In this episode of Nairametrics Business Half Hour, we speak with Dr. Ndubuisi Ekwueme, the CEO and founder of Dubz 3D, a 3D company in Nigeria involved in 3D printing.
He is also a licensed medical doctor who realized after gaining his license that he was more in love with entrepreneurship than being a medical doctor.
His first business venture in Nigeria was building an app for doctors to access over 3,000 questions and answers for doctors to study for their exams instead of the tedious method of attending physical tutorials as they were used to.
What was the inspiration for Dubz 3D?
The founder, fresh out of medical school abroad, came to Nigeria to get his medical license. After getting his license, he practiced medicine for one year but later realized that medicine was not his area of interest. Soon after, he discovered 3D printing and used his school fees for his Masters’s program to purchase his first 3D machine and all its parts.
He described 3D printing in his own words: “It’s innovative; the technology is the future, and it is the next way for the world to go; what it does is that it allows anyone and everyone to be a manufacturer all you need is a 3D printer, and you can make pretty much anything you want”.
On how he acquired his training to use the 3D machine, he stated that he taught himself how to use the printer using self-help videos on YouTube.
How can others get into the 3D printing business?
Speaking on how other interested people can get into 3D printing, he stated that 3D printers are on sale in the price range of $300 to $10,000, and that interested people can start small by purchasing affordable ones.
Who are the current customers of Dubz 3D?
The current customers are majorly from Instagram as the company started its marketing on the platform. According to the founder, the bill of the items being produced by Dubz 3D are personalized items custom-made to suit the exact taste of the customer. These include hotels and resorts that want personalized items to be used in rendering their services. The company builds personalized key holders for them. They also make items bearing the name or logo of their customers, like key chains and pet tags.
Mr. Ekwueme, however, states that the business is growing, and with more awareness, he would be able to print just about anything for clients as 3D printing is more than just personalized items.
The average cost of his work is dependent on what is being printed and how much materials would be exhausted in printing it. Key holders, for example, could print for N3,500 per one and could go as low as 70% if there is a huge order quantity.
The use of 3D printers in medicine
Being a medical doctor, he talked about how 3D printing can be used in the medical field, stating that various kinds of 3D printers are used for various purposes. He had used an FD Fused Depositing modelling printer, but the printer does not have the capacity to print organs or body parts.
3D printers, on the other hand, can help in making casts for patients who suffer from fractures, making the cast personalized and fashionable.
What are the challenges?
The major challenge 3D printing faces in Nigeria is electricity. Ekwueme stated that some items to be printed take as much as 10 hours to print, and if electricity is out for as little as 30 seconds, the printing would have to be abandoned and resumed from the beginning.
So far, he has been able to sustain the business through the use of battery storage devices like inverters and renewable energy like solar energy. He also spoke of the major challenge of the unavailability of the pieces of the 3D printers. Every single piece of material needed to run the printers successfully is imported and takes as much as 3 months to get to him. This can cause the business to shut down while awaiting the arrival of those products.
What is the solution?
In his opinion, the first solution for 3D printers in the continent is to look into building its own 3D printers in order to reduce cost and unavailability.
On the unavailability of materials, he also stated that one of the major items needed for his work is used plastic which has to be melted and converted to material that would be used for 3D printing. The only setback is that there is no production facility that can convert the used plastic to a material that can be 3D printed. In this way, 3D printing also helps recycling.
What is Dubz 3D’s competitive advantage?
Mr. Ekwueme stated that with 3D printing, it is easier to create customized objects in a certain form, not just brand them. He also states that an alternative way to do that would be to have it done in China, but not only is it more expensive due to shipping costs, but it is also more tedious. This is because firstly, a mould has to be created before a design is made, and if it’s not to the taste of the client, another mould has to be made, and this can go on till the client gives in to one of the designs or gets what he likes.
Meanwhile, with 3D printing, the production is done in Nigeria within proximity, and in an hour, different designs are made following the taste of the client. The availability, ease, convenience, and speed is what makes Dubz 3D a better option.
What are the plans for the future?
The company is currently working on systems and software that can help them to connect their laptop directly to the printer via wifi.
If done properly, they can connect to as many 3D printers and print in bulk in whatever form that is desired.
This automation is important for the company’s growth because, with it, so much manpower is not needed as all that would be required is a designer and a customer representative.