing a part of the average Delawarean’s everyday life as well. They sell three kinds of 3D printers for home use and hold 3D-printing workshops every other Saturday to teach about printer usage and design software. They don’t their sell printers online and pride themselves on training first-time buyers.

Joe Otto stands with one of his 3DMe machines.

Joe Otto stands with one of his 3DMe machines.

There’s also an element of fun with 3D printing, particularly with Otto’s new-fangled “3DMe” photobooths by Cubify, which he says are the only ones on the East Coast. They made an appearance last weekend at Newark’s New Night festival. The touch-screen machines take your picture and can print your face on a variety of figurine characters, from Ghostbusters and pirates to NBA players and mermaids.

The machines were a popular stop at New Night, said Katherine Smith, a senior technician at Sovereign Air. “Kids and adults – all adults – go crazy about it,” she said.

The figurines cost anywhere from $19.99 to $69.99 and take at least a week to be printed and delivered, Otto said.

He’ll be out again with 3DMe machines at the upcoming New Castle County Ice Cream Festival.

And he’ll continue his mission of educating those about the wonders of 3D printing. “I firmly believe it’s the next big industry,” he said. “These things are going to be like computers soon.”

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