In the early days of 3-D printing, MakerGear founder Rick Pollack bootstrapped a small business making components in his garage, one part at a time.
“People had homemade 3-D printers, but they didn’t work well,” Pollack says. “I bought a lathe and started making parts so they’d work better.”
Everything changed when, in 2008, he learned about the Fab Lab at Lorain County Community College. The lab, which opened in 2005, had a superior laser-cutting machine, and Pollack jumped at the opportunity to augment his equipment.
“The lab gave me access to a $25,000 piece of cutting and fabricating machinery,” Pollack says. “It was visionary for the college to do. They saw manufacturing companies needed access to advanced machinery that required too large of an investment for a startup.”
Pollack says that access changed everything.
“Seeing what was possible — the resources that were available to me — was really powerful,” he says. “I paid $100 to learn to use the Fab Lab equipment, and we have received the benefits many times over.”
Today MakerGear is a thriving manufacturer, selling thousands of 3-D printers every year. And its printers are being used at one of the world’s biggest companies.
“Google is working on giant dirigible aircrafts,” he says. “They have 50 of our machines in their facilities, printing parts to make this aircraft.”
3-D printing is becoming a key aspect of advanced manufacturing.
“The applications of additive manufacturing are expected to grow significantly as advancement in materials and technologies continue,” says R. Scott Zitek, assistant professor, automation and Fab Lab coordinator at LCCC.
Pollack says he’s stunned by the scope of advancements.
“A 3-D printer is like the Photoshop of things,” he says. “The spectrum is so wide.” He cites a dental lab printing custom teeth and the potential to print custom parts for hip replacements.
“I wildly underestimated the rate of growth,” he says.
To continue to help companies innovate, Pollack’s team introduced its newest product, the MakerGear Ultra One printer.
“The Ultra One was borne out of our customers’ desire for a larger-format printer built with an uncompromising philosophy,” says Ryan Martin-Wagar, MakerGear’s COO. “It is setting a new standard in print quality in the large-format size and will provide customers with a wide range of new possibilities. We expect this to reduce lead times and drive innovation in the aerospace, automotive and defense verticals.”
Pollack attributes the company’s continuing success to its start in LCCC’s Fab Lab.
“The machines we’re building every day and the applications they’re being used for, we’re super proud of that,” says Pollack. “If I had not been exposed to the Fab Lab, MakerGear would not exist.”