Closing the 3D printing skills gap with augmented reality
CADSPARC is on a mission to educate the world about design for 3D printing. Founder Jonathan Aguilar knew that lots of companies wanted to bring 3D printing technology in-house but didn’t have staff who knew how. He launched CADSPARC to solve this problem, helping companies get started with 3D printing and computer-aided design (CAD). CADSPARC consults on 3D modeling, turns 2D sketches into 3D models for printing, and offers augmented reality tools. Their flagship tool, VirtualPrint, lets users interact with a 3D model in augmented reality on a smartphone, previewing what the model will look like as a physical object.
It all started two years ago, while Aguilar was studying at UMass Lowell. The university’s makerspace had closed because of the pandemic, but students still wanted to 3D print product prototypes. Aguilar and his college teammates installed a 3D printer in his dorm room. He launched a website where people could review designs and submit them for 3D printing. At first, Aguilar’s customers were students down the hall. But because the website was public, soon CADSPARC was getting requests from all over the country.
“We saw an opportunity to help a lot of people with this – and an opportunity for a business,” Aguilar said. Running a business was new for Aguilar, so he started looking for help.
Aguilar joined the DifferenceMaker accelerator program, which supports student innovators and entrepreneurs trying to solve real-world problems at UMass Lowell. He put together a diverse team consisting of more than 40 students with skills ranging from business and administration to engineering and marketing. DifferenceMaker mentors helped Aguilar develop his product, services, and business model. As Aguilar was looking for interview subjects during customer discovery, the name FORGE kept coming up.
“One of the number one resources we found was FORGE,” Aguilar said. “They helped us identify our problem and find resources to solve it, and connected us to people in the 3D printing industry for advice. That’s what got us started.”
CADSPARC’s software and services were also a valuable resource for other DifferenceMaker students and startup founders. With his experience at DifferenceMaker providing the foundation, Aguilar graduated from UMass Lowell and formalized his business as an LLC. CADSPARC joined the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub Haverhill, a business incubator and coworking space where FORGE is also a member. The Innovation Hub, with its facility, community and 3D printing lab space, served as the ideal location from which to launch CADSPARC, and continues to be a key partner in CADSPARC’s growth.
As CADSPARC grew, Aguilar saw an opportunity to become the kind of resource they sought when they were starting out. They became one of the few organizations to begin as a FORGE startup and become a FORGE supplier.
“Our core value is helping others, especially helping them get up to speed with 3D prototyping. We want to be a great resource. FORGE’s values are aligned with ours. That’s why we became a supplier,” Aguilar said.
As a supplier, CADSPARC works with clients in a variety of industries. The energy industry has been the most interesting to Aguilar, but anyone with an idea they want to translate into a 3D prototype is a potential match. Aguilar remembers one early FORGE referral especially fondly.
“We turned the client’s sketch into a 3D model, then a physical prototype. When he was holding it, you could see it in his face – he was really happy. Moments like that are what inspire us to keep this business going.”
Looking ahead: the next industrial revolution
CADSPARC’s commitment to helping others has gotten some attention. FORGE and the other hosts of the Lowell Celebration of Manufacturing awarded CADSPARC the Rising Star Supplier of the Year award in fall 2022. But that was just the beginning for CADSPARC.
Digital technologies keep getting smarter. The digital and material worlds intersect in increasingly complex and innovative ways. Aguilar wants CADSPARC to be on the vanguard of that intersection by designing and making digital goods.
He said CADSPARC is especially proud of the number of CAD models they’ve made.
“Being able to accelerate these technologies by making the 3D data necessary for them to work is meaningful for us,” Aguilar said. And FORGE has been instrumental for CADSPARC’s journey into the digital future. “FORGE was so helpful when we were trying to become a startup! And now we’re a supplier, helping people just like FORGE suppliers helped us when we were starting out. It was important to us to go full circle.”