Wet/Dry vacuum injection - Cost $650,000 - Built in Taiwan in 1992 - Weight-3 Ton - ROI-10 years
The year was 2020 and the Covid virus was spreading like crazy throughout the world. My dad had passed away years earlier from a plane accident and my Mom had re-married then retired and was in Africa, on a mission, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She had left the reins in my hands to run Dustless. (To read about the history of this and DustlessTechnologies please visit this link)
I had/have a great team at Dustless. They were energetic and wanted to see the company grow. All of our plastic products up until this time had been injection molded.
Some products did well while others did not. That is business, right? Well when a small business invests hundreds of thousands to launch a product and the product does not do well, it is a huge blow and can put a business under. Throughout the years and after doing OEM work for some of the biggest tool companies in the world, we discovered that we were not the only ones that had product failures. The “big boys” did as well. They just had much larger pockets incase a project failed. They too build molds only to use them once and fail at projects just to throw the molds away. I thought to my self there has to be a better way!
Most of our molds were made in China and shipped to Utah or many products stayed in China. A project that was $250,000 and 9 months in Utah, was $25,000 and 6 months in China. This made the economics of bringing our products back in the USA almost unachievable.
I had just taken a Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business class and was excited to shift Dustless into high gear, but I was not happy with the current process to develop products. Some of the issues we had with the current manufacturing processes were:
- Projects with injection molded parts took 12+ months to launch
- Once the mold was built, there were little to no design improvements that could be made to the steel mold leaving design agility and improvement difficult
- Because of the cost of molds in the US, most our molds had to be built overseas
- A little sense of pride vanishes when you are almost forced to build your products in another country across the world
After trying different ways to improve the injection mold process, my team and I were running in to roadblocks. Then one day after hitting another injection mold roadblock, I had the thought that maybe injection molding was not the way of the future. Maybe 3D printing will replace molds. Maybe a digital inventory will overtake an antilog molding process.
We determined that for 3D printing to replace injection molding at Dustless, it had to hit 3 areas:
- 3D parts had to be the same quality of injection molded parts
- 3D parts had to be about the same cost as molded parts
- 3D parts had to be as scalable as injection molded parts
Consumers did not care how a product was made. They just cared that the product met their needs. It was the manufacturer that cared about the manufacturing process. They were the ones taking on the big risk and investment for molds! They are the ones that take a hit when a mold doesn’t work out.
Our first 3d printer in 2005 - $250/roll of filament
3D printing for production was really only happening at scale in markets that had high margins like dental, medical, and prototyping but no one was doing it for consumer goods which are 90% of the products coming in this country… and its by the container. After talking to hundreds of 3D printing manufacturers, we were told many times that we were about 10-20 years ahead of out time. Well, we had a need and we needed to accomplish it very quickly if we wanted to excel and even stay alive.
We first found Photocentic who had the same vision as we did. We set down a path and worked with them to get our very first MVP made 100% in 3D and without any injection molded parts. At the same time, other manufacturers found out that we were going to mass produce our vacuum parts and they wanted us to produce parts for them also.
In November of 2020 we incorporated Merit3D as a company that just manufacturers parts, in mass, for companies that want to skip injection molding, Skip overseas inventory and want to make their products in the USA. One of my first partners was Blake Merrell who I knew from Boy Scouts years ago. Bringing him onboard as a founder was a great decision. Blake's knowledge of lean manufacturing and experience from running a truss factory was instrumental in helping us to be successful.
In May 2021 we landed the very first ever 3D printed products to land on retail shelves. We 3D printed phones cases for Phoneskope and they are now placed on retail shelves of Cabela’s, Scheels, Bass pro and Sportsman’s warehouse. This was just 6 months after we were told we couldn’t do it.
Also in May we landed Dustless 3D printed parts on the shelves of construction supply houses across US and Canada. These products went from Idea to final product in months. It was so cool to see if take shape.
Merit3D is located in Carbon County, Utah. For the past 10 years , something is looming “underground” in Carbon. This county is known for its coal production. Carbon and neighboring Emery counties use this as a staple for coal mines, plants and trucking. The war on coal has been tough for us and as we were setting goals to create jobs, we settled on a desire of 200 jobs After talking to local government officials, we were informed that when the coal plants are scheduled to close in 2038, about 1750 jobs would be lost. That’s a big deal in a coal community with less that 20K people. Immediately our vision expanded to replace these 1750 jobs that will soon be lost.
Our long-term goal at Merit3D is to become the additive manufacturing mecca of the world. Producing in mass additive manufacturing parts that are:
- Hard plastic
- Flexible rubber plastic
We believe additive manufacturing will just improve as time goes on. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg and as quality improves, cost comes down and scalability goes up, it will replace older technologies for manufacturing. We would love for you join us on this tourney. We love seeing other businesses be able to grow and scale without having high upfront costs and high risks.
Spencer Loveless and the Merit3D team