Written by Robert Leitch.
Consumer-grade 3D printers have come a long way in the past few years, but they are not without problems. One persistent challenge is keeping the part secured to the bottom plate while it is being printed. Some users turn to glue or tape to solve the problem, but Cincinnati, Ohio-based GeckoTek has created a more effective solution— aluminum plates with proprietary adhesive coatings.
“Printing a part might take 20 hours, and if at hour 19 the plastic peels off the plate, you have to start all over again. It can destroy the experience of 3D printing,” said GeckoTek co-founder and CEO, Brad Ruff. “We develop and manufacture our coatings ourselves, so they are tailor-made to work with a range of different plastics.”
One of GeckoTek’s products is an adhesive coating for nylon. Ruff says a lot of people avoid printing with nylon because of its inability to stick to printing plates, but with GeckoTek’s product, customers are doing it successfully. Two other types of plates are also available that work with common printing plastics, and GeckoTek continues to develop new products for different materials. The plates attach easily to the printer using magnets, and the plastic is easily peeled from the plate after it cools. The plate can then be reused, and act as a permanent part of the 3D printer.
“I ordered my first 3D printer when I was in grad school, and for a month I couldn’t get anything to print correctly. I used glues and tapes, and eventually learned how to get a few parts to print,” said Ruff. “I told my business partner, ‘We have to come up with something better than this.’”
Rather than developing another glue that users have to apply and scrape off every time, they came up with GeckoTek’s ready-to-use coated plates that have no application and no learning curve.
Ruff and his co-founder Aniket Vyas were graduate students at the University of Cincinnati when they thought of the idea for GeckoTek. They knew that if they were having trouble with 3D printers as students studying engineering, the average consumer would struggle to solve the problem themselves. After graduating, they developed the technology for the coatings and started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for manufacturing. They raised nearly $60,000 in pre-orders on Kickstarter.com and began selling the plates on their website.
Once GeckoTek began selling products, Ruff realized there was a lot involved in starting a business, and getting advice from others who had been through the process could help them navigate their growth. GeckoTek’s offices are housed in HCDC’s business incubator, a southwest partner of Ohio Third Frontier. Ruff says the mentoring from HCDC and collaboration with other startups in the building is helping them build partnerships to grow together. He says being in Cincinnati has continually pushed GeckoTek forward.
“It’s not just traditional tech companies. There are a lot of companies doing manufacturing who have experience and can help us make our products on a large scale,” said Ruff. “Cincinnati has this incredible community of entrepreneurs who are committed to helping each other. The startup scene is expanding every day and I couldn’t imagine growing this business anywhere else than right here in Ohio.”