When Dan Fernback and Zac DiVencenzo were looking to start a business, the Youngstown (Ohio) State University graduates thought they'd want a 3D printer in their toolbox. But they saw a "huge gap" between smaller, desktop 3D printers for hobbyists and expensive, industrial-scale models for big companies.
"That's how we identified the pain point," Fernback said. "That's how we identified the problem."
So, in 2014, Fernback and DiVencenzo founded JuggerBot 3D LLC. Fernback serves as the company's vice president and DiVencenzo is its president.
Today, the additive manufacturing machine maker is still small, with just five full-time employees, but it has big ambitions. This spring, the company will launch its latest product, the P3-44, which will use resin pellets as a raw material for 3D printing instead of filament.
The P3-44 is designed to be the first in what the company is calling its Tradesman Series. Though the product will officially launch in April, JuggerBot has already sold two machines to customers.
Additive manufacturing often has been focused on prototyping, said Heather Hall, entrepreneur-in-residence for software and IT at JumpStart Inc. But JuggerBot stands out in that space because of its focus on production, particularly considering the different types of materials customers will be able to use with the company's new equipment.
"This is real rubber-meets-the-road type of activity here," Hall said.
Hall works throughout JumpStart's entrepreneurial service provider network, including with Youngstown Business Incubator portfolio companies like JuggerBot. She doesn't see a ton of direct competition for JuggerBot; instead, the biggest challenge the company faces is convincing potential customers, many of which are traditional manufacturers, to adopt the new technology.
Fernback said JuggerBot sees a lot of production applications for its new machine, such as creating molds or patterns. It's designed to complement or replace traditional CNC machining centers, making the process more efficient.
"We're not asking people to make a philosophical change in how they are seeing their business opportunities or building their business, because at the end of the day, they're just using a different tool to build the same thing," he said.
JuggerBot's first machine, a small-format, filament-based additive manufacturing machine, was commercialized in 2018. Today, the company also offers a large-format, filament-based machine. In addition to its branded equipment, the company also makes custom machines and 3D-prints products for customers. JuggerBot does all the design work, as well as the final assembly and inspection, Fernback said. It primarily works with Ohio-based companies for its subassemblies and parts.
To make a more accessible additive manufacturing product, JuggerBot focused on the materials customers could use. JuggerBot's products are designed to run more functional, performance materials rather than those typically used for prototypes, Fernback said. They also run third-party materials, which means customers aren't bound to a particular seller for their raw materials.
The P3-44 will take that approach even further. Customers won't have to use filament for the raw material, as is typical for 3D printers.
Instead, they will be able to use thermoplastic pellets, which they may already use in other applications. Materials company Royal DSM worked with JuggerBot on a launch trial program in 2019.
In addition, Fernback said the P3-44 is faster than traditional 3D printers: about 200 times faster, he estimated. Larger pellet extruders can print products even faster, but JuggerBot is aiming to scale that down for a less expensive machine. With the P3-44, customers will be able to print products that are 3 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 4 feet long.
And JuggerBot plans to keep growing. In 2020, Fernback said, JuggerBot intends to build out its national sales network, with a goal of expanding distribution support for its customers outside the local region in 2021.
Ultimately, the company wants to serve as the "premier 3D printing partner for manufacturers," he said. That will mean adding more products and more technology offerings to the Youngstown-based company's portfolio.