Jelgava resident Edgars Dimants admits he was a “typically lazy 16-year-old.” Then he attended personal development courses run by psychologist Āris Birze and discovered a powerful inner drive.
“I emerged as a completely different person,” recalls Edgars. “I was motivated, with goals and ambition, and with a purpose in life.”
Instead of going to university, Edgars threw himself into business. After trying his hand at selling socks and cosmetics online, he got hold of a 3D printer and made cookie cutters and busts of superheroes and sports stars, which he tried to sell on ebay and etsy.
Although Edgars had only casually dabbled in computer games, he had an out-of-the-box idea for enriching the playing experience. Advised by Riga aromatherapist Ilze Datava, he began producing diffusers to spread scents which put gamers in the mood. With a few droplets of lemon essential oil, they enjoy get a burst of energy. Conversely, lavender helps them unwind after a harrowing shoot-‘em-up session. Or for a generally happy feeling, the aroma of oranges is just the ticket.
Initially, Edgars’ firm GrandStep made these dispensers in the form of dragons and Pokemon characters. But inspired by a smoking gun which features prominently in a game called Destiny, they began churning out the things in the form of pistols.
Orders rushed in via the company’s website. Because American gamers can afford to drop $200 on gaming accessories (and perhaps because of their attitudes toward firearms,) the pistols are particularly popular in the USA. Delivery across the Atlantic takes just four days by courier, but demand is so high there is a one-month waiting list for kits containing the diffusers and oils.
“There’s an old saying “do whatever works,” so if something sells, then I do more of that,” says Edgars. “And so we have become the world’s only producers of aroma diffusers for gaming.”
GrandStep’s ten employees work out of a Soviet-vintage building in an industrial park on the outskirts of Jelgava. Ninety-three 3D printers operate 24/7, churning out 400 pistols a month as well as other gaming paraphernalia, like headset stands in the shapes of skulls.
Each printer is essentially a robotic arm holding a glue gun, which can be programmed to build an object one layer at a time. Although it’s a little warm in the printing room, and there’s a slight chemical smell, it is notable how quiet the place is for a production line. And it's friendlier to the environment than you might think. Made from sugar cane, the plastic is biodegradable, and GrandStep minimises waste by returning the reels holding the raw plastic strips to their Lithuanian factory for re-use.
With each printer costing around 500 euros, capital investments are modest. All the machines have been acquired through the firm’s organic growth. Edgars says they are not looking for investors, but his engineers are constantly working on new products. A pistol which levitates in front of the player thanks to polarised magnets is in the pipeline.
Edgars anticipates that Chinese competitors will eventually enter the market. But his enterprise proves that thanks to 3D printing, small players with bright ideas can be globally competitive manufacturers. Edgars also teaches Latvian industrial arts schoolteachers about the technology so they can pass on the knowledge to their pupils.
“The only limits with 3D printing are your imagination and some laws of physics,” says Edgars. “Otherwise, you can do whatever you like.”