Buy local: MiMe prints 3D figures of people
NILES, Ohio — When speaking to MiMe customers, Renee Malutic is often asked to remove a few pounds from the 3D-printed miniatures her company makes. “We call it plastic surgery,” she jokes.
Malutic’s company, MiMe (pronounced My Me), uses photo and additive manufacturing technology to print realistic, full-color miniatures of people, pets and objects.
The miniatures are printed with gypsum powder, which Malutic describes as similar to “your grandmother’s miniatures.” We manufacture custom products that you won’t find anywhere else. There are only five places in the country and we are one of them.
For 20 years, Malutic worked as an engineer at Delphi, specializing in cost reduction. While she had never seen it in action, she started hearing about a new process called additive manufacturing. It eliminates the need for tooling and reduces costs for businesses.
Shortly after, she and a colleague saw a 3D printer that printed in color at a trade show in Chicago. “We were fascinated,” she says.
The two decided to go into business together, envisioning a mobile business that would travel to popups and events selling miniatures.
As they were about to launch their business, Eastwood Mall announced the Small Shop Showdown contest, which offered the winner six months of free rent inside the mall.
Malutic and his business partner, Chris Grosbeck, entered the contest and the winners were announced in June 2019. The store, across from the aquarium, opened two months later.
The process begins in the MiMe photo booth, a circular area surrounded by 20 poles, each containing five cameras. The subject stands in the middle and all cameras simultaneously take photos at the rate of two per quarter second. “So we get 200 photos of you from all angles,” Malutic says.
Grosbeck, who designed the stand, says it’s similar to what you’d see in a game design studio or movie theater, but at a fraction of the cost. Such a stand would cost around $1 million, he says. “To integrate this into a retail environment, it would be nearly impossible to recoup the cost.”
To create a stand that was both functional and affordable, Grosbeck had to replace some of the hardware and find a way to design everything together. “It’s high-end cellphone cameras tied to little 700 megahertz computers and I prototyped it by doing little GI Joe guys,” he says.
The photos are uploaded into software similar to that used by investigators to recreate crime scenes.
“The software puts it all together and creates a 3D model for us,” says Malutic.
Figures range in size from three to eight inches and range in price from $39 to $150. ” [In] 2019, we did really well. We started to explode,” she says.
Then, at the height of the Christmas shopping season, when Malutic and Grosbeck were “buried” under orders, their only printer broke down.
“So we lost a week of production. We were here day and night,” says Malutic.
Determined to never let that happen again, the two men invested their profits in buying two more printers to act as backups – but also to manage the capacity of the franchises they were planning.
Now that they had their hub, Malutic and Grosbeck wanted to franchise the photo booths, allowing others to take and sell photos which would then be uploaded to their servers and made from a central location.
In February 2020, they bought a big server and started doing the paperwork to set up the franchises. Then the pandemic hit. The store was forced to close during the shutdowns and Malutic and Grosbeck had to lay off all of their employees.
The two were the only employees when the store was allowed to reopen. But by then, problems with the supply chain had caused a shortage of the microchips needed to build the additional photo booths.
To make matters worse, customers who had flocked to the store to have their picture taken were reluctant to walk out. The two new printers were never put into service and now sit unused in a back room of the store. “We never saw the capacity to get these printers up and running,” says Malutic. “It’s because of the pandemic and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The business partners were determined to overcome obstacles and turn things around, especially since they were self-funding their entire business.
Malutic estimates he has invested around $250,000 in the business so far. “We are dealing with our money. If we had to repay a loan from a bank to start our business, we would have had to close already,” says Malutic.
So they decided to expand their products and services to expand their customer base. MiMe now sells the Creality Ender-3 3D printer, one of the most common printers for beginners.
“Our niche is that we assemble it entirely and we provide the software and give you a year of technical support,” says Malutic. “We will do the maintenance in case of failure.”
Since they had the printers for sale, Malutic figured they might as well use them to make something. They then had the idea of offering decorative lighting in lithophane.
The client brings a photo folder. The photo is printed, or textured, in a thin piece of plastic that reveals the photo when lit.
MiMe also offers 3D printing of files for those without a printer, as well as 3D printing pens, which work similar to a hot glue gun. “It helps kids see in 3D,” says Malutic.
And soon MiMe will start offering a service called SuperMe, which will allow a customer to put a 3D-printed miniature of their head on top of a resin-printed superhero body.
In the meantime, Malutic and Grosbeck are working on revamping their website to start offering customers a way to upload photo files that can then be 3D printed.
The process is trickier, Grosbeck says, and requires an artist’s touch because the 2-dimensional image doesn’t contain the dimensions of the person’s face.
The new products will allow MiMe to offer customers a lower cost alternative to its main product, Malutic said.
Pictured above: Renee Malutic holds a 3D printed family figure.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.