Tralee start-up is using 3D manufacturing to make home decor for retailing giant Ikea, writes Trish Dromey
Tralee start-up Wazp is responsible for the production of Ikea’s first mass-produced 3D printed product, a stylish piece of home decor in the shape of a hand.
The three-year-old supply chain company is now aiming to become the world’s largest supplier of 3D printed consumer products.
Created in collaboration with stylist Bea Akerlund, the Ikea hand is now on sale in half of Ikea outlets and is set for release in the US and Asia this year.
“Several hundred thousand hands have been printed — this is the largest number of a 3D printed consumer products ever made,” says Wazp co-founder and CEO Shane Hassett.
Targeting a turnover of €20m by 2020, the company employs 13 people and lists global brands Puma and Next among its clients.
It launched on the market last year, offering a full chain supply service for the volume production of 3D printed products, from design through to distribution.
In setting up Wazp, Mr Hassett, an engineer, was joined by Ukranian industrial designer Mariana Kobal.
Previously working together in Poland for a multinational involved in mass manufacturing, they predicted that 3D printing was about to disrupt the manufacturing supply chain.
“We saw that international retailers like Ikea had problems with flexibility in manufacturing which could be solved by 3D printing, says Mr Hassett.
He explains that 3D printing allows for the production of smaller quantities without increasing costs for the production of products which have been tailored to specific markets and for the production of products closer to the markets in which they are needed.
While 3D printing was already being used for producing prototypes, the founders saw an opportunity to create a company to use 3D printing for mass production in a way it had not previously been used.
Securing assistance from Enterprise Ireland, they set up the company at Tralee Institute of Technology, signed up for the New Frontiers Programme and drew up a business plan. Six months later, they raised €250,000 in private investment and began work on developing the technology.
They developed a platform which manages the production process, from assessing the designs through to ordering the products and tracking production.
To produce the products it sought out 3D maker companies with industrial 3D printing capacity and established a supply network.
Researching the market they launched a Kickstarter campaign to test the idea of producing consumer products for direct sales to customers.
But they decided the best option was to target international retail companies such as Ikea and focus on areas such as home wear, apparel for the sports companies and electronic components,.
“It has been predicted that 8% of all manufacture will use 3D printing within five years,” says Mr Hassett, explaining that it is suitable for producing products with metal, wood composites as well as nylon, which is what Wazp works with.
Wazp almost immediately secured an agreement to produce three products for Ikea, including curtain finials, napkin holders as well as the hand — a complex design that could only be produced with 3D printing.
The contract with Ikea helped the company attract other customers, including Puma and Next clothing company, as well the New York Yankees and Chicago Bulls, which use its services to get 3D printed logos for baseball caps.
Moving to a unit at Monavalley in Tralee, Wazp raised €750,000 to fund its expansion, which included High Potential Start-up investment from Enterprise Ireland.
Since then the company has expanded its network of 3D printing companies which now include 47 companies in Europe as well as 13 in the US and China.
New customers for Wazp this year include outdoor wear company Helly Hansen and headwear producer Lids and the company also has a new project to supply Ikea with another set of products.
Targeting a 10-fold increase in turnover this year, Mr Hassett says mass 3D printing is set to disrupt traditional manufacturing across the world.
“The age of 3D printing is now. It provides on-demand manufacturing, allows for localised production and makes products available to clients faster than ever,” he says.