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Successful Company Founders

January 27, 2019

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 07:48

I thoroughly enjoy listening to NPR’s “How I Built This” series of podcasts. I wrote about them here nearly 15 months ago. Each one consists of an interview with a successful founder of a company. After listening to more than 50 of them, I have drawn a few conclusions about what it takes to successfully launch and grow a company.

A good idea: It often starts with a “half-baked” concept. I learned that it does not necessarily need to be a brilliant idea. In fact, the original ideas behind most of the companies were questionable at the time. An example is Perry Chen, principal founder of Kickstarter. It took him eight years to refine the concept of crowdfunding.

Another example is Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards. He founded the company in 1977, but it took him and others years to develop the snowboard and make it commercially viable. Without the following attributes, a good or great idea will go nowhere.

Passion: This is something that Chen, Burton, Richard Branson, and countless other successful entrepreneurs have. Most have a great deal of it. Without passion, a company founder has little chance of commercializing an idea.

Risk-taking: This means courage and grit. Some might view it as an adventure, which can really get their blood flowing. Those who succeed in starting a company are willing to take calculated risks.

Hard work: Perhaps this goes without saying, but do not underestimate the number of hours, including evenings and weekends, that company founders spend. It’s often at a time when they are raising a family, making it even more challenging.

Determination: Founders of companies face a seemingly endless number of obstacles and problems, including flat-out rejection. Yet, they get up in the morning and work tirelessly to overcome them. They are absolutely determined to move forward, no matter what gets in their way.

Luck: Some would argue that you create your own luck. While this may be true, a little luck, such as accidentally meeting a person that becomes your co-founder or partner, helps a great deal. Putting yourself in a position to create luck is helpful.

Having an idea or two, along with passion, a willingness to take risks, a great work ethic, and determination does not guarantee success. Without these attributes, along with a bit of luck, a person has little chance of launching and growing a winning company.

Note also that much of this applies to entrepreneurs working within another organization. Launching a new product or business in these companies is not entirely different from starting a company.

Additive Manufacturing in 2019

January 13, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:23

In recent months and years, the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry has been anything but dull, with stirring news nearly every week. Last week, for example, footwear product company Dr. Scholl’s announced a partnership with Wiivv to produce custom insoles by AM. I own a pair of the Wiivv-branded custom insoles (see the left image in the following) and wrote about them here.

The next 12 months will offer a wide range of interesting, even exciting, developments in AM. We will see companies of all types bridge the chasm from stand-alone AM systems to developing end-to-end solutions for final part production. A few companies have made a lot of progress, but most others are in the early phase. One challenge is to organize many systems at multiple sites. This means managing capacity, sending the right jobs to the correct facilities, and tracking progress. It’s one thing to do it for prototypes, but it is dramatically more difficult to conform to manufacturing quality standards and procedures.

Methods of post-processing will further develop this year. Post-processing involves support material removal, clearing access material from holes and cavities, surface finishing, coloring, coating, texturing, and inspection. Metal parts may also require stress relief, hot isostatic pressing, CNC machining, additional heat treatment, and polishing. Automating some or most of these steps will contribute greatly toward justifying the cost of using AM for production volumes. Post-processing is an area in which each company is developing what it believes to be distinct know-how and IP—and keeping it to themselves—yet much of the work is similar from one company to the next.

Materialise founder and CEO Fried Vancraen said recently that 2019 will be a year of incremental steps and a continuation of a slow revolution. He also stated that applications, not technology, will drive the AM industry in the form of investment. I could not agree more with his views. The year may not bring anything that is completely game-changing. Yet, the collective effort of thousands of organizations worldwide will help to bring AM closer to maturity for production applications, such as the custom insoles from Dr. Scholl’s and Wiivv.

Favorite Products of 2018

December 29, 2018

Filed under: life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 19:09

Nearly every year at this time, I look back at the products I purchased and like the most. The following is a summary.

Data projector ($350): Buying a data projector is not as easy as one would expect. The first one we purchased was said to have 2,500 lumens, but it was anything but bright. We returned it in favor of a ViewSonic projector with 3,600 lumens. It’s a great product, especially for the relatively low price.

Projector screen ($97): This 16:9, 254-cm (100-inch) screen is exceptional. It’s easy to transport, stand up, and take down. It comes with a carrying case that makes it even better.

Travel brief ($379): This is my second ballistic nylon laptop brief from Tumi. My first one is still like new and our son is now using it.

Stackable wine rack ($32): We liked the first one so much, we bought two more. Each bamboo rack stores 18 bottles.

Snow skis ($748): The Soul 7 HD skis from Rossignol are superb. They are not inexpensive, but they’re worth every penny.

Ear protection ($20): If you attend concerts or other events where sound can be excessive, consider this ear protection filter product from Westone. My wife and I each got a pair for the recent Eagles, Zac Brown, and Doobie Brothers concert.

Small USB fan ($14): Whether you’re working or relaxing in an area that’s a bit warm, consider this little gem from Opolar. The five-inch, USB-powered fan is well designed, offers two speeds, and is quiet.

 

How to Spell “Wohlers”

December 15, 2018

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 17:57

I inherited a name that is inherently misspelled. The most common misspelling is an omission of the S. The second most common is the swapping of the O and H. The most irritating is the addition of an apostrophe, as in “Wohler’s.” Adding an apostrophe to Wohlers is no different than adding one to Smith, Johnson, or Brown (i.e., Smit’h, Johnso’n, Brow’n). It is obviously incorrect and looks absurd, yet it’s really no different.

No one likes their name misspelled, especially when it’s published broadly. What’s puzzling to me is spelling a name accurately is really very easy, and it shows that the writer cares. It only takes a second or two to get it right. I can assure you that the person will be grateful.

Friends

December 1, 2018

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 06:20

What would we do without them? They give us so much. Friends ski, hike, bike, hunt, and fish together. And, sometimes, they get into deep and interesting discussions when traveling together. They hang out, tell jokes, and laugh together. They are there when one is in need of an ear. I can’t imagine life without them.

This week was rough. The world lost a great person and friend, Dave Tait, on November 27. He was a friend—and a very good one—of nearly 30 years. I met Dave in or around 1990. He was a pioneer in additive manufacturing and 3D printing when few people knew what it was. Dave and his company, Laserform, pushed the limits of the technology in the 1990s and helped countless companies adopt it for a range of useful applications.

I admired Dave for his early work in AM, but also for his work ethic, passion, and support of family and friends. I looked up to him for his upbeat attitude and demeanor. Dave knew how to bring out the best in people. His smile and words of kindness, even to strangers, were contagious. I told myself many times over that I wanted to be like him.

Some of my very best memories of Dave are from our times together in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. For a string of many years, we skied together, along with family and friends. I will forever miss those great times with him. If only we could ski together and hang out one more time.

Dave taught many people a great deal. What I learned most recently from him is to never take friends for granted, nor forget who they are, and to spend as much time as possible with them. Friends are precious. A mutual friend once said, “Live each day as if it is your last.” I believe he meant to live life to it fullest each and every day because none of us know what the future holds.

RAPDASA and Formnext

November 17, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:11

I attended last week’s 19th annual conference and exhibition of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) in Johannesburg. About 220 people attended from several countries. The RAPDASA organization does a fantastic job with the event year after year, and this year was no exception. (I’ve attended all 19 of them.) Thanks to the fine people at Resolution Circle and the University of Johannesburg for hosting the event, and many others who worked hard to make it a success. Pictured in the following image are Ian van Zyl and Deon de Beer, both of Central University of Technology (CUT), and Amelia Du Toit of Lonmin, and me. CUT and Lonmin are a part of an interesting project named PlatForum, which involves the development and 3D printing of parts in platinum.

This week was Formnext, a trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany, which included much of the best in additive manufacturing products and services worldwide. An estimated 26,919 people and 632 exhibitors filled two large exhibition halls at Messe Frankfurt. AM machines and parts dominated, but design software products for AM and post-processing machinery were also in abundance at this year’s fourth annual event. The development of end-to-end process chains has never been more important and it was evident. The following image shows the XJet exhibit—one of the many impressive displays at Formnext.

On November 14 at Formnext, a half-day Additive Manufacturing Standards Forum was held. It was initiated by America Makes and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with support from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service in Düsseldorf. The purpose of the half-day session was to bring together key stakeholders and others to provide an update, answer questions, and discuss AM standards development worldwide. I had the privilege of moderating the session. The following shows the organizations that supported the event.

An important part of this session was the presentation of the America Makes and ANSI Standardization Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing (Version 2.0) and the Additive Manufacturing Standardization Collaborative (AMSC). Both could have a long-term impact on the adoption of AM around the world.

After 14 days on four continents, it was nice to return to Colorado. I like to meet with friends and make new ones, but it’s also good to be home with family and friends, especially over the holidays. (Thanksgiving is next week in the U.S.) The ski season is underway, so it’s time to visit the high country to take part in a sport that is relaxing and exhilarating. It’s a great compliment to a full and rewarding year of travel and work.

AM in Formula One

November 3, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:26

Note: Research associate Ray Huff authored the following.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Circuit of the Americas Formula One race near Austin, Texas. I was a guest of Additive Industries, along with the Sauber Alfa Romeo team, for practice day at the track. The day was rainy, but spirits were high, and we enjoyed the spectacle of heavily-engineered race cars burning down the track at speeds of more than 322 km (200 miles) per hour.

We watched the race from the Paddock Club, an incredible location just above the garages. At midday, we toured the pits and watched the premier teams conducting pit stop practice, vehicle maintenance, and inspection. The greatest treat of all was to meet Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson, drivers of the Sauber team. The two young men were charming, amicable, and laser-focused on their task when it was race time.

Formula One is an amazing use case for AM. Each car is effectively a custom product, with a new design each year. Performance is the number one priority, with an emphasis on stiffness and weight. The cars and drivers are supported by teams of hundreds of engineers, mechanics, and others. Team budgets famously soar in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. Each F1 team is allowed to bring a maximum of 60 crew members on race day at each of their 21 races throughout the year. I was completely inspired and impressed at the amount of engineering involved in this sport, and look forward to more races in the future.

AM in Africa

October 21, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 07:29

Yesterday, I recently returned from my 22nd visit to Africa. Twenty of them have been to South Africa where additive manufacturing activity is the strongest. In fact, I estimate that 99% of AM work on the continent has occurred in the country. Some limited activity is underway in Botswana, Egypt, Namibia, and Nigeria. Adoption has been especially strong at Central University of Technology, Vaal University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, and North-West University—all in South Africa.

The Government of South Africa has been supportive of AM, with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) doing the most in a hands-on way. Among the companies that are leading the way is Aerosud, an 800-person supplier of parts and assemblies to Airbus and Boeing. Many other companies are benefiting from AM parts, but they do not own high-end equipment. A reseller network of companies for AM products has been in place for many years.

Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein was the first to install multiple high-end industrial machines in South Africa. Its world-class Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM), shown in the following two images, continues to have the largest commercial impact in the country. Last year, the CRPM completed 580 projects consisting of ~13,500 AM parts. Twenty-five percent of the projects were medical cases, most of high complexity. The centre received ISO 13485 quality certification for medical devices in 2016, which has contributed to its capabilities.

CUT and its impressive CRPM served as host to last week’s three-day course on design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) conducted by Wohlers Associates. Twenty-five engineers and others participated, and many were advanced in their knowledge and experience in AM and DfAM when they arrived. Wohlers Associates has conducted many of these courses, the first in August 2015 for NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. One exercise involved the redesign of a manifold by the participants on the first day. Five of them were manufactured in titanium and delivered for inspection by the third day. Thanks to our good friends at the CRPM for helping to make this happen.

The previous images show the conventional manifold design (left) and five versions of the manifold produced by AM. One of the primary objectives of this hands-on, DfAM exercise was to reduce weight and substantially reduce or eliminate the need for support material, which can add substantial time and cost to a part. We are thankful to those who participated, for how engaging they were, and for their favorable feedback. It was one of our very best three-day DfAM courses. Thanks also to CUT and its CRPM for organizing the event and serving as such great hosts.

AM in the U.S. Military

October 9, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 05:37

I had the great privilege of spending most of last Thursday at the Pentagon, and what I learned was encouraging. The U.S. Department of Defense has advanced its use of additive manufacturing beyond what I had anticipated. I gained a better understanding of what the military is doing and where it hopes to take AM in the future. More than anything, it made me proud to be an American because these people are incredibly bright and passionate about AM.

I met with 25 people from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and, Navy, as well as various groups within them. They fully understand the consequences of not being prepared and responsive to our adversaries. Suppose one of them took out our supply of spare parts for equipment, vehicles, and weapons. The nation would be crippled and entirely vulnerable to the worst possible scenario. Envision instead a manufacturing capacity so diverse and distributed that it would be impossible to find the thousands of organizations, some very small, that are a part of it. As odd as it may seem, an obscure bait shop that produces custom fishing gear could operate 3D printers and produce parts for DoD.

Those at the Pentagon understand the challenges, most of which revolve around tradition, culture, and people. Humans are creatures of habit and change does not come easily. The procurement process, alone, can be daunting, especially for the smallest defense contractors. Joe’s Bait Shop can process credit cards, but it may not have the personnel or tolerance to process the paperwork required by most DoD-related contracts. The people at the Pentagon are working to address this problem.

Even with the issues that the military face in more fully adopting AM technology, I am optimistic. Individuals, such as Captain Matthew Friedell of the Marine Corps (pictured with me in the following image at the Pentagon), are sharp and among our nation’s best. After hours at the Pentagon, I can say without reservation that we are in very good hands. They do not have all of the answers, but they’ve identified most of the problems. Thank God we have men and women like them, and I sincerely thank them for what they do to keep our nation safe and secure.

Live Music

September 23, 2018

Filed under: entertainment,life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:05

It’s been a good year for live music. In June, my wife and friends and I saw Alan Parsons at Levitt Pavilion in Denver. A client, RØDE Microphones of Sydney, Australia, knows Alan, so we met him and the band after the concert. The entire evening was a great experience. In July, a friend and I saw the Robert Cray Band at the relatively small but impressive Washington’s music venue in Fort Collins. The blues guitarist and singer gave a solid performance. Last month, we saw Blondie at NewWestFest in Fort Collins. Like Alan Parsons, Blondie was especially popular in the mid 1970s with a number of hits.

Last night, my wife and I, and ~45,000 others, were treated to several hours of music at Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The concert started in the late afternoon with the Doobie Brothers—a band I’ve always wanted to see. Zac Brown followed, and both were excellent. Zac definitely attracted a younger generation to the stadium.

The highlight of the evening was seeing and hearing the Eagles for the first time, another band I’ve always wanted to see. As expected, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmidt were a central part of the performance. The only unfortunate part of it was not seeing Glenn Frey (he died in January 2016 at the young age of 67), but we were treated to Glenn’s 25-year-old son, Deacon. He and country singer and songwriter Vince Gill sang Glenn’s songs, and both did a great job. Like his father, Deacon is an outstanding musician and vocalist. He became a permanent member of the band more than a year ago.

I’m finding that one should not wait too long to see an artist or band. I wanted to see Tom Petty, but that will never happen. It also occurred to me that rock ‘n roll groups are not emerging like they did in the past. In fact, it’s difficult to name even three that have become popular in the past 10 years. For our generation, now is the time to see live classic rock before it’s too late.

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