There’s a lot of 3D printed things on display at Cape Town Maker Faire 2015 this weekend, and one of the most impressive is Robotica (pictured above). The mannequin is near-life size, and boasts an incredible level of detail in its design.

It’s been built by the founder of CADHouse, a 3D printer distributor, retailer and print-on-demand shop, Bernhard Vogyt. So we sat down to ask him a bit about it. What got you into making initially?

Bernhard Vogt I started a design  consultancy business to do engineering projects and I saw the need for 3D printing. At that time, about five years ago, there wasn’t much in the way of 3D printing in South Africa that was affordable. The cheapest machines at the time were about R300 000 to R400 000. Then 3D Systems released a sub $10 000 (R130 000) machine that, while still a lot of money, was relatively cheap. Then, later that year, the RepRap machines were released as well as the open source design to make your own printer and companies jumped on that band wagon. And as time progressed these self-made machines can print better than the ones which cost hundreds of thousands of Rands.

Do you have a background in engineering or something closely related to making?

Yes, I studied IT and have a background in in mechanical, automotive and aerospace engineering.

Your most impressive sculpture here is Robotica (pictured above). Where did the idea for her come from?

I first saw Robotica when it was published by a famous Spanish Toy designer Sonia Verdu. It was a small articulated doll that you could print on any 3D printer. So I looked at it and thought “Hey, we have big 3D printers, the biggest in the country, so let’s see how big we can print it”. So we scaled it up, and eventually it went all the way up to 1.7m tall. It’s just very cool thing to do!

How difficult was it to actually print Robotica?

It was a long process. Scaling was simple because the software does it quite easily, I just had to calculate what was the biggest part that could fit into my printer – then the printing took a long [time]. It felt like forever, but when you think about it it was [only] two weeks.  The printers aren’t fast, but we didn’t have any failed prints, which is a blessing, and it just worked out.

How difficult is it for someone with no background in engineering, electronics or anything like that to pick up a 3D printer, take it home and start making their own stuff?

If you’re not the type of person with a head for this we have something called Cubify which, [I think is like] The Apple Mac of printing. It’s really plug-and-play. You take it out of the box and it has wi-fi, Bluetooth and apps that run on phone, so you don’t need to know much about design – you can just scribble inside the app, send it over and print it. It’s that simple now. One of the reasons [3D printing] wasn’t accepted in the general public was the complexity, but Cubify products [have changed that]. Aside from all the online resources there are maker spaces and events like how have here today. Here you can get so much help and advice to keep going with your projects – they’re more than happy to help.

How long do you think this space will remain sustainable for new business?

I think there’s two kinds of makers: those who make for fun as a hobby (like the old HAM Radio clubs of old) and then there are those focused on development products that will come to market. But then there are maker projects that develop computers that are more powerful than the supercomputers made by Cray. So I think it will remain sustainable because those with the smaller budgets, without the money to hire twenty-five engineers and rocket scientists, can just do it with their mates.

You just talked about community and openness, do you think it will ever come to a point where that ends and makers start to stop sharing?

Well, I do believe that [the community is the bedrock of making] we have seen certain business that have started out very open and open source but have become closed and corporate as they gained success. It’s unfortunate that that has happened because of this, for example; Makerbot may shut down because they lost their community in becoming so closed off.

What is your favourite type of project to take on?

Personally, I like sculptures and art because engineering can be a bit too precise and “within the lines”. I’m not an artist, but I love to go and scan a big statue and print it out so I have my own, smaller copy. It’s very satisfying to do.

Does piracy at all fit into this culture?

I think it’s a bit of a non-issue. You’d need a five or six million Rand machine to properly replicate most products – you’re obviously not going to be able to print an Apple iPhone. But, as we’ve seen the technology mature, it may become an issue. I know that there is software in development right now that will check for copyrighted files.

Earlier this week, at the Intel Development Forum they discussed authentication and security within the internet of things (IOT) that makers can use to protect their creations. How would this make an impact in the community?

There was a lot of controversy about 3D printing guns, but I’ve always said that there are easier ways to make weapons than 3D printing them.  But hardware and software developers for 3D printers do try and pick up files that could be parts of guns and prevent them from being printed.

How has CADHouse changed as a company over the years?

The company has been growing exponentially, almost at a rate I couldn’t keep up with – we moved the business five times in five years as we grew. It’s a lot of hard work, we’ve supplied over five thousand printers and we need to support them. In the past year we’ve partnered with Sahara Systems which has allowed us to take the next step in growing and putting [systems] in place to support our customers.

Do you get people who expect help from you? Those who say “you were the little guy, now that you’ve grown you owe it to the community.”?

You do get that. I used to love helping people out. If someone came into the office with a problem I’d help them out with the full knowledge that it wouldn’t bring any money into the company. I did it because it brought me a great sense of satisfaction to help out. But it’s gotten to the point where we can’t do it as freely any more, there’s just too many people. But when we can, we do, I still really enjoy helping out. Sometimes you have to forget the big twenty million rand deal and help out someone with [their little project].

So, what’s next for you?

I believe the next step for 3D printing and for us is production printing –  the factories of the future. We have an injection mould that can produce thousands of car parts. I think factories in the future will have ten, twenty or thirty industrial printers that can mass produce highly customised items. For example, before the new Iphone even launches I could print covers for it that have your name printed right into the plastic. And I’ve seen it, I’ve been to a factory in Belgium that had two hundred industrial printers creating products. And we’re creating a factory like that in this country, it already has the first machine in and we’re expanding because we’ve already hit our max capacity.

Disclosure: is attending Maker Faire Cape Town as a guest of CAD House and Sahara Systems. We wrote this because we thought Robotica is cool, though, not as part of a coverage deal.