Ting Tang, the founder of Elements Lab (Youtube channel available here), manages a Taiwan-based 3D design and printing startup. Elements Lab started as a 3D printing education center and printing service in 2013. In 2015 the business model expanded to include the fabrication of 3D printing jewelry. Having a solid background in the IT industry, Ting tends to implement digital tools to bridge the gap between customized jewelry and demand of the masses. In February 2016, Elements Lab launched their first Android application as a platform for any and every one to design jewelry without any need of prior CAD design experience. This application brings an entirely new user experience to both 3D printing and the jewelry industry.

Ting, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?

I am a native Taiwanese but I finished my college education in Japan. After graduation, I have worked in Japan for 6 years as a regional manager for a consumer product company where I learned a lot about product design and manufacturing. After leaving Japan, I switched to the IT industry and started getting deeper involved with product planning and project management. Working in the IT industry took me to China and the USA, which truly broadened my horizons.

My major in college is business management, which basically has nothing related to 3D printing or engineering. People are often curious about how I connected with the 3D printing industry and I have to say it’s all accredited to what I have been trained throughout my previous career endeavors, before joining the 3D Printing industry. Project management required cross-functional managing skills and supply chain management kept me vigilant for new products and suppliers. Back in 2013, 3D printing technology was spotted under my radar.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

The quick answer is the 3D pen. That is my very first 3D printing related tool. As for software experience, that is Sketchup and TinkerCAD. I think these two simple tools simply triggered the maker spirit inside me.

My first 3D printer was a very simple machine made by a German company; I downloaded a lot of 3D models from the Internet and printed many objects like animals, sculptures and mechanical parts. I found it very entertaining and I was so fascinated by how the objects could be printed in just a few hours. I even read in the Economist periodical an article about 3D printing, after that, I believed this technology would be disruptive.

Could you explain what Elements Lab is about and the services that you are providing?

Elements Lab is focused on two things right now. The first is 3D printing and education. Since day one I knew this was going to be a tough mission, but definitely a meaningful program and we’re still going at it. We teach kids starting from 5th grade about 3D printing and how it has been adapted by many different industries. And we will focus more on STEAM-centered programs this year, perhaps we will try to teach pre-K kids to play with 3D printing and design.

Another business focus is 3D printed jewelry. Part of the reasons for this endeavor is due to my personal interest, plus I think it’s a great example to demonstrate the capability of 3D printing. With the help of 3D printing technology, custom-made jewelry is easier to be made. In early 2016, we even released a mobile app for users to design their own jewelry pieces. In this Android App, we basically combined the ideas of 3D modeling, 3D printing and mobility. We are also interested in adding more fun elements into our future projects, such as AR/VR or animation making.

How did you come to build the company?

Building up my own company wasn’t my life plan but I believe it happened for a reason. Despite the fact that I don’t have an engineering background, I have spent my entire career working with engineers, designers, and manufacturers. Basically, I am not a stranger to mold, CNC, injection machine, electric components and the production process, and I understand product designing process as well.  All these experiences have enabled me to gain knowledge and develop skills that eventually helped me delve into maker community.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company to share with us?

I have a slogan to lure the young generation into learning about 3D printing technology- “Play with 3D; Learn about 3D”.  And that is the main concept for me to do 3D printing business; I would like to make every project fun and interesting.  

As a woman entrepreneur, what was/ is your biggest challenge?

I’m used to working in an environment surrounded by men so working in the 3D printing industry is not a problem at all. However, starting up business needs courage, and sticking to what you believed requires great passion and stubbornness especially when you’re doing something with a few pioneers in front of you.  3D printing industry is like the IT industry, innovations are happening every day and the only way to move forward is to keep learning. Most of the core technology about 3D printing is from American companies, and I really wish I can be immersed in a more tech-savvy environment.  Of course, right now I’m narrowing the gap by googling.

Learning CAD design was another challenge but once you started learning, you will only want to learn more.  Believe me, 3D modeling is fun.

Any challenge specific to the 3D printing industry?

There are many challenges I have faced before and I think there are more ahead.  As an owner of a start-up, I believe different countries and markets have different challenges to deal with.  In general, I would say there are still a lot of enterprise customers don’t value 3D Printing in a proper way. They like the idea of rapid prototyping but somehow they expect the prints to have mass production quality or sometimes they only want to pay little to have the 3D printed parts.

IP (intellectual property) could be a big challenge too.  When making things is easier than ever, copying/making could be a grey area.  We’re benefiting from an open-source community and I only hope we can keep innovating and creating new things.

As for the end customer market, I think the biggest challenge is that customers have not fully realized the benefit of 3D Printing tech that actually makes almost everything printable and customizable in an easy and fast way.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

We’ve just had a fun project in April where we ran an online drawing event for kids ages 3-10; it was our Doodle to Jewelry project and we literally convert kid’s drawing into wearable jewelry.  We’re going to do more kids project of this sort, it’s very comforting in a way. Teaching and watching the kids have fun is therapeutic to any adult.

What was the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

A lot of innovations in 3D printing industry impress me all the time. When I first learned about bio-printing materials, I was shocked about the progress and possibilities.  The variety of printing materials is an important momentum to move 3D printing industry toward to a greater industry. Development of composite materials from leading companies always widens my eyes.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As a business person?

As a business person, I see 3D printing is a next generation tool and very important knowledge to learn about. And of course, it created a new eco-system and a lot more business opportunities for all players in the industry.

  • As a woman?   

There’s a famous and forever saying, diamond is a girl’s best friend. I don’t see any downsides to stopping making 3D printed jewelry for myself and other jewelry lovers. And the whole point is, customization is an important concept in the modern society, from medical parts to jewelry.    

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

I think 3D printing technology is still in a learning curve stage, both for industry and end customer perspective but obviously 3D printing industry is evolving at a super high speed. I like to analyze the market from three dimensions, printing technology, 3D modeling software, and materials. In the past few years, we see that 3D printing technology has made a lot of progress and it’s getting closer to the sweet zone. A lot of people are no longer seeing 3D printing technology as a short-lived fancy bubble. Also, we see a lot of 3D printing-based projects are being led by the government which includes education and government-lead projects.

Of all the projects we’ve been running so far, I like to use this specific phrase“ From XXX To XXX”, such as From 3D printing to Jewelry Making or From doodle to Jewelry. This kind of phrase reflects my concept about 3D printing. I believe we’re in a transition stage that we have to convince and show people outside the 3D printing industry how they can benefit from using 3D printing technology, or how 3D printing technology from passé and impossible to novel and possible.

It’s not easy to predict how this industry will evolve because I think it’s advancing in an amazing and exciting way. One thing I’m sure is there are more industries and more mid-small companies that are adopting 3D printing technology, which is reshaping our supply chain and manufacturing models into a new type of ecosystem.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I would like to answer this question in a more straightforward way, which is I don’t’ see any particular reason for women to be shy away from this industry.  As long as you realize the limitation is your imagination then you know it is possible for everyone to be a maker and a designer.  3D printing applications cover a large spectrum of uses from personal hobbies to professional applications, where any woman or man can indulge. If you feel your maker spirit summons you then it’s time for you to start 3D printing.

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