Go Big! Tips for Starting an Additive Business
It all started with the Strati, the 3D printed car developed by Local Motors in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and built at IMTS 2014. “I remember seeing that car being printed at IMTS and thinking that I had to figure out how to do that – how to print something that big,” explains Austin Schmidt, co-founder and president of Additive Engineering Solutions (AES), a large-form additive manufacturing company in Akron, Ohio.
AES was featured in a recent webinar presented by AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology. World-renowned researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Thomas Kurfess, Ph.D. and Lonnie J. Love, Ph.D., invited Austin to the webinar to discuss his journey as an additive entrepreneur. AES is now printing large projects with big impacts, including tooling and molds for a variety of industries as well as unique, large-scale mock-ups and prototypes.
Austin highlighted four keys to building a new business in additive manufacturing – or any sector.
- Show Up. If you are tired. If it’s crazy cold or stupid hot outside. If you don’t feel inspired. Just show up. Being present for your business can have tremendous positive consequences, according to Austin. He noted that often his “lucky breaks” were because he was present– at an industry event like IMTS or at a work happy hour. You have to be present to be successful.
- Ask for Help. As a young professional, Austin quickly discovered that he would no longer be judged on what he knew. There are no “tests” after you frame that degree. Instead, you are assessed based on your accomplishments. The easiest way to accomplish more is to ask for help. Austin turned to ORNL, printer manufacturers, and other experts in the additive field for guidance and advice.
- Network. While networking is important in any industry, it is particularly relevant in the manufacturing technology field. There are often only a few major players in specialized industries like large-form additive manufacturing. While competition is healthy, collaboration is critical. Work with your competitors to further the industry as a whole– and your business as a result.
- Be Flexible. Setting goals is easy. Avoiding target fixation is not. It’s important to understand that there is more than one way to reach your goal. Austin explained that, although he always knew he wanted to be a manufacturing business owner, his path was not direct. He worked for five years at one of the biggest players in the industry: Caterpillar. He not only enjoyed his time with the company, but he also learned a lot of practical skills that have made him a better business owner.
Take Risks. This one takes us back to where we started: IMTS 2014 and the 3D printed car. Austin saw the car, found inspiration, and acted on it. Instead of just thinking the car was cool and going back to his comfortable job at Caterpillar, he thought the car was cool and decided to print big things on his own.
“That is the power of in-person demonstrations. That’s the power of IMTS,” notes Love. “IMTS is a demonstration of the art of what’s possible, and it gets people to think outside the box!”
About the Author
“Stephen LaMarca is AMT’s manufacturing technology analyst. He has a background in physics and a passion for all things mechanical, namely automobiles, clocks and wristwatches. He’s pretty sure he has the best job at AMT. He oversees and runs experiments on AMT’s manufacturing testbed, which includes a 5-axis horizontal CNC mill. Stephen is an enthusiastic IMTS TV and IMTS Network correspondent who injects humor into technical subjects. He also hosts the AMT Tech Trends podcast with Ben Moses, Technical Director. Stephen also tracks the research and development throughout the industry that goes into the stuff you see at IMTS!”