As 3DPrint.com’s resident Ohioan on staff, I was so excited to hear about Proto BuildBar opening in downtown Dayton when we covered the new makerspace back in December. Both because of its proximity and because (embarrassingly for someone who reads and writes about the technology every day) I’d never actually made my own 3D printed creation, I immediately knew I had to go check it out in person. This past weekend, I finally had the chance, and was able to spend a truly enjoyable evening there with Sarah, a friend of mine from college. I also had the opportunity to speak with Alex Todd, the General Manager, about how business has been going.
To get it out of the way now: if you can get to Dayton, go to Proto BuildBar. I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s easy to find and has its own (free) parking lot, which are two immediate aspects in favor of its downtown location. Just walking in, there’s so much to look at, from likenesses of Nikola Tesla on a wall and in 3D printed bust form, to the central slew of 3D printers, to the bins of pre-made 3D printed goodies, to the gumball machines filled with 3D printed surprises (I got a little bluebird and a grey bunny for 50 cents each, and a tiny Pac Man ghost for a quarter), to the world’s largest functional claw machine (we saw no fewer than five happy winners there that night).
In terms of hardware, Alex walked me through their holdings. Proto BuildBar has 13 currently available 3D printers, consisting of 8 MakerBot Replicator 2’s, a MakerBot Replicator 2X, a MakerBot Replicator Z18, a MakerBot Replicator Mini, an Ultimaker 2, and an M3D that they keep behind the bar. Five laptops are hooked up and ready to go at the design bench, and four more laptops can be pulled out to use if it gets busy.
In addition to the 3D printing area, there’s a fully stocked electronics area, featuring 8 soldering stations and bins full of goodies for those who want to see their creations get up and go, using Arduino and Raspberry Pi technologies.
For 3D printing, Proto BuildBar has three staple pricing levels, all of which depend on the build time. A 90-minute print costs $20, one up to three hours costs $40, and a three-to-five hour print job costs $60 and includes free shipping in case you don’t feel like waiting around for it to finish. They also offer quotes for larger, custom designs on a job-by-job basis.
Sarah and I were able to get set up right away at the makers’ bench to make both of our first 3D printed objects. The laptops are set up and ready to go with Thingiverse, though of course anyone is welcome to create their own CAD design or come prepared with STL files for their own project; we went the Thingiverse route, where after much consideration I selected a dragon design and Sarah chose a raven.
Working that night with Alex was staff member Tara Mullins; both helped us through every step of the making process, including the regular supply of one of the most helpful parts of any creative process (whiskey, in my case).
Once Sarah and I selected our designs, Tara got them started for us, ensuring the proper setup, orientation, infill, and supports. Then we chose our filaments, and Tara loaded the designs via an SD card into our printers. With about 90 minutes print time for each, we then had time to look around the space more fully.
The atmosphere is very conducive to browsing and learning, and Tara and Alex were great at keeping tabs of all the night’s projects and patrons. I also took the print time to chat with Alex, who filled me in more on the business plan.
Proto BuildBar opened its doors in the first week of November, Alex told me, and has been up and running for about six months now.
The bar is owned by Chris Wire, and Alex brought his background in bar/restaurant openings to play in the process; it turns out he’d also been behind the opening of another Dayton restaurant I’d been to last year and really enjoyed, so he was clearly the right man for the job.
While Proto BuildBar gets the expected clientele of nerds and tinkerers, Alex told me the biggest surprise was that their main demographic has so far proven to be fathers coming in with their children. We’ve been seeing that 3D printing is great for the younger generations, and that observation is certainly in evidence here. (Proto BuildBar is completely family-friendly, with coffee, soda, and sandwiches available in addition to the bar offerings.)
I asked Alex how business had been so far.
“Great, really great,” he said. “We’re already considering our next three locations. Our hopeful plan is ten nationwide by 2017. We’re planning on going really aggressive in the market.”
The next three markets they’re looking at are Austin, Pittsburgh, and Portland, and once they go nationwide, the team might consider franchising. (I suggested Lakewood, Tremont, or Ohio City for a second Ohio location, as those would be far more convenient for me!)
I also asked about their hardware preferences, as clearly they favor MakerBot machines. Alex told me that his favorite is the MakerBot Replicator Mini, which he says is “best, bullet-proof,” while the head engineer loves their Ultimaker.
“I don’t know if we’ll go with anyone else,” Alex said. “We have a good relationship with MakerBot. I love MakerBot because they’re adding cameras, offer self-leveling, apps, and remote video capabilities. When we open to a larger market, we’ll have centralized printing. Two to three times more printers, and a streamlined approach.”
Ease of use is particularly important for this business, as many customers are unfamiliar with the equipment–and plug-and-play machines allow for speedier employee training. One of the greatest parts of the MakerBot ecosystem, Alex said, is the Smart Extruder; despite its problems, it is much better to be able to swap out a clogged extruder quickly and not have the machine down for the count during repairs.
When 90 printing minutes were up, Tara pried our prints off the beds. Mine didn’t print with any supports, but Tara supplied Sarah with pliers and showed her how to get the supports off her raven. Both of our prints came out great!
Have you been to Proto BuildBar? Where else do you think they might find a good location during their planned expansion? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the Proto BuildBar forum thread over on 3DPB.com. Check out some more photos from my visit below.