By Gregory Daurer | Sep 26, 2022
St. George, Utah
Contract 3D-printing services
When Kerlin bought a 3D printer in order to start his side business Fused, he had a pretty good idea who his first customer might be: the company, Intergalactic, at which Kerlin holds down a day job as director of research and development.
Intergalactic assembles thermal-cooling technology used by the aerospace and defense industries. In its capacity as a product assembler, the parts the company buys from outside parties need to meet stringent guidelines -- withstanding heat, chemical, shock, and vibration testing.
"I wanted to have the capability to get these parts quicker into Intergalactic's hands and to kind of fill the gap," says Kerlin. "Because there's not a ton of 3D-printing service bureaus that provide this technology."
Thanks to his Markforged Mark Two 3D printer, Fused can deliver a vetted, durable part for Intergalactic to use -- not simply a plastic prototype, as many people conceive the present-day limits of 3D printing to be.
Describing his printer's capabilities, Kerlin included the following information within a recent proposal he assembled: "The Markforged 3D printing technology uses a base composite nylon (Onyx) with chopped micro carbon fiber. It then has the ability to reinforce prints with continuous carbon fiber to create composite parts that approach aluminum-strength." Depending on how that reinforcing carbon layer is laid down, the part might even be stronger than aluminum. As an added plus, the part weighs half as much as aluminum. And the cost is nowhere near as expensive as a CNC-machined part.
So far, Kerlin has produced 80 parts for Intergalactic -- which works out to about 90 percent of his business since Kerlin began Fused close to a year ago. "I provide brackets for harnesses for wire routing," says Kerlin.
But he's presently in the process of constructing more aerospace parts for the company. "The 3D printer has been running nearly nonstop to fulfill those aerospace component orders," Kerlin writes in a follow-up email.
Kerlin has also attracted customers via word of mouth, as well as through his website. The site utilizes software to generate a price quote for proposed projects, which get submitted to Fused by prospective customers as an STL file. So far, as examples, Kerlin has replaced the backing for a mountain bike derailleur's SRAM battery, as well as a part for a backpack-style baby carrier, but he expressed a desire to get into producing durable prosthetics as well. "This isn't just for aerospace parts," Kerlin says about 3D printing. "It's not just for hobbyists."
Intergalactic may eventually purchase its own 3D printing equipment, so Kerlin is examining his future options. He's proposed a collaboration to Utah Tech University's Atwood Innovation Plaza which would allow students to learn about 3D printing using his Markforged machine, while also helping to take on more commercial projects than Kerlin is presently able to accommodate on his own time. "They've got a lot of support for the community there for entrepreneurs," Kerlin notes about the Atwood Innovation Plaza. Talks are still ongoing on that front, so it remains to be seen whether the proposal will ultimately fly.
But in expanding knowledge about 3D printing, Kerlin sees greater acceptance -- and potential -- for its use. "There's just so many applications that this technology can be used for, that really makes it an exciting opportunity for us to grow into," he says.
Challenges: "I think spreading the knowledge of this technology," says Kerlin, since many people still aren't aware that 3D printing can produce workable parts rivaling metal, and the process "could save you a lot of money and time."
Opportunities: A move to Utah Tech's Innovation Center might be one practical way to "let this machine run non-stop."
Needs: Kerlin says, "Customers would be the first thing. But the second one would be another printer."