PostProcess, an innovator in the international 3D printing space of rapid prototyping and manufacturing, is on a trajectory to becoming a $100 million company within a decade. And it all started as a one-person company in a Lancaster, N.Y., garage.
“We built a technology solution that is revolutionizing additive manufacturing," says founder Daniel Hutchinson.
Now a household word, 3D printing is the process whereby layer upon layer of a material (plastics, metals, resin, or ceramics) is stacked to create a functional object—or a template to make an object. The opposite process carves an object out of solid material.
When the majority of other companies in the field were investing in design and building/printing, PostProcess entered the market to solve a common bottleneck dilemma within this industry—the laborious, by-hand process of “post-printing”—the removal of supports that stabilize objects during printing, and the finishing of these objects. With its array of software, programmable machines, and proprietary eco-friendly detergents, PostProcess has fully automated the post-printing process.
"We have three components to our solution: software, hardware, and chemistry,” explains PostProcess CEO Jeff Mize, who joined the company in January of 2016, coming from Navteq, which was purchased by Nokia in 2008. “Daniel started the journey after seeing the archaic ways that aerospace was using archaic tools to finish (3D-printed) parts. He was ahead of the curve nine years ago.”
Hutchinson, a Navy veteran, was working at Northrop Grumman Amherst Systems when he first saw 3D printed parts being used by one of their customers. He did a little research and found out that the technology had been around since 1986, although it wasn’t until more recently that its use became more conventional. In fact, several sources estimate 3D printing to become a $21 billion worldwide industry by 2020.
Hutchinson saw that production for prototypes began to ramp up, and that companies like Moog, Fisher-Price, and Mattel were starting to buy 3D printers. He says that “the initial spark, the realization that this tech was going to be changing the future" came when a customer had a part that he wanted to post-process to be used on an aircraft.
The actual idea for PostProcess came to Daniel while he was at a conference, he says, and realized the post-processing needs within the industry. He purchased the domain name postprocess.com in 2013, and launched the business in his garage.
The next year, PostProcess entered START-UP NY's tax-free zone and partnership, and set up office space in the Olmsted Center on Main Street in the Medical Corridor. "Our first world headquarters," Hutchinson says. “That office was 100 square feet, and we got nine people in there."
World headquarters number two "jumped to 550 square feet" with 17 people in that space, which was still located at Olmsted.
On Sept. 22, PostProcess officially cut the ribbon on its third world headquarters, located in bustling light industrial Tri-Main Development Center in Buffalo. The company now employees 27 full-time employees, with two more joining the team shortly, and has several interns from University at Buffalo via the Community Outreach program at the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences.
About the positions being filled, Hutchinson says, "One is a director for our area where we are benchmarking parts, called Finish3D, in charge of applications engineering." Others will join the team as sales engineers, development engineer, tech trainer, and technical support lead. The company reports that applicants from Texas, Colorado, and California "are further evidence of the city's resurgence."
PostProcess’ clients come from many industries, says Director of Marketing Diana Robbins: including aerospace, automotive, and medical-dental. Products include "vascular phantoms"—3D prints of chest scans—that are used by surgeons to practice their skills.
In a nutshell, PostProcess takes the supports off material being built in the z-axis, leaving it in perfect shape, Mize explains. Their technology—machines that customize the process based on material and adjust the temperature, duration, and intensity of the flow of the cleaning solution-—has dramatically reduced the amount of time this takes.
Robbins points out that those who clear supports by hand may be "hand-sanding and using picks," which can take up to 10 hours.
"What we deliver to our clients is consistency," Robbins adds. "Our product finishes it for them. In that (vascular) model, a doctor could think that something not cleaned out of the piece is a blockage in the patient.”
Mize says they anticipate PostProcess to continue its aggressive growth.
"We have a 100 million target for 2022, and we should have 190 employees, with 150 in Buffalo,” he says. “Those are forecasted numbers and could change."