Exclusive Interview with Chengxi Wang, CEO of Professional 3D Printer Developer Satori

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Just two months ago, London-based startup Satori, which wants to empower creativity for its clients through the use of 3D printing, launched its first professional 3D printer, the compact ST1600. Satori means “enlightenment” in Japanese Zen, which was just one of several details that interested me about the company. The other big thing is that it is a female-led business, which I am always excited to hear about. I was thrilled when I got the chance to speak to Satori’s CEO, interdisciplinary tech entrepreneur Chengxi Wang, CFA, about the company, as well as her thoughts on women in the additive manufacturing sector.

First, some background on Satori. The resin-based desktop ST1600 printer features a 120 x 192 x 120 mm build platform, which uses UV light curing to simultaneously produce up to six dentures; this means that production time per model is less than an hour. The ST1600 can be used for multiple applications: obviously dental, but also to make jewelry, eyewear, drones, drinkware, and much more, such as interior design products meant for a working from home (WFH) environment.

At the same time that Satori launched the system, it also introduced a partnership program. It’s not a service bureau; the program is meant for Satori to work with creatives and innovators from around the world to use 3D printing in the creation of impactful, problem-solving initiatives. The company’s first partner is the Mahdi Naim Design Lab, an industrial design agency based in Casablanca, Morocco and Lyon, France. During an interview last month with Naim and Wang, I learned all about their first collection together, which consists of three products—a laptop stand, a stationary organizer, and a USB holder that amazingly doubles as a squishy stress ball—all created in response to the lockdowns that have swept the globe since this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not ‘how do I want to reproduce this product.’ It’s ‘I have this vision, how do I fulfill it?’ The purpose is to inspire a starting point for creativity,” Wang told me at the time about the program. “We empower their imagination with the tools.”

Collection by Satori X Mahdi Naim Design Lab

A professional musician in China before delving into the finance world and becoming certified as a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) in the US, Wang has quite an amazing background, and it’s the perfect mix of artistic creativity and business logic; just like Satori itself. She told me that it was a risk naming the company Satori, since many people think it should have “3D” or “tech” in the name so people would know what it offered, but Wang says that her final destination, and that of the company’s, is people.

“My thought is that we have so many technologies out there, but what we’re truly missing is this moment where it connects to human needs,” Wang said. “Satori is the final goal I want to achieve, to give people this enlightenment moment.”

For the record, I think it was a good move on her part to name the company Satori—it sets it apart from the rest of the herd, in my opinion.

I asked Wang what led her to a career in 3D printing.

“My approach is a little different from most in the additive manufacturing industry,” she told me. “I came because of a vision: I want to combine creativity and impact. I went to undergraduate school to study financing, and I actually spent seven years in New York, including my undergrad, and then I worked at the United Nations to help countries with sustainable development goals. I didn’t come from a stereotypical Wall Street background, but I used it on social impact.

“After a while, I felt a little lost. I couldn’t use my creativity that much. I was originally professional trained as an opera singer. I always like when creativity connects with people. With both the art and the finance world, I wanted to step back and see where I wanted to go afterwards. So, I came to Oxford University for my MBA. I reflected, and decided I wanted to combine my passion for creativity with my finance background to make people inspired and empowered. That’s a broad answer, but, by accident, 3D printing came to my attention.”

Wang had a brief stint as the CEO of MyMiniFactory.com, but it wasn’t long before she left to “produce a tangible thing that can impact people,” which is how Satori was born. The company is focused more on professional and industrial applications than hobbyist printing.

“That’s why I ended up in desktop industrial 3D printing,” she explained. “I wanted to bring this technology closer to peoples’ daily life, to make functional but creative objects that would inspire me.”

In the midst of all of this, Wang also found the time to found avant-garde luxury jewelry brand L’Essayeur in 2018, where she remained for two years. In 2019, she co-founded unisex brand Baozi Jewellery, which states on the website that they are storytellers rather than simply jewelry makers, and that the real value of jewelry “exists in the emotional connection with whoever is wearing it.”

Satori counts jewelry as one of the industries it currently works with, but I asked Wang if she had ever used 3D printing to make jewelry for L’Essayeur or Baozi.

“I once did think of use 3D printing. However, I had challenges,” she told me. “I wasn’t satisfied with just using 3D printing to duplicate what traditional manufacturing does and just do it fast and more cost-efficient. I want to use 3D printing to do something creative that pushes the boundary of traditional jewelry manufacturing. For example, I wanted to produce an interconnected bracelet with optical illusion triangles (depending on how you see it, it can be either triangle with straight lines or a curvy shape). And I want it to be 3D printed in one go, not to be assembled later. At that time, I hadn’t started Satori, so I went to 3D printing service companies around the world, such as in UK, USA and India. However, they all got back to me saying it’s impossible to get the whole bracelet with 24 moving parts printed, especially since each triangle is so delicate (1.5 cm each side and 0.1 cm thick). As a result, that idea was put aside.

“After I founded Satori, my first task is to push the boundary of what’s deemed impossible and aimed to produce the interconnected bracelet with the Satori 3D printer, software and material. The intention was to make Satori a problem solver, which is our mission as a 3D printer company. And after experimenting with settings and support structure, we managed to print the 24-piece, interconnected intricate bracelet in one go and replicate this successfully in many different prints. I’d say jewelry was a door to my creativity and now, by 3D printing, I want to help more creative people push the boundaries of possibility.”

The interconnected bracelet

Stay tuned for the second part of my interview with Wang, where she shares her thoughts on women in the 3D printing industry. She has some pretty interesting insights, so you’ll definitely want to check it out.

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