Anita Redd began her path toward owning a business in earnest, by making a homemade skin balm for her son’s eczema.

After years of treating his condition with the balm, the Lawrenceville resident decided to go into business for herself and sell the balm in local stores. That’s how her business, Anita’s Balm, came to be.

Now Redd and her husband, Jason, are branching out and diversifying their portfolio by selling biodegradable containers that they make with a trio of 3-D printers. Each day, a printer can churn out up to 24 containers ranging from cream jars, carabiners and pots to treasure boxes, soap pumps and salt and pepper shakers.

“We’re beginning to sell them empty, starting now,” Anita Redd said. “Until now, we’ve only used them filled with Anita’s Balm, so we’re changing to a different business, which is empty containers.”

The homemade containers venture is a new development in Redd’s career as it marks her move into the packaging business. She and her husband began to sell them to other businesses and on their website, www.anitasbalm.com, this month and are offering their services to make businesses existing jar designs using the 3-D printing process and biodegradable materials.

“We received a extremely supportive reception at the show,” Redd said. “We had Georgia and Florida companies inquire regarding us making up to 1000 jars for them.”

Born from necessity

When Redd and her husband began making their first container a year ago, they weren’t setting out to launch a new side to their business. They moved toward that model for the simple reason that her business had a need.

The general plastic jars she had been buying to hold her balm had been discontinued and there was a limited supply left.

“I bought the entire rest of them, it was 300 of them, and I said, ‘Jason, we have a short period of time to come up with a new one-ounce jar because we don’t have anymore,’” she said. “I said, ‘This is what I want: I want it to twist up from the bottom. I want it to be decorative and look like a pot’ and this is what we wound up with.”

The couple invested $2,000 in buying and setting up each printer, and Jason Redd designs the containers on a computer in the AutoCAD design program.

They plan to sell the containers for between 20 cents and $1 depending on the product. Money made from sales will be reinvested in the company to buy additional printers.

Letting technology do the work

There is not much heavy lifting needed by the Redds to make the containers. Once they turn the computers on, the printers largely do the rest.

They only need to feed clear polylactic acid, or PLA, pellets and a colored dye into a device that converts it into a strand of plastic-like material which is used to make the containers.

The only indication that containers are being made is a faint noise that sounds like a repeating chord of computerized musical notes. That’s the sound the printers make as their print heads move back and forth creating the containers one strand of PLA at a time.

“It’s got an outer wall and an inner wall and then it’s hollow in the center so that the shape of it make it pretty strong,” Jason Redd said. “You can toss it around.”

The couple has expanded the selection over the last 10 months to add the one-ounce and quarter-ounce jars and carabiners with balm in them. The salt and pepper shakers and parts for bee hive containers are new additions.

The treasure boxes and soap pumps are in the prototype stage, but Redd hopes to roll them out during the holiday season.

“(The treasure boxes) still need a little bit of work,” she said.

Each container costs about 9 cents to make on the printer.

While the containers keep the couple from having to spend extra money to produce the balm, Anita Redd said the move towards 3-D printed containers is environmentally motivated. The PLA used to make the products comes from plants such as beets and corn and can break down completely within 90 days in a municipal compost facility.

By comparison, she said the jars she previously used for her balm take 500 years to break down.

“That’s why I went with the 3-D printer,” Anita Redd said. “As long it used the PLA, I was willing to go ahead with it, but I didn’t want to get a printer that was just going to use the same material we’d been using before.”

Sometimes the process doesn’t work exactly as planned. On one occasion as one of the printers finished a quarter-ounce jar, the PLA strand got slightly jammed up while the print head was making the part where the lid screws on. As a result, that part was thinner than it should have been and had holes in some spots.

Jason Redd wasn’t concerned though, explaining the PLA is easily reusable.

“I’m going to grind it up and stick it right back in the hopper and it will come right back out (as a new container),” he said.

Not the end of Anita’s Balm

People who use the Anita’s Balm, however, do not have to worry that the move into packaging will mean a move away from the balm industry.

The Redds said customers won’t have to find a new product to treat skin conditions. If anything, the move into 3-D printing will let the couple expand their work on the balm side of the business.

The plan is work on moving more the balm’s production in-house. Family members are going to begin raising bees, using hive containers made on the printer, to make the wax used in the balm.

“I’ll never move away from doing the balm,” Redd said. “My son still has eczema and he still needs products … Anita’s Balm is all he uses. He’s off all prescription drugs for eczema and other people are reporting similar results with skin conditions all over the country. I will not give it up.”