When Arc Hub first introduced 3D printing into the Kingdom in 2013, the company hoped that the technology would not only inspire creative minds, but also provide manufacturers the ability to mass produce on a cheaper budget.
Now, four years later, it appears that the company’s vision of widespread 3D printing remains far ahead of its time as the firm subsists on education and training seminars.
“The market for 3D printing is very small in Cambodia, [and] 3D printing is usually used for one-off projects,” said Ki How Tran, co-founder of Arc Hub. “It’s not as sustainable as we thought it would be before.”
Arc Hub has had to alter its business expectations to stay afloat financially. While originally hiring three designers to create 3D projects and intending to hire more as business picked up, the company now has only one designer on staff.
“When we first started the company, we thought designing would be the main service we would offer. But most of the companies in Cambodia have their own designers on staff already,” said Ki How. “Now we’re moving more into education, because it’s more sustainable as a business model.”
With its focus now on teaching, Arc Hub has started working with more than 10 local schools to provide classes on design and technology. Students pay for the classes and the materials, and in turn they are taught how to design products and are encouraged to forge into new industries.
Em Chanrithykol, an entrepreneur who launched DoyDoy, a toy company that uses 3D printing to create connectors for plastic straw erector sets, said that Arc Hub’s education was pivotal in giving him the tools to run his business.
“Before the entrepreneurship class I took [at Arc Hub], I had the idea for my business but it wasn’t really clear,” he said. “I learned about 3D printing and I learned the business model, and those skills allowed me to start my own.”
Still, despite DoyDoy’s success in the toy market, there remain stumbling blocks to 3D printing being widely accepted in Cambodia.
“It can be costly to use 3D printing, and it is a bit slow in comparison to mass production,” explained Chanrithykol. “But 3D printing is accessible here now and you don’t have to go far for it. People should learn that.”
Arc Hub, which previously operated out of a small room at the Royal University of Fine Arts, has moved on to a new, spacious location near Central Market that allows for “makerspace” operations.
“This is Cambodia’s first public makerspace, which means people come here, pay a membership, and have access to our tools and machines,” explained Ki How, adding that all paying members must attend a free workshop to learn how to use the machines and tools the company has to offer.
“We’re trying to put Cambodia first,” said Ki How, “And the best way to do that is by teaching skills to the young people in this country.”