A Vietnamese doctorate holder has been working on his project to build a low-cost 3D printer in the past three years.
3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) refers to any of the various processes for printing a three-dimensional object.
These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
However, the cost of the device remains high.
Fierce competition from Chinese copycats
Le Truong Son, a doctorate holder in Physics from Brown University- a member of the Ivy League in the U.S.- returned to Vietnam in 2012 after six years studying abroad.
He brought with him loads of components of his 3D printer’s original version and cherished his dream of mass-producing the device.
After consulting several local producers, Son, now 32, faced his first thorny problem that the cost of the device wouldn’t be reasonable enough to be mass produced in Vietnam.
He said that the machine would cost US$600-700 apiece, which was as expensive as those in the U.S., as the sophisticated plastic components remained costly to build in Vietnam.
Unable to mass produce the printer then, Son produced and sold its chips in the U.S. through eBay. His childhood friend helped with the chip production in Vietnam.
His chip sales took off instantly, earning him over US$10,000 only after a few months.
However, it soon met fierce competition from Chinese-made copycats.
One week after his chip was posted on eBay, a Chinese producer launched an identical copycat for a lower price.
“My original design had a small defect, which I later fixed. The copycat has exactly that defect. Until now I have no idea how my design got leaked,” Son said.
When he lowered his price to $80 from the initial $100, the Chinese producer offered their product at $60.
Son finally fixed his price at $70, which he considered reasonable to ensure profitability.
The young man shared that as netizens had also joined in his chip design and production by contributing their designs and initiatives, he thought it wouldn’t be right if he adopt a patent for his invention.
“I don’t really mind if people fake my products. One of the inventor’s edges over the forger is that the latter is always one or two versions behind the former,” Son stressed.
Six months ago, he decided to suspend his chip sales after 15 months, though the earnings were quite good, to devote all his time to the pursuit of a complete low-cost 3D printer.
Dream of a $300-400 3D printer
Son, who comes from northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam Province, studied and lectured in physics at Hanoi University of Science and Technology before studying in the U.S.’s prestigious Brown University on a scholarship for a doctoral degree.
In 2011, while he was studying there, Son was drawn immediately to his university’s costly 3D printer as the device can produce anything the user can think of and desire.
“The device’s greatest strength is its incredible personalization. What we need is to give it input and designs,” he added.
The man came up with his first version of a 3D printer around October 2012.
“It dawned on me that there’s plenty of room for growth regarding the 3D printer. I then set my mind on building a low-cost one, which costs around $300-500 and can be mass produced both in the U.S. and Vietnam. The low-cost, high-quality device can bring about a revolution in making it accessible to families,” he shared about his dream.
In his house in Gaithersburg north of Washington DC, a room, which is used as his lab, is packed with printer frames.
Son shared that he has produced five versions of his dream printer, with the later ones boasting higher quality and being capable of producing elaborated items.
His model is one of the world’s most compact 3D printers now.
He even printed the components of his later printer versions on his former ones.
Son gladly shared he’s about to operate his latest version on a piloting basis.
Some potential investors have contacted him.
He is planning to launch his finished product on Amazon and eBay by the end of this month.
Apart from his ceaseless passion for applied science and experimentation, Son, who is working at the U.S.’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is also a great camping and yachting enthusiast.
One of his other dreams is to maneuver his own yacht from the U.S. back to his home country.