3-D printer business takes shape
Five years ago, Steve Wygant was driving east on U.S. 6 in Ligonier when he pointed to the industries west of town.
“I’m like, ‘One of these days, I want to get a plant like that,’” said Wygant, SeeMeCNC president and chief executive officer.
In June, that casual comment turned into reality, when Blackpoint Properties LLC purchased the former Sroufe Manufacturing building to relocate SeeMeCNC, a 3-D printer manufacturer, from Goshen and also house similar businesses.
Located at 601 Sroufe St., the 78,650-square-foot property is a large improvement on the 6,000 square feet at SeeMeCNC’s former building, making for a better fit for the quickly expanding business. The main room itself within the new building is double the size of the previous location.
Over the past three to four years, Wygant, his sister and Chief Financial Officer Julie Wygant and Vice President John Olafson searched areas in Elkhart County for a new home for the business, either in renovating a vacant warehouse or for land to build a new 20,000-square-foot factory.
Wygant and Olafson also started making visits to the Sroufe property over the past year and a half to check on the status of its sale and its upkeep, which theydescribed as immaculate, but felt it was out of their reach because of the scale of the purchase.
But when it recently went up for auction, they saw an opportunity.
“Over the course of a month, the number of things that worked out were phenomenal,” Wygant said. “To just be very pro business, the help that the city has been phenomenal. It’s been so much easier to get started.”
Receiving a 10-year tax abatement from the city and selling its former Goshen property, the business is now weeks away from being fully functional at its new site.
“I’ve worked with and for a couple of other companies in Goshen through moves of this magnitude; I don’t think it would have been possible without the cooperation and just the awesomeness of everyone involved with the city,” Olafson said. “If this was anywhere else but Ligonier, we wouldn’t be halfway home yet.”
Wygant describes SeeMeCNC as an odd duck in the manufacturing industry — a high-tech company stationed in the middle of the Midwest — but it didn’t necessarily start that way.
Over 21 years, the business evolved from a computer numerical control (CNC) business involved in high-volume production work and machining, to a company that made and manufactured from its own injection molds.
Then the economy took a turn in 2011, and customers gave Wygant the heads up that production requests would start to slow.
In trying to keep ahead of the downturn in business, he started thinking back to his first job producing medical instruments and the focus that was put on the future of robotics and 3-D printing.
So he took his idea to Olafson.
“I remember one day, it was like right at 3 o’clock, shutting down, getting ready to go home. He came out and said, ‘Have you ever seen a 3-D printer?’ I said, ‘A 3-D what?’ I had never heard of it before,” Olafson said. “I don’t think I slept that night because I saw, first, it was open source, and I’m a big open source advocate, and I saw it was kind of like a community. There were forums, there were wikis, there was information, and everyone was sharing everything.”
They started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, the second or third to do so for 3-D printer manufacturing, but what set SeeMeCNC apart was that they knew business. With a goal of $5,000 or $10,000, it brought in $25,000.
They were the first such campaign to ship their product and became the first injection-molded and mass-manufactured version of the machine in the consumer market.
“A lot of people in the beginning were like, ‘Not another 3-D printer company,’ but we just kept going,” Wygant said. “They learned more about us and our capabilities, and as people discovered us, it’s like, ‘Oh, they can actually make the stuff.’”
After a second crowdfunding campaign in August 2012 brought in 700-percent of its $10,000 goal for an updated version of the machine, the company skyrocketed into the 3-D printer arena, Olafson said.
Now selling desktop routers, as well as machines as tall as 4 feet, at a price point of $499-$1,899, the business continues to grow with customers in business, education and personal use.
And others are joining them.
Atomic Filament, which provides the filament shipped with SeeMeCNC products and ships worldwide, is leasing the property’s north building after making the decision to move from Burbank, California, to Ligonier after speaking with Wygant and Olafson about their property acquisition. The other buildings on the property will also be leased over time to other manufacturers, and in a way, create a community of like-minded businesses.
To celebrate the new location, SeeMeCNC plans to have an open house at the end of the month in preparation for the Detroit Maker Faire, which it’ll be taking part in and bring colleagues from across the world close by.
Some may see 3-D printing as a fad. Wygant and Olafson see it as an evolving manufacturing tool that will continue to expand into other arenas, and SeeMeCNC will be there to change alongside the field.
“In the long term, we can build just about anything,” Olafson said. “As we come out with things, as demands change, the industry changes.”
“This is going to be around for quite a while, what we’re doing,” Wygant said. “The changes and what people want will definitely change.”