When Alex Youden took a year out after completing his A-level exams at Hymers College, perhaps the last thing he expected was to launch his own tech enterprise. We met up with him to discuss what has been a very busy twelve months.
“It all started when I was invited to do some work experience here at C4DI. I was able to set the foundations for my 3D printing business, as well as generally helping out and making cups of tea,” Alex laughs.
Thanks to a crowdfunder campaign back in July 2015, Alex was able to move on from PG Tips to 3D kits. This was managed through Kickstarter, which brings creative projects to life with the aid of the digital community.
“After raising £31,000 we put together the world’s first modular 3D printer,” Alex explains with clear excitement. “All the parts were locally sourced, within a radius of just 1-2 miles.” Following this success, NFire Labs produced the NFire One Modular 3D Printer, and now specialises in designing and building desktop versions.
Alex hopes to take his Kickstarter idea further, but for the moment he’s busy fulfilling orders and guiding clients with his innovative technology. When asked about applications, he said: “You can print more or less anything you like, from a door hanger to a tiny part for a machine.”
3D printing is the process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file, so the possibilities are almost endless. Fellow C4DI dwellers Escada, experts in control system design, have discovered the benefits of this technology first-hand: “They had an issue with a sensor in a machine,” explains Alex. “Five days later, the part was printed out and shipped off to Sweden. 3D printing is great for this sort of problem-solving.”
It’s not all serious and technical though, as we spotted a whole collection of miniature creatures and characters that Alex digitally designed himself: “I’ve made all sorts of things, from awards and toys to a 3D printed 3D printer!”
As well as being a dab hand at electronics and digital innovation, Alex has bounds of creativity, often being involved in the design process of a project: “I usually come up with a rough design, then someone who does CAD (computer-aided design) will tell me whether it’s suitable for 3D printing. We then print a range of prototypes and if the client likes it, the job’s a good’n!”
As 3D printing becomes more accessible to businesses and individuals, we’re bound to see a change in consumer behaviour, as Alex explains: “More people will begin to print out what they need, rather than buying it. This way, something worth several pounds in a shop could only cost you pennies.”
Starting out at C4DI has clearly benefited Alex and his ambitious projects: “If I tried to do all of this in my bedroom at home, I wouldn’t have achieved half as much. Without the contacts and the amazing support I’ve received, none of this would have been possible.”