Economic Development

YBI Startup JuggerBot Seeks 3-D Printer Hybrid

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Thomas Watson, former chairman and CEO of IBM, is often credited with one of history’s most inaccurate predictions.

“I think there’s a world market for maybe five computers,” he is supposed to have said, despite no documentation.

Still, it speaks to what many thought were the commercial limitations of computers. It wasn’t until the arrival of user-friendly operating systems that widespread use of computers began.

Three graduates of Youngstown State University dream of having a similar impact on the additive manufacturing industry. “We’re making industrial-grade 3-D printers with the convenience of a desktop,” says Dan Fernback.

Last May, Fernback joined Jim D’Andrea and Zac DiVencenzo to form JuggerBot 3D LLC, a startup housed in the Youngstown Business Incubator.

The three friends met while attending classes at YSU. D’Andrea moved here from Columbus. Fernback and DiVencenzo are from the area.

“We wanted to get together and build a 3-D printer that was better than what we could buy,” D’Andrea says.

All three graduated with baccalaureates in industrial engineering. Throughout the course of their schoolwork, they saw firsthand many local manufacturing operations.

“We really saw the potential additive manufacturing has in manufacturing,” says D’Andrea, who completed an internship at America Makes, the additive manufacturing hub downtown.

One area that presents considerable opportunity is the development of prototypes. But developing them can be time-consuming and require a lot of tooling, to say nothing of money.

“I can think of a new idea today, start printing tonight and show my boss tomorrow,” says DiVencenzo. “We’re trying to speed up innovation.”

Additive manufacturing is a process that creates an object from the ground up by adding ultra-thin layers of material one at a time. The process can be very cost effective because it eliminates much of the waste that results in traditional subtractive manufacturing.

In JuggerBot’s office at the YBI, you’ll find parts lying on the floor, several white boards covered with ideas and their prototype. At this stage, it looks like a small-model printer someone forgot to finish. All of the insides are showing and a final name is yet to be decided.

But it works. “We’re in the process of running test prints to see if there are issues,” D’Andrea says.

What the three men behind JuggerBot hope to accomplish with their new model is a cross between an industrial-grade 3-D printer and a hobby model. “Our goal is to bring that kind of quality, something that an engineer could use, at the desktop size and price range,” Fernback says.

Prices for industrial printers begin around $250,000, while the smaller, more affordable printers aren’t well-suited to manufacturing.

“The current manufacturers cut a lot of corners,” DiVencenzo says. “They’ve missed the key components of quality and usability and repeatability.”

JuggerBot has indentified five areas where today’s lower-priced printers are lacking. The first is the quality of the print.

“The market, the way it is, is a race to the bottom,” says DiVencenzo. “Who can manufacture the cheapest printer?”

He points out that sometimes something as simple as using a better bearing can greatly improve the finished product.

“The corners that they’re cutting are significantly changing the print,” he’s found.

The second problem is that learning to use 3-D printers can be difficult. “That’s where our user-friendly interface comes into play,” Fernback says.

The third is the time it takes to print an object, a process “not known for being quick by any means,” D’Andrea says.

Finally, there is the high cost of the machines and their inability to repeat prints consistently.

“You won’t have to fine-tune [our printer] and make adjustments,” D’Andrea says. “Pretty much every desktop printer on the market you have to adjust small things almost between every print.”

The trio behind JuggerBot feels improvements in these five areas will greatly improve all aspects of the printing process, from the quality of the final product to the ease in which a nonexpert can use it.

“We have some designs we’ve come up with that are leaps and bounds ahead of what is out there in those five categories,” Fernback says.

JuggerBot is in talks with local manufacturers about building their product. They’ve also contacted potential customers, such as Delphi, to conduct a beta test of the printers. They would like to keep the manufacture and distribution of their product local.

“We can keep an eye on the quality and make sure it’s being built the way we want,” D’Andrea says.

The three hope to see JuggerBot enter the market around the end of this year. They are well aware how ambitious their goal is.

“We think we can hit it,” Fernback says, “but quite frankly this is the first time we’ve done this.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.