Hakan Okka, founder and chief executive officer of iRapid, was one of the 3D printing gurus attending the iMakr store opening in London. Over a very British pint, we talked about his journey from engineer to entrepreneur and how, as he tells it, he makes the "most affordable 3D printer manufactured in Europe."
Hakan is an engineer by profession, training and enthusiasm. He's worked on a variety of projects including super high speed spindles – running at 200,000 rpm – on packaging machines and cement machines. He also worked for Ford on cost reduction. But what he liked most was product development and making something new in particular.
While working for another company that bought a RepRap for a project, he had the typical engineer thought: "I could do this better." What makes him different is that he did. After 18 months of development, he shipped his first iRapid prototype in early 2012 and set up operations the following August.
Like many creative computer industry entrepreneurs, Hakan started his company in a garage. Today his much larger organization is located in a tech centre in Cologne, Germany.
Initially Hakan aimed his printer at the German market but Germans didn't buy it. Sales originated in other nations, particularly the UK. Although the German market has started to pick up, UK citizens and other English speaking consumers are responsible for the bulk of iRapid sales so the company's website defaults to English.
What makes the iRapid special is that it uses a rack and pinion mechanism instead of belts and pulleys. This reduces the number of parts and makes its construction cheaper. It's also well finished with all the electronics enclosed, something which is necessary to meet the German TUV regulations. Hakan also believes the sleek appearance helps attract and reassure potential customers who might be apprehensive about a "techie product."
Hakan claims that iRapid models are the cheapest European built printers at €999 (about $1,200), but that's difficult to substantiate. There are just too many small manufacturers. He also asserts that the low price doesn't come at the expense of build quality. Indeed, he says the iRapid is a higher quality printer than the Solidoodle because he is selective about features. The iRapid has no LCD, a single extruder, only uses PLA and its build platform isn't heated, all of which means a smaller power supply. Future products may increase in size but he'll stick to the ethos of low cost and high simplicity.
Hakan frequently uses his printers. At the moment he is too busy printing functional parts to indulge in art, but his preference is for organic shapes: objects that cannot be made by milling and drilling.
Hakan exudes enthusiasm, and I don't think it was just the pint. It had more to do with being proud that his products are among the selection being retailed at iMakr. Indeed, as soon as we exited the 17th Century tavern I got the sense that he would quickly find his way back to the 21st Century printer store.