Kerala Technology
Young engineer eyes future in 3D printing

Clint Johny says there will be an expanding role for 3D printing in the future. Handout photo

Young engineer eyes future in 3D printing

Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on April 02, 2024
Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on April 02, 2024

Clint Johny was pursuing his engineering degree in 2018 when he decided to fabricate a product and have it 3D printed. It was curiosity about the new printing technology that motivated him.

At that time, the only way a student could access a 3D printer was through a Fablab at the Technopark, says Clint. However, there was a lengthy queue of orders there. The long waiting period forced the Kattakada Lourde Matha College of Technology student to abandon his plan.

Nevertheless, that experience helped him years later when he was searching for a good business idea. Now, the 31-year-old operates a business called 69Rigs, which he claims is the only company in Trivandrum that solely focuses on 3D printing as a service.

After renting a shop near the Technopark area initially, Clint has now moved the entire operation to his home at Oruvathilkotta.  With eight machines of different calibres placed on the rooftop of his house, 69Rigs is becoming the place to go for those looking for 3D printing work.

A steady flow of orders over the last five years has helped the firm touch an annual revenue of around 20 lakh rupees last year, says Clint.

Like most engineering graduates, Clint also took the usual route of landing a job after completing his MTech at the Karivattom Engineering College, but he had a fair idea of the life of an employee even when he was a student.

After his BTech in 2018, Clint accompanied a friend who was going in for an interview at Technopark but ended up securing an insurance sales job at Allianz.

That job continued as he began his MTech since his college was next door at the Karivattom campus. Thus, he spent his days attending classes and donning the garb of an employee in the evenings at the Allianz Insurance office in Technopark Phase One.

Even as he landed his first proper job after his MTech, Clint was toying with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.

“It is difficult to survive here with a normal job. I was being decently paid when I landed my first job with HiPoint, a lease line provider. But that was not enough to get into the housing market here, given the astronomical prices. Plans like building their own house are impossible dreams for most employees,” he says.

As he mulled over different business plans, one thing he wanted to make sure of was not to waste his engineering knowledge. That led to the making of customised computers, which was a thriving business at that time.

After dabbling in it for a few months, things began to falter. “I realised that you need to invest a lot of time and money if you want to stay in the game. Moreover, one of my friends was a business competitor. So I slowly backed out of that and dropped the plan.”

It was during that time he came across someone who had bought a 3D printer for their own use. This friend and his wife had developed a hobby of creating things like toys and had decided to buy a 3D printer for this purpose.

This machine fascinated Clint, but the one they had purchased cost almost 100,000 rupees, which was beyond his budget. So he started searching for cheaper options and found that there were machines available for even 20,000 rupees.

“It was during the lockdown period of the Covid pandemic, and there weren't many avenues to spend money, so I decided to buy that machine.”

“But my whole experiment virtually began with a bang,” says Clint with a laugh. “The machine was delivered, I plugged it in, turned it on, and it conked out. Luckily, it was only a circuit problem due to power fluctuation, and I was able to fix it.”

Soon, he developed a business plan as he remembered the long wait to get 3D printing when he was a student.

There were a few facilities that offered 3D printing services. However, the catch was that you had to personally go there, operate the machines, and spend the entire time until the job was finished, which could take several hours depending on the complexity of the product.

Clint came up with a service that offered to assist with the design, handle the printing process, and deliver the finished product to the customer.

This was particularly attractive to engineering students, who comprised the majority of his clientele, as exams and project work meant that few could afford to spend long periods at printing facilities.

Soon, there was a regular line of students from different colleges who wanted to fabricate things, both big and small, and 69Rigs started to find its footing. As word-of-mouth news spread, people from far away also started contacting 69Rigs for jobs.

“I never launched a marketing campaign as I never found enough time for that. All I did was post pics on Instagram. But it is mainly through the network of clients that I get business,” says Clint.

As months passed, orders began to trickle in faster, attracting a variety of customers, including ISRO and defence establishments.

One such order came all the way from New Delhi. When the Delhi Technical University students wanted to make a Mars Rover prototype, they got in touch with 69Rigs to make its wheels.

“It was a tough job. I had to run the machine continuously for over six days to finish the project. But I managed to do it,” says Clint.

The most memorable job that came 69Rigs’ way was when Believers Church Medical College Hospital in Thiruvalla contacted them to create a 3D model of a damaged skull of an accident victim. Clint, who knew the victim, spent entire nights and created one from scanned images in a couple of days. The hospital used it to assess the damage and design implants to carry out the tricky operation.

Clint says the doctors later told him that the model made it possible to carry out the operation successfully and save the person’s life. He says the hospital has now acquired its own 3D printers for such procedures. Other hospitals have also contacted 69Rigs to make 3D models of human organs to teach medical students.

Another revenue stream that 69Rigs developed is providing and setting up 3D printers for those who want them. He also provides repair services, and some companies rely on him to service their customers.

Clint had kept his day job until last year and focused on his business after his office hours. However, as the revenue became steady, Clint decided to become a full-time entrepreneur in November 2023.

“The business had reached a level that enabled me to convince those around me, including my wife and parents, that it was more profitable to run this business than slogging away in an office.”

He says 3D printing could become much more popular in the coming years. It could become a fixture in every house, and anything broken in a household, like the knob of an electrical gadget or a utensil, could be printed in a jiffy at home itself, instead of buying it.

New uses are already emerging, like lithophane printing, which is like embossing a photograph into a translucent plaque that will show the image when held up against light.

“One curious demand that started surfacing is from family members who want to 3D print the faces of those who died, instead of photos as is the tradition,” says Clint.

But he is aware of the risks he is facing, as new entrants who do not spend enough time studying the market could clog the market and undercut rates.

Right now, Clint sees a bright future for his company. With his business steadying, he has plans to expand and will be looking for investments soon.

He says many companies that need high-end 3D printing using polymer materials now depend on firms that are outside the state. By establishing such facilities here, we can easily provide such services to them, he says.

As the business grows, will the pressure of running a firm also get bigger? His answer was a surprise.

“Ever since I decided to become an entrepreneur, my personal life has become much better. I get time to sleep, and I spend more time with my kids and get time to execute bigger orders. But you should always be willing to learn. Every day there is something new to learn.”



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