Take a look inside IC3D print shop, which launched its own industrial 3D printer (photos)

Columbus Business First

Photo by Carrie Ghose, CBF: IC3D CEO Michael Cao with Virago 700, the industrial 3D printer the Columbus company built and now sells in addition to doing 3D printing as a service.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Five years after opening Central Ohio’s largest all-in-one 3D printing service, IC3D Inc. has launched its own industrial-grade machine.

The Virago 700 could help boost already fast-growing sales by one-third while retaining repeat customers who want to bring their fabrication in-house, said Michael Cao, co-founder and “chief extrusion officer.”

The company’s adding another resource for additive manufacturing: IC3D consults on design, offers 3D printing at multiple size points as a service, sells plastic filament that fits almost any manufacturer’s device, writes software for managing print jobs – and now makes and sells a 3D printer.

“Tell me your (manufacturing) problem; I’m going to see if I can help you fix it,” Cao said. “We’re profitable and sustainable without (a line of printers). We do feel there’s a big gap in the market this is filling.”

IC3D started work on the Virago two years ago after looking to buy 50 units for its print shop. But it couldn’t find any that satisfied specifications for durability, reliability, and repeat accuracy print after print.

“We decided to build our own, for cost and performance,” Cao said.

Virago has a capacity of 24x28x31 inches – a medium size that accommodates most projects IC3D handles, from auto parts to medical devices.

Cao, then a senior engineer on the design team at Honda, built his own desktop 3D printer as a hobby a decade ago at Idea Foundry in Franklinton. He started IC3D in 2013 to sell plastic filament, the “ink” for 3D. In 2016, he took the business full-time, with partners opening the 10,000-square-footprint shop on the far west side.

Revenue is not disclosed, but has grown by 50% to 100% annually – including 70% last year during the pandemic, Cao said. Meanwhile, the company activated a volunteer network plus its own shop to help Ohio fill a backlog of plastic face shields for healthcare workers.

Business is fairly evenly split between filament, printing services, and consulting, including a military research contract. The company has 20 employees.

3D printing allows a different kind of manufacturing by adding one thin layer at a time – a part’s interior can be lightweight but strong honeycomb that can’t be formed by traditional injection molding, for example. There are printers that work with metal and even pizza dough, but IC3D sticks to plastics.

“There’s still a lot of knowledge gaps preventing use of additive manufacturing for end-use,” Cao said. “Customers who come to us, generally they’re more open-minded than the average. (And) we have to keep an open mind about how to solve the problem.”

Inevitably, some repeat customers will want their own machines – and that means IC3D could also lose their business for filament and consulting.

With Virago, customers likely would continue to buy IC3D filament, Cao said. After the initial setup with a push-button software profile for various projects, the customer could return for custom applications for new designs.

IC3D has hired its first full-time sales representative for the units, which it also will build.

“We definitely need more room,” Cao said. Economic development organization One Columbus is helping with the real estate hunt.

Buying property in Central Ohio is ideal, but a Pennsylvania complex devoted to 3D printing also is enticing, said Kimberly Gibson, co-founder and “chief mischief officer.”

“We don’t want to move, but you’ve got to keep your options open,” she said.

For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.

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