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Rick Pollack of MakerGear

Meet Rick Pollack, founder of  MakerGear, a designer and manufacturer of affordable, desktop 3D printers with 10 employees.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen done with a 3D printer?

Desktop 3D printing is really so new that pretty much every time I look there is something cool. I see a lot of parts made for radio controlled planes, robots and other hobbies, decorative items like vases, bracelet and fixtures, and a lot of prototypes for various types of businesses.

You can design a part, print it, test it, change it and print it again. You can design a part today and be shipping it tomorrow.

There is a lot of amazing stuff going on in experimental 3D printing, like organs and blood vessels or the ability to print parts on demand while in space. Within 20 years 3D printing will be everywhere: building cars and planes, food and medicine. Right now we mostly print using plastic, but other materials like metal and composites will become commonplace.

Why did you start your business?  

I wanted the ability to manufacture on my desktop. About 10 years ago, I had an idea for a product. I built working prototypes and then spent a lot of time and money trying to find partners and investors to actually create it. My background is in software and this required manufacturing.

A 3D printer allows you to go into low volume production with minimal upfront costs. You can do hundreds of pieces without any special tooling. This technology is great for inventors and small businesses, as an idea can be quickly tested with minimal up-front investment.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?

Manufacturing is hard. Managing an international supply chain is very challenging. Our custom parts are manufactured locally. Commodity items like power supplies and stepper motors come from overseas.

I started with a small, manual 1970s-era micro-lathe that I purchased at an auction. I started making extruder parts for hobbyists in my unheated garage. It was slow going but that was how I started the transition from being a software person to being a manufacturer.

There is a vast difference, however, between producing a handful of parts in my garage and producing the thousands of parts that we now ship all over the world. Given the inherent complexity of machining or fabricating parts, delays are going to happen.

When a supplier tells you your parts are ready and then they are either not ready or have to be rejected and this cycle repeats week after week, it just gets scary. If one key part does not show up, the entire production line can screech to a halt.

What is an ideal day at MakerGear?

An ideal day means all of the equipment is running properly, everyone is present and working hard. Shipments arrive on time, undamaged, with parts that are to specification. Orders are pouring in and lots of boxes with MakerGear stickers depart from our loading dock to destinations around the globe. And, mostly importantly, our customers are giddy!

How have you grown your company?

Organically. We have no outside investors. We operate within our means by using our revenue to build the company.

What didn’t you expect?

I did not expect it to be so global.

The flip side of this is that when someone has a problem in New Zealand or Columbia -- you usually can’t just post an update on the website for them to download. We sent a printer out to be tested in micro-gravity so, who knows, maybe we’ll soon be sending a 3D printer into orbit.

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