From military service to mining, Rugged 3D’s products allow for quick fixes in challenging environments
Thanks to advances in additive manufacturing, known as 3D printing, jobs that require specialized parts can be completed faster than ever. But how can relatively delicate items like 3D printers function in spaces that look nothing like a typical desk? That’s the question the co-founders of Rugged 3D have set out to answer. The Youngstown startup has developed the same kind of 3D printers that can solve countless problems, but has outfitted them with cases, framing and shock absorbers that allow them to withstand harsh environments like combat areas, oil rigs and more.
“At Rugged 3D we’re focused on advanced manufacturing and how we deploy it outside of an office in harsh environments. For instance: how can we deploy 3D printers to fix supply chain burdens and build replacement parts in the field at the exact point of failure instead of depending on shipping? We’re taking advanced manufacturing machines, learning where the failure points are and figuring out how we can augment them so they can survive the logistics of transportation as well as operating in a harsh environment.”
Boring’s brother is a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who flew helicopters on multiple deployments and told him all about how difficult it was to get replacement parts to remote locations when something went wrong, leaving a multi-million dollar piece of equipment useless. Those stories set Boring and co-founder Micah Tindor to work researching how they could solve those problems and where else their tech could be applied.
“We first had to evaluate what 3D printers they were using and the machines the military was using, which led us to understand what problems they were experiencing. We interviewed members of the military and users of 3D printers to understand what the failures were, how often they were happening and how much effort was required to sustain a current 3D printer. That’s where we started learning some of the pain points of shipping, logistics and maintenance of the machines once they’re deployed. After we learned about those aspects, we started engineering new parts and figuring out how we could build our machine to handle these types of situations and have a more sustainable machine to use in the field.”
To the duo’s surprise, they didn’t find a crowded field of companies working on these products. Instead, when doing their research, they found very few solutions for the problems they were trying to solve. They also found that their technology was just as needed in non-military areas like oil rigs, mines and more.
“Nobody was doing this,” said Boring. “We really are the only commercially available 3D printer that’s specifically focused on a rugged platform that can be deployed into harsh environments and also survive the necessary logistics. Our machines are doing from the front lines what standard desktop 3D printers can do in an office. We take it to where the problem is happening.”
Rugged wasn’t always an Ohio company, but moved to Youngstown for the opportunities northeast Ohio provided. Boring and Tindor launched the company in the East Bay of San Francisco, and while it initially seemed like the ideal place to start a tech-oriented company, they quickly realized that California didn’t provide as many manufacturing opportunities as their software and hardware counterparts. Boring is from northeast Ohio and has started multiple businesses in the area, and after scouting several cities and considering their family lives, the duo decided the Youngstown Business Incubator was the best place to unlock the next stage of the company.
“San Francisco was a great place for us to do our research and engage with users, but we realized that it wasn’t the best place to be a hardware robotics company and find the right customers,” said Boring. “We found the right fit at the YBI. They’re connected to the Air Force bases in Ohio and have an entire building focused on additive manufacturing. Now, we’re learning from these experts with other people like us who are still in the startup phase. We get a lot of great advice and a lot of great information on how to avoid some of their early pitfalls and to make sure that we stay on track and focused on what we need to develop. In Youngstown, I could tap back into the network I had before that is now in our backyard. Our connections help us make the parts we need, connect us with people that complement our skillset and help mentor us.”