If there are four types of entrepreneurs, the folks at RapidMade would be the Opportunists. Five years ago, the founders were intrigued by the concept of 3-D printing — not much advanced beyond proof of concept at the time — and decided they wanted to become experts in the technology. They didn’t know much about it, and they had no idea where RapidMade fit into the market. But they knew this technology was positioned to become big, and they knew they had an opportunity.
Five years later, the Portland, Oregon-based 3-D printing company has outgrown its 650-square-foot office. Their clients include inventors and Fortune 100 companies, and a cast of mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, machinists, and more comprise the company’s 14 employees. Machines operate around the clock. They needed considerable processing power, which was provided via the latest Intel® Core™ processors.
The progression in 3-D printing has been significant and fast. According to 3D Printing Industry, between 2015 and 2019, global spend on 3-D printing is estimated to more than double from $11 billion to $27 billion. RapidMade learned on the go. With smart partnerships and strategic investments, the family business continues to pursue new technologies and expand into new markets.
It started as a learning experience for everyone involved. Business Development Director Kristofer Beem explains: “I went door to door, trying to figure out how to sell it.” They thought of the jewelry industry first, thinking 3-D printing wax would make casting the precious metals more efficient. However, “it turns out telling artisans that you can improve upon their work isn’t well-received.” The small company had to rethink their strategy.
They targeted engineering and industrial design firms next. With their quick-turn service, partnering with printers and offering a variety of materials, they were in the right place at the right time. “We’re still the ‘I got a guy’ guys,” Beem explains. They began strategically purchasing 3-D printing equipment to move the manufacturing in-house and add service value and continued to make mutually beneficial partnerships.
Modern Industry, Cutting-Edge Tech
RapidMade relies on big processors. Laptops work for travel and trade shows, but info-rich CAD files are huge and require the processing power that comes with desktop PCs. Mobility is still important: Employees travel frequently and maintain communication in different time zones. Even one of their 3-D printers, named Zelda, communicates with text alerts when a printing job is complete. In a small business with a thousand moving parts, collaboration is crucial.
On the industry's horizon is 4-D printing, still 10 years out for practical use by Beem’s estimate. 4-D shapes will grow, unravel, and change over time, such as time-release drugs.
The small business’s focus is still opportunity: more robust in-house processes, accepting more sales, and ramping up for more business. Part of this thrust includes organizing sales territories and creating a larger national presence, as well as continued investment in machinery.
Being in the right industry at the right time might account for some of RapidMade’s growth, but their efforts to discover new opportunities to educate themselves and their customers have really driven success. “If people have a vision for what they want,” Beem says, “the processes take care of themselves.”
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