Singapore's tech companies: Pirate3D

Pirate3D founders (from left) Tsang You Jun, Brendan Goh and Roger Chang.

SINGAPORE - Unlike others in the market which cost around US$2,000 (S$2,500) and are difficult to use, Buccaneer's 3-D printer promises to be a stylish machine that is affordable - starting at US$397 - and intuitive.

You connect to the Buccaneer using Wi-Fi network and use an online cloud server to control the 3-D printer via PC and mobile devices.

Interestingly, the idea came out of a milk bottle design project that failed.

In 2008, Nanyang Technological University students Brendan Goh and Tsang You Jun were working together on a colour-changing baby milk bottle project while studying materials science and engineering.

They wanted to create prototypes of the bottle but gave up as they found prototyping too costly.

Later, they found out about consumer 3-D printers and bought an affordable hobbyist kit. It took them three days to assemble and another month to make it work.

Mr Tsang said: "However, the 3-D printer was so unreliable that we spent more time fixing the printer than actually printing things.

Mr Goh added: "But when it worked, it was amazing to be able to make an object in front of your very eyes."

Through a mutual friend, the pair got to know Mr Roger Chang, a business student at the National University of Singapore (NUS). A geek and tinkerer at heart, he became very interested in the 3-D printer.

"It's going to change the world," he declared.

Mr Tsang and Mr Goh, both 27, and Mr Chang, 26, saw the immense potential of 3-D printing. When they graduated in 2012, they thought of starting a 3-D printing service.

They asked NUS Business School's Adjunct Associate Professor Neo Kok Beng for advice. Prof Neo suggested that they build an affordable, easy-to-use 3-D printer instead.

And so Pirate3D was founded, with Mr Goh as chief operating officer, Mr Tsang as design chief, Mr Chang as chief executive officer and Prof Neo as chairman.

The start-up received a seed investment of $589,000 in February last year from home-grown tech incubator firm Red Dot Ventures.

In May last year, they launched a month-long successful Kickstarter campaign that caught the attention of the world, appearing on websites from TechCrunch to CNet.

They have been working very hard to fulfil the 2,500-plus orders garnered from Kickstarter.

So far, they have shipped about 200 Buccaneers to the first batch of Kickstarter backers.

The response from early adopters has been "amazing", said Mr Tsang, who added: "Most told us that Buccaneer is the most easy-to-use 3-D printer so far." Mr Goh said they hope to meet all their orders by the end of this year.

After that, they intend to optimise the manufacturing process for mass production.

"No one has really mass-produced 3-D printers before, so there are a lot of unknowns," Mr Goh added.

But they have high hopes for 3-D printers and Pirate3D's ultimate goal is to put a 3-D printer into every home.

It is the future, said Mr Chang. He cited the words of William Gibson, the science fiction writer who coined the term cyberspace: "The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed".


This article was first published on August 6, 2014.
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