Espen Sivertsen is the CEO of Type A Machines making 3D printing machines out of an old Ford factory in San Leandro.

The dream of Espen, his partners and the vision of the company is to make it easier and cheaper to go from thought to prototype, a vision they accomplish through making cheap 3D printers that print affordable plastic prototypes of everything from a dinosaur head, parts for a custom made speed boat and 1:1 models of human hearts.

Prior to heart surgery doctors print high resolution 2D image of the heart to plan the procedure. These prints cost about US $1000 while a plastic 3D model cost about $10, that is a factor two decrease and it allows for whole new ways of making prototypes, models and even for producing products. Already now you can send in drawings and have them printed and shipped within a few days, in the near future you will probably be able to scan a hand drawn sketch and be able to pick it up at your local post office or 3D printing office a few hours later. Within a few years 3D printers will be in most homes and you can print your own plastic figures. Making models out of more advanced materials you can probably send drawings to a local office who makes models in metal or that have some kind of electronic features.

This kind of technology have emerged within the last few years and Type A Machines is on the forefront of the development. Last year alone the industry grew 40% and Type A Machine 50%. The three-year-old company now has 27 employees, and together with the manager of the old factory building they a gathering companies within the industry in the building and forming a business cluster. This old car factory currently holds seven companies making plastic for 3D printing and other kinds of supporting, non-competing businesses.

Being a SF Bay Area startup I had expected all 27 employees being at the office, working hard until 6pm on Fridays, but this was not the case, and I had a talk with Espen about that. At places like Amazon and Google there are kindergartens, fitness centers and more designed to make the day easier for the employees but also to get them to hang around longer. Google’s famous 20%-time, where employees are allowed to work on own projects 20% of their working time, should maybe be called 120% time? With the median employee tenure at Google being 1.1 year the company ranks 4th lowest in company loyalty among the Fortune 500 companies.  http://www.payscale.com/data-packages/employee-loyalty

Espen wants Type A Machines to hold on to their brightest minds by making a comfortable working environment and first of all a separation between work and free time. Espen wants his employees to thrive at the office but does not want 3D printing to become their life. In this way he hopes to maintain a good working culture and make sure that people stay, both for the sake of the profitability of the company and for the value of being in a comfortable place. The remote placement of the office in San Leandro also supports the retention of employees as very few people with families choose to live in San Francisco. Being close to main roads it provides an easier commute and it is closer to cheaper and more family friendly housing.

Even though the separation between work and free time is important, the office also include a ping pong table, people are skating between the desks and this Friday afternoon there was a small celebration of one of the employee’s birthday with chocolate, beers and games and the traditional Norwegian birthday song performed by the CEO.

With a growth rate of 50% though it is hard to maintain a good working culture without a very conscious effort. Having started in Tech Shop in Downtown San Francisco Type A Machines have challenged Tech Shop in a Nerf Gun war. It is the classic tactic of presenting an outside enemy to promote unity and tolerance in the group. The battle will take place in July and each team has until then to modify and make their weapons. Until then the employees and the CEO will play ping pong, develop NERF guns and novel ways of 3D printing and they will drink beers in the bar of one of the two neighboring breweries.