A Latte with my 3D, please

Coffee shop patrons can now get to grips with some seriously advanced technology

Innovator and owner of Provolution in Port Elizabeth, Sean Poole, with the 3D production printer he installed at a Walmer coffee shop this week so members of the public can begin to actively engage with the technology
Innovator and owner of Provolution in Port Elizabeth, Sean Poole, with the 3D production printer he installed at a Walmer coffee shop this week so members of the public can begin to actively engage with the technology
Image: Deneesha Pillay

Watching the 3D production printer work is as mesmerising as watching the fire while camping, according to innovator and owner of Provolution in Port Elizabeth, Sean Poole.

Earlier this week, Poole installed a 3D printer at Urban Express coffee shop in Walmer, so customers could start interacting with the technology.

With a tap on the touch screen and a quick payment scan, the machine prints a cookie cutter in the design of your choice.

And by the time you finish a cup of coffee, the print should be complete.

Poole said the aim of placing the printer in a public space was to introduce people, of all ages, to 3D printing and to create a sense of excitement about the innovation.

“It’s trivial, but I can actually just sit and watch it,” he said.

“And I thoroughly enjoy the challenges around production printing.

“I enjoy the challenges associated with filling a niche in the market – because there is a niche between prototyping once-offs and mass-producing injection-moulded parts.

“3D printing, I believe, can cater to that market,” Poole said.

“This is something that has never been done in our city before.

“We want to see how people use and understand it, find out if it is user-friendly and [if people are] satisfied with what they are getting,” he added.

While doing his PhD on wind turbine blade design at Nelson Mandela University more than five years ago, Poole built a large 3D printer and has been printing since.

He now collectively has 14 3D printers which he operates at his home workshop.

“What I find most often, having the 3D printing service, is that on the one hand people can print whatever they want, so they really get excited about.

“But when I say to them, you can print absolutely anything, they often freeze, because they actually don’t know what they want,” he laughed.

“Then, on the other hand, you are trying to sell someone a piece of plastic,” he said.

“With this printer you are not paying for any human time and that’s what really brings the costs down.

“You’re just paying for the machine time.”

The production printer at Urban Express currently prints letters to create names and various cookie cutters, but Poole said he aims to add more options to the menu in coming weeks.

Anita Palmer, business incubator manager at Propella, which incubated Provolution, said the company fitted Propella’s vision to be a smart, hightech manufacturing and ICT incubator for the technology needed by smart cities around the world.

“What we are finding is that our industrial and ICT-focused areas are converging.

“[Provolution] is a great example of that,” Palmer said.

Provolution was funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and Propella was assigned as the seed fund manager.

“We forward projects [to TIA] that relate to renewable energy, energy efficiency, industry 4.0, smart city-related or ICT-related,” Palmer said.

“TIA also looks for new innovations.

“They look at new technologies, and for them this would be exciting.

“It’s something that can be commercialised.

“It will create jobs that will be sustainable and will put South Africa at the cutting edge.

“And that’s really where we get excited because it puts our city and our entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation,” Palmer added.

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