Dec 13, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printing has already stimulated countless ambitious students to begin their own startups, a new story from China reminds us that at-home manufacturing can set anyone on the path to entrepreneurship. For though Ye Xi Quan was not at all seeking to design new products, he inadvertently designed a fantastic educational and original toy while trying to fulfill his son’s dreams. Before he knew it, he came up with a fantastic building block set that is packed with electronics, colorful lights, and even parts for radio’s, MP3 players and more, that enable children to build anything they want while learning the basics of electric circuits.

While many startups have already used 3D printing to design interesting and educational toys, few of those stories are as heartwarming as that of Ye Xi Quan. A 41-year-old father of two, he made a casual promise to his youngest son NiuNiu to build the toys he dreamed of. Two years and a 400,000 RMB investment later (approximately $62,000 USD), he has come up with a sort of high tech, electronics-packed version of Lego or Duplo.

As he explains, he and his sons just love playing with blocks and their home is absolutely packed with Legos – Ye Xi Quan already spent more than 6,000 RMB (almost $1000 USD) on Lego in anticipation of his son’s birth. Fortunately, his sons also quickly learnt to enjoy the hobby. Fast forward a few years, and youngest son NiuNiu was turning five years old. When asked what he wanted for his birthday, he said: "I want blocks, I want to build a house." But, it turns out, the blocks they already have weren’t good enough. "I want to build a tall building just like the one on the opposite side of street, with all the lights on,” the boy said.

But as other fathers doubtlessly know, there’s a limit to what you can do with Lego’s and no lighted blocks exist. In order to calm his son, Ye Xi Quan casually said something to his son, "then I will make a set for you." But promising your kids anything is dangerous, and every time dad came home his son asked if the blocks were ready yet.

Unfortunately, Ye Xi Quan studied business administration and knew little about electronics, so he teamed up with a friend who helped him design light circuits for blocks. The concept they came up with was great: build a couple of general, transparent blocks that fit on a lighted base. "At that time the idea was, to make transparent plastic blocks, with light mounted on the base, with astigmatism lit the whole house." It was fairly easy to design, and simply required the circuits to be inserted into the open backs of building blocks, which themselves were 3D printed (and modeled) by a Chinese service provider.

Of course, this was quite expensive – over the course of a few months, bills quickly reached 60,000 RMB (or almost $10,000 USD), but you have to do something for your kids. "The main reason was 3D printing is too expensive, there are several parts in a set of building blocks, each of them need to be modeled and 3d printed separately,” he explained. But the results were good: a circuit and battery were embedded in the block bases, on which 3D printed transparent blocks could be added for a very fun effect.

While his son loved it, he did point out a problem. "He said, the lighting on the buildings in the street are illuminated from every window inside out, not from the bottom to the building." In other words, every window had to be fitted with a small light bulb, capable of emitting light individually, for the picture to be perfect. Ye Xi Quan now wanted to see this through to the end, even if it meant installing circuits into every single block.

Fortunately, he now had the necessary experience. The small bulbs and circuits were fixed into place with an iron needle to create autonomous light emitting blocks. When the circuits are added together and attached to a power source, they all light up. Fantastic creations are quickly made. Both sons (and their friends) were very happy with the results, and soon started dreaming big. "They asked, since you can build buildings, these blocks can also be used to create big windmills, a radio, etc etc......"

And that is essentially how this building set was formed. Fast forward two years and a total investment of 400,000 RMB, Ye Xi Quan has completed a fantastic block set that can be turned into anything: a radio, a transmitter, an MP3 player and more than ten other different toys. At least a 120 different functional creations have already been made. And, of course, a lighted version of everything you can build with Legos is also possible. "The majority of the market building block are used for creating different shapes, but my building blocks are functional, you really can use them and build functional things." The wiring itself is as simple as possible, and enables children to learn the basic concepts of circuits and electricity safely and with lots of fun.

This brilliant concept is currently coming to market, and could reach toy stores near your soon. Ye Xi Quan finally set up a company in April with the goal of commercializing his children’s unique toys, and together with a friend is working hard to market and promote the toys. Having been live for just three months now, their sales are already looking good and have reached the 800,000 RMB region already (approximately $125,000 USD). The future is thus looking very bright, though it is currently unknown if and when they’ll go for a worldwide release. But seeing what kids can do with just ordinary Lego’s, this concept looks like a perfect educational toy.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Mr. Cruz wrote at 12/13/2015 11:39:23 PM:

Is there no link to the startup?

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