FASTER AND CHEAPER: With the growing embrace of 3-D printing in the manufacturing and academic worlds, R&D Technologies is experiencing strong growth. Here Justin and Andrew Coutu, president and CEO of the company respectively, show off many objects produced with the technology.
By Lori Stabile
PBN Staff Writer
These aren’t your average printers.
They can create 3-D prototypes of human body parts, toys, car seats, art and more. They can make products for the military and prototypes for the aerospace and automotive industries and medical field.
And in the near future, they may be as commonplace in homes as traditional printers are now, according to Andrew Coutu, CEO of R&D Technologies Inc., Rhode Island’s only 3-D printer reseller and service dealer.
That means that instead of going to a store to buy an item, the item instead could be printed with ease from one’s own home using a 3-D printer.
“If someone breaks something, they will be able to download a file, and they’re going to print it,” Coutu said.
The technology is catching on, as evidenced by R&D’s rapid growth in revenue over the past three years: $684,313 in 2011; $1,953,540 in 2012; and $3,984,533 in 2013.
Looking around R&D Technologies, which is based at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, it seems that there is little that these machines cannot do.
A display cabinet shows some of the prototypes made with the technology – the Navy Seabee and an abstract art sculpture as well as medical devices and molds of action figures.
The doorstops inside R&D all were made on the company’s 3-D printers, along with name tags, coat racks and some of the cabinet handles.
While 3-D printing is not new – it has been around for 30 years – 3-D printers now are more affordable, and getting attention, Coutu said.
Coutu noted that President Barack Obama highlighted the technology during his 2013 State of the Union address, and talked about its potential, helping fuel interest in the 3-D printing field.
R&D sells the Stratasys brand of rapid prototyping printers. They range in price from $1,200 to more than $1 million, depending on the model. The company is one of more than 80 dealers in the country, and ranks among the top resellers, according to Coutu.
Coutu, who has been in the 3-D printing business for 10 years, said that years ago, the machines were more expensive and did not work well. Now, they sell more than 30 different machines under the Stratasys name that offer a quick return on investment and last for years, according to the company.
He got into the 3-D printing business after selling 3-D computer-aided design software, calling it a “natural progression.” Also, he said the major vendors of 3-D printers were looking for outside sales organizations.
He got out of the CAD software business three years ago to focus on 3-D printing.
Using CAD software, 3-D printers can quickly fabricate models, prototypes and custom parts out of hundreds of materials. The process involves jetting or extruding material layer by layer to come up with an end product.
R&D Technologies has machines that offer PolyJet 3-D printing, which supports materials ranging from rubber to rigid and transparent to opaque. It has Fused Deposition Modeling 3-D printers, which work like a hotglue gun as it extrudes different quality thermoplastics. And the SolidScape 3-D printing model creates high-precision wax patterns to be cast in metal for mold making or to be used in ceramics for dental restorations.
R&D Technologies’ president, Justin Coutu, son of Andrew, explained that using a 3-D printer to prototype a product is a much more efficient way for a company to do business.
“We are a stepping point for which you can bring your ideas and product out to market much faster than your competition,” Justin Coutu said.
“It’s a huge jumping point to be able to test your design before going to manufacturing. We’re cutting out the cost of errors,” he added.
Justin Coutu said companies can avoid spending thousands or millions of dollars in production costs by testing a product first and making sure they have the right design.
“We are trying to ride this wave and [show] how this is a huge value to [a customer’s] company and very beneficial to their design and manufacturing process. We’re providing a service and helping companies … provide better products,” he said, adding the technology also helps keeps business and manufacturing in the United States.
The Coutus are excited about the potential for their business. In addition to selling 3-D printers, R&D Technologies provides 3-D printing services to those who do not want to purchase a machine but are interested in taking advantage of what 3-D printing has to offer.
R&D also offers technical support, including materials, software and hardware upgrades and updates.
Andrew Coutu hopes to eventually hit $5.5 million to $6 million in revenue.
The increase in sales has increased his staff. Three years ago, he had three employees. Now he has 16 in his 2,700-square-foot office space. The company relocated to its current offices at 70 Romano Vineyard Way a year ago.
“We outgrew the space before we even moved in,” Andrew Coutu said.
Andrew Coutu said the technology has the potential to change how stores operate – inventory could disappear, and unskilled and uneducated workers could be displaced from jobs. But he said it will offer “opportunities for people who can understand the technology.”
R&D regularly holds open houses for its clients and potential new customers to come in and see what new things the company is doing.
Justin Coutu said they work with companies such as aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and toy giant Hasbro “and everything in between.” Hospitals are a major client, and they also have sold printers to colleges and universities.
Andrew Coutu said 50 percent of their customers are in Massachusetts, 30 percent in Connecticut and 15 percent in New Hampshire and Maine, with the remaining 5 percent in Rhode Island.
3-D technology allows companies to capitalize on the idea of “faster, better, cheaper,” Andrew said.
“That’s the world we live in,” he said. “You have to be really efficient today or you just aren’t going to be around.”