We talked to Irina-Alexandra Stoican of Micro 3D Techlab about digital design and rapid prototyping and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: 2020 was an unexpectedly an overwhelming year, isolated from the rest of the family and with a high volume of work. My parents live in another country, pretty far from my brother and me. This made it extremely hard to impossible to get all the family together. We had to cancel numerous flights in an attempt to see each other, which stirred some sadness. But, thank God, we are all fine and healthy. They were all working from home during this time, except for my husband and me. We had to be present at the office to be able to fulfill orders. Of course, adapting to new circumstances and respecting safety norms.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Micro 3D Techlab.
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: I am the co-founder of Micro 3D Techlab, a family-owned, digital design and rapid prototyping studio in Bucharest, Romania. I have a long experience in entrepreneurship and a degree in Architecture. My interest in technology and innovation came just a few years after finishing University.
In 2014, due to increased stress as a team leader in an architecture company, my husband decided to quit his job and wanted to try something different. He was hired for a few months in a local workshop for building architectural scale models. There, he discovered 3D printing. He really enjoyed what he was doing. So, I encouraged him to try this on his own, follow his passion. And, slowly, it became my passion too.
We started our studio later that year, in a small apartment in the center of Bucharest, with a 1000 euro investment in a tiny, tiny 3D printer. We built the website and promoted it ourselves (presently, under reconstruction), learned how to 3D print and repair our printers. Very challenging, but fun. The first customer came through the website after only 3 weeks. In the first 5 years, we had to change 4 locations as our workshop was growing.
How does your company innovate?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: Our small studio is an essential part of the innovation process for a large variety of domains. We do prototyping, digital manufacturing as well as 2D and 3D design for numerous fields of activity. The majority of our clients are represented by local companies, but we fulfill orders for clients from Greece, Spain, the UK, Canada, USA.
It is amazing to be part of developing new devices and products. There was no regret in designing small scale, day-to-day use products that companies need to bring on the market, instead of designing buildings. We collaborate with engineers, architects, doctors, entertainers, or companies that outsource the initial design part and help them bring new ideas to life. We have done countless iterations for medical devices, factory lines parts, food, and drink containers, cosplay, and filmmaking props. And the list can continue.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: At the beginning of 2020, we were economically recovering after a large investment in a new startup that failed back in 2019. And this pandemic could have been a huge hit for us. But, somehow, the bad we were fearing did not happen entirely. And we also fought to not let it happen.
The biggest part of our studio activity was based, besides prototyping, on events, live demonstrations and 3D printed promotional products, personalized trophies, and corporate gifts. In the first month, we saw a big decline. People started to cancel or postpone projects and events one by one. It was discouraging to see everything slowing down. This was a sign there was no time for losing in searching for alternative solutions. We opened a store with our own products, we found some foreign collaborators, and we started teaching online 3D modeling classes for children. We were included by former collaborators in projects using cultural funds, and we also got some pandemic funds given by the European Union and intended for business recovery.
Meanwhile, other local entrepreneurs did not let themselves be defeated by COVID-19 and needed to reinvent their companies and change products, and turned to us for rapid prototyping. And we were there, ready. So the prototyping side increased. Like everyone else, we were afraid of being in direct contact with other people. Therefore, we limited access to our studio. Most of the client communication was done by phone or email; payments were only made in advance by bank transfer, and clients were received only for pick up and only outside, in front of the building.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: We were at a crossroads. We were tempted to reduce the costs of our services as more and more people were declining the prices or canceling projects. But we chose not to. We accepted the fact that we will have fewer projects, but only profitable ones, and decided to invest the rest of our time in building survival plan B. And plan C. And maybe a D for the time when this ugly COVID-19 will finish.
The pandemic is still here. But not compromising was worthwhile until now. Because during this time, we’ve been building things and acquiring skills that are more long term profitable than a short term, devalued service.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: Due to anxiety, we’ve started working more than necessary, taking more projects than we can support, which generated higher stress than the pandemic itself. It consumes our energy entirely and, after all these months, we are still searching for balance.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: Our competitors are other small workshops. Some of them managed to find smart ways to adapt. One of the competitors started using 3D printing for repairing scooters.
3D printing and 3D design are very flexible fields of work. And easy to adapt to many other domains. Flexibility, the constant search for solutions, and adaptation are the main requirements of the times we live in. And all depend on the creativity factor.
Your final thoughts?
Irina-Alexandra Stoican: This a very hard time for many people, but as long as we have hope and wish to innovate, to change, to reboot our businesses, or start new ones, it can also be a time of opportunities in developing secondary skills, increasing our creativity on surpassing obstacles, accelerating the path to future by implementing more and more digital solutions.
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