Rise of 3-D printers lets people have models of selves, fetuses’ faces made

Kyodo

A growing array of 3-D printing services has become available to Japanese consumers as the fabricating technique gains popularity, with businesses offering to create figurines shaped like customers or miniatures of pets, and even 3-D face models of unborn fetuses.

To commemorate their engagement, Hiroki Hyogoya and his fiancee, Yuri Tahara, both 29, decided to have a plaster miniature made as a constant reminder of their love for each other.

The Tokyo couple were elated to see how the action figures of Hyogoya on bended knee asking for Tahara’s hand in marriage were completed with precision down to the smallest detail, such as the color of their fingernails.

The miniature was produced by Aoyama 3D Salon, which opened in May in Tokyo. The ordering process begins with a 15-minute session at the shop’s studio, where the customers model for a full-body 3-D scan. The scanned data are then edited to capture even the smallest of details before being “printed” with a 3-D printer into the real thing.

It usually takes about two months to complete the figure.

Prices at Aoyama 3D Salon go from ¥50,400 to ¥105,000 for action figures between 15-25 cm tall.

It has received orders from over 100 customers so far, including from overseas, and most are for mementos to commemorate special occasions for couples and families.

“With creativity, 3-D printers can do all kinds of interesting things,” said Hirohito Hirohashi, the salon’s representative.

Three-dimensional printers work by reading a digital blueprint of an object, then “print” and build it up one layer at a time using materials such as resin, plaster and metal. The first working 3-D printers were developed in the 1980s and were used for making prototypes of industrial products.

As accuracy and speed improved, the printers were also used to produce models of high-precision medical instruments and other sophisticated parts. In recent years, relatively affordable types for home use have also become available at around ¥100,000 each.

In his State of the Union address in February, U.S. President Barack Obama described 3-D printing as having “the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” Interest in this technology from among the average consumer is also rising, experts said.

Among other businesses offering 3-D printing services, 3Dwave in Saitama Prefecture began making 10-cm-high miniatures of pets based on photos. Many of the orders it receives are from customers who want to make mementos of their deceased pets, a company official said.

Meanwhile, for about ¥50,000, Fasotec Co., which sells 3-D printers, offers to print life-size 3-D models of the faces of fetuses inside the womb based on ultrasound scans.

Feedback from customers has been positive, such as that it is a good memento of the woman’s pregnancy and that it helped the husband become conscious of fatherhood, according to the Chiba-based company.

“We wanted to make use of 3-D printers in services aimed toward the average consumer,” a Fasotec official said.

“We would like to further expand our services in the future.”