The Czech Republic is the country of three-dimensional printing. One of the most important companies for 3D printers is based in Prague. Even children learn to print things out.
It’s strange how similar the founding myths of tech companies are. Here is the story of Prusa in Prague: Josef Prusa dropped out of university and tinkered around in his garage. A few years later: the factory in Prague, where 100,000 3D printers are created every year and shipped to 160 countries, where tons of plastic thread for printing is produced, 750 employees, 2020 Czech Entrepreneur of the Year.
Miriam Sova welcomes us in the old Prague factory halls, quite close to the city center. And leads us into a room where it almost looks as if an old human dream is coming true.
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Legend: In the Prusa factory in Prague, one 3D printer is lined up next to the other. SRF/Sarah Nowotny
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Legend: The 600 3D printers produce parts for new 3D printers. SRF/Sarah Nowotny
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Legend: The factory also produces plastic thread for 3D printing. SRF/Sarah Nowotny
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Legend: The plastic thread is the raw material for the 3D printer. The printer melts the plastic and makes new things out of it. SRF/Sarah Nowotny
“Here you see 600 printers, all of which print,” says the marketing woman. They stand on long shelves and spit out pieces of plastic at regular intervals. The devices are not much larger than the normal printer in the office. But they are fed with a thin plastic thread that slowly disappears inside.
There the plastic melts, explains Sova, and becomes a malleable mass. “The printer then applies layer after layer until the model is finished.” What is being created here sounds like the perfect machine, the perpetual motion machine that copies itself and functions forever.
But the 3D printers are not perpetual motion machines, they only produce certain parts for new printers, of course they need energy from outside. Experts say it would even be cheaper and more efficient to manufacture the printer parts differently.
Fighter jets from the printer
The Prusa company knows something about marketing and how to tell a story. “You can print anything, the only limitation is your imagination,” says marketing woman Sova. If you can afford it. A simple 3D printer costs 1,000 francs. In the Czech Republic it is now a popular Christmas present for children.
At Prague University, Libor Beránek opens the door of a showcase. The head of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering shows a set of teeth that comes out of the 3D printer, perfectly shaped according to the patient’s mouth. And then he reveals a secret. “I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say that here because it’s about Czech fighter planes. In the Czech Republic, manufacturers are now trying to install parts from the 3D printer in the jets. His university is working on it.
Help for Ukraine
During the Corona pandemic, Prusa and other Czech 3D printing companies printed hundreds of thousands of protective visors, and now during the Ukraine war they are printing splints for injured arms and legs.
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Legend: A bracer from the 3D printer. PRUSA
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Legend: Company founder Josef Prusa with a protective visor from the 3D printer. His company printed these during the corona pandemic. PRUSA
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Legend: The company promises that (almost) anything can be produced with a 3D printer. SRF/Sarah Nowotny
Hardly any other technology can produce complicated objects as quickly and precisely as 3D printing, says Beránek. But on the other hand, the possibilities would also be exaggerated. If there is talk of a house or a car being printed out, then that is just marketing.
3D printing can be very expensive if you only need a few pieces. And he needs a lot of preparation and follow-up. Czechs have the nerve for this because they have always been hobbyists. “That comes from communist times, back then we had nothing and did everything ourselves.”
Prusa marketing woman Sova also says that her father disappeared into the craft room every weekend. “In the Czech Republic we don’t like to throw away old things, vacuum cleaners for example.” It’s better to repair things – and spare parts can be printed out with a 3D printer.