DETROIT — When Matt Hlavin took over Thogus Products Co. in 2008, he had his eye on changing the company's direction. At the time the company manufactured custom injection molded products out of a facility in Avon Lake, Ohio.
A third-generation CEO — his grandfather founded the company as a tool-and-die business in the 1950s — Hlavin expanded Thogus into a family of companies with a range of specialties including medical and additive manufacturing.
He discussed the evolution of Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing Inc., which launched as an offshoot of Thogus and is now its own company, at the Rapid 2014 Conference and Exhibition, held June 9-12 in Detroit.
Hlavin credits RP+M's roots in injection molding for helping give the company an edge in additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.
“We're the first company in the world to really integrate traditional manufacturing with additive manufacturing and software,” he said at the show, adding that he's inspired by the Silicon Valley culture of technology-driven innovation.
“It's about a willingness to get on the edge, it's a willingness to fail and learn from failure, celebrate success,” he said. “Why can't we create that here, for manufacturing in the Midwest?”
Branching into additive manufacturing was a natural extension of Thogus's work in injection molding, said Chief Technology Officer Anthony Hughes, who joined RP+M in 2012.
“It sort of grew out of a need that was developing in the industry around people wanting to see their parts real quick. So it was prototyping, it was tooling development … and so it was a nice segue for the business,” he said. “Because there was a deep knowledge around process and manufacturing from injection molding, we wanted to apply those same principles to additive [manufacturing].”
Many of the same materials are used in both additive manufacturing and injection molding, Hughes added.
“How does the material behave when you heat it, stretch it, push it through a sprue, shoot it into a mold — all that sort of process work helps us establish a baseline of what the material is going to do when it's in a [3-D printing] machine getting heated and extruded out through a nozzle. … Even though they're separate technologies, the fact that we understand that actually helps us do the material development and innovation,” he said