After seeing a 3D printer at work for the first time back in 2010 at Maker Faire, Nancy Yi Liang of Mixee Labs was hooked.
"They were everywhere," Liang said. "Every tent had at least one 3D printer buzzing away printing something."
It was that informal introduction to the technology that led her to sign on with service bureau mainstay, Shapeways.
Before taking on her startup with Mixee Labs, Liang was the Materials Product Lead at Shapeways. In charge of running the materials portfolio, Liang worked sourcing new materials and researching finishing techniques. There from the start, she joined Shapeways when there were just 20 people on the staff, and that required her to take on "a bit of everything." Those duties ran to managing production for a few months when Shapeways initially began the process of insourcing all their output.
If that's not enough, Liang also designed and programmed the company's first order management software package.
But it's her work with her partner and co-founder of Mixee Labs, Aaron Barnet, which takes up her attention these days. Liang and Barnet met while attending college where they were taking Intro to Computer Science together. Their initial collaboration began on a pair of side projects, Mixee.TV and PolyLit while they were working, oddly enough, at the same hedge fund.
"Fast forward a few years later," Liang said. "We both wanted to do something innovative and impactful, and we saw 3D printing as a no-brainer."
The pair now work and live from their loft in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, NY, where their Solidoodle (for prototyping) and a desktop tumbler are constantly pressed into service as part of their development work.
"We also have a blowtorch – and it's complementary fire extinguisher – both of which we use for material experiments," Liang said.
The Mixee Labs venture is a platform for customizable products targeted toward an audience of people who are interested in design. She says Mixee Labs is for people "who like cool stuff, but don't know how to design their own objects." As 3D printing offers a ready path to create custom products and each object can be completely unique and made on demand, Liang says their hope is to take advantage of the technology to bring the power of design and customization to the masses.
"We believe anybody should be able to remix the objects around them, tweaking them to suit their personal needs," Liang says. "We work with designers to turn their ideas and designs into customizable, remixable products. Designing customizable products is, in the end, designing a specific type of product. This means a lot of what we look for in designers are the same things any product design company would look for. Do they have good taste? Do they design products that people find beautiful, fun, inspiring?"
As for finding those collaborators, Liang said designers reach out to them and sometimes they reach out to designers who have work they think would be suitable as "remixable" output.
"Of course, anybody can make a creator through our platform so, designers, feel free to start hacking on Mixee Lab," she said with a chuckle. "We do work closely with each designer to give advice on printability and designing for 3D printing. Sometimes, we help them with test prints and product photography. To put a particular design on our site we launch new features like different material renders, or new ways of customizing an object."