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TOM THE BUILDER: Personalized 3-D printing helps Kaps create individual, lifelike figures

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Tom Kaps is the founder of Mirror Image 3D in Freehold.
Tom Kaps is the founder of Mirror Image 3D in Freehold. - ()

Tom Kaps had built a nice business: Flock Free Bird Control.

It specialized in commercial bird control. You know, he was the guy you called when birds keep finding their way into your business.

Over the past 11 years, the company has grown beyond a million dollars in revenue, has developed 22 products and maintains all of the Home Depot locations across the country.

He was a satisfied and successful business owner.

Then Kaps’ wife showed him a news story about a boy who lost his hand in an accident, and his father, who built him a new hand with a 3-D printer.

Kaps was hooked. So hooked that he was willing to wade into this familiar territory after years in a wholly unrelated industry.

“I started looking into 3-D printing technology and I came across this company that was making these really cool, realistic figurines and the minute I saw it I told my wife, ‘We have to do this,’” Kaps said.

After years of self-education and research, Kaps and his family have opened Mirror Image 3D, a retail space in the Freehold Raceway Mall that utilizes the technology of 3-D printing to create lifelike figures of anybody who gets scanned in the store.

It’s the first such location in the Northeast region.

“We’ve talked with a few people that are flirting with the idea of going into retail, but they didn’t have the guts to do it,” Kaps said.

Kaps, who still owns Flock Free Bird Control, had more than just guts. He had the business know-how.

“(We) have more than one thing in the store,” he said. “A lot of people were just going to go in, scan people and that’s it. We’re going to have more of the 3-D experience.”

That experience includes, in addition to the full-body scans, stations where machines capture a 3-D image of the customer’s face and generate an image in a few moments. The image can then be customized with various “outfits” before being printed as a bobblehead.

But how does it work?

For the full-body scan, the subject stands in the middle of a booth that has four Artec scanners and rotates 360 degrees twice over 12 seconds. Each camera takes 17 pictures a second and measures the distance between itself and the subject. That data is captured and, in five minutes, Mirror Image 3D has a 3-D rendering of the subject.

Then the company sends the initial 3-D scan to the U.S.-based Artec servers, and in roughly 10 minutes, Mirror Image 3D has a finalized 3-D model.

“Then the final rendering comes back to us, we can download it and then we’re ready to send that to our 3-D printer,” he said.

The figures are then printed layer by layer.

“Each one of those slices is the size of your hair follicle,” he said. “It’s really, really thin and that’s what enables the machine to give you that fine detail. They get every single curve of your teeth, your socks or your wristwatch.”

And the result is in full color, something that’s rare in 3-D printing.

“A lot of what people see in 3-D printing is still a lot of the little gadgets people are building with the monochromatic machines, little solid color things,” he said. “So what we’re doing is really on the cutting edge. It’s nice to be there.”

Even though starting this new business came with a learning curve regarding the new technology, there were some elements of running a successful business Kapp was able to carry with him from his last venture.

“You have to pay for your education,” he said. “If you’re going to get into a business, you’re going to have to learn it, and that sometimes costs money because you’re going to make mistakes.

“And if you make a mistake, you can’t dwell on that mistake. You have to learn from it and not repeat it.”

Payment isn’t just financial.

“You have to be willing to put in the time,” he said. “It’s not a 40-hour workweek, it’s an 80-hour workweek.”

Most importantly, Kaps said, you always must be willing to learn.

“I know what I don’t know and I try to reach out to people who are smart,” he said. “A lot of people are willing to share if you’re willing to listen.”

Biz in brief

Name: Mirror Image 3D
Location: Freehold
Founder: Tom Kaps
Employees: Three
Revenue: Undisclosed

All in the family

There was one distinctive element about this new venture Tom Kaps was adamant to point out: It’s a family enterprise.

“I wouldn’t be doing this without my wife,” he said. “She’s my partner in this business along with my son-in-law and daughter.

“They’ve all kept the faith, for the last year and a half, that this was actually going to happen, because there were a lot of roadblocks.”

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