By Eric Peterson | Aug 16, 2021
Contract additive manufacturing services
After working in the LED lighting industry, Jason teamed with his brother, Brian Korbelik, to launch Precision Additive.
The brothers represent their family's third generation in manufacturing: Their father and grandfather owned a manufacturer of pneumatic conveyance systems in Kansas. "We saw my father and grandfather grow that considerably," says Jason.
That company -- Premier Pneumatics -- was acquired in 2006 after Brian and Jason elected to work in other industries. "I cut my teeth in an innovative startup environment, and I think that influenced the rest of my career," says Jason.
Precision Additive continues that trend, he adds: "We're a true startup." Brian now serves as the president and COO of Precision Additive; Jason is CEO.
After a stint in Boston, Jason returned to Colorado with a plan to buy a business to run with Brian. "My brother and I started looking for a machine shop to buy on the Front Range," sasy Jason. "Ultimately, we couldn't find one."
The search led the Korbelik brothers to recognize a void in the local manufacturing landscape: a lack of additive capacity for Colorado's stellar aerospace industry.
"3D printing is really revolutionizing the way that we can use plastics, in particular, to achieve strength and performance characteristics that are on the level of metals," says Jason. "In our case, we do a lot of composite printing with a carbon fiber-filled nylon called Onyx, which is from a company called Markforged. They're really the leader in continuous fiber reinforcement 3D printing and materials."
3D printing with composites "opens up a ton of applications," says Jason. "But it can be a distraction to OEMs."
Using a contract shop avoids adding the necessary technical proficiencies in-house. "We really saw an opportunity for a service element that really serves the better needs of American manufacturing," says Jason. "This country has put ourselves in a horrible position, and the pandemic has exposed that to a degree. What we need to do is find ways to reinforce supply chains. We're not saying we're going to do it all, but we need more ways to help American OEMs become more competitive and build the industrial infrastructure back up in this country. I think 3D printing is an excellent opportunity to do that. There's really a qualified labor shortage right now, and with 3D printing, you get some relief in that regard."
Precision Additive's primary target is aerospace and defense, where tight tolerances are the norm. "We can scan each layer after we print for micron deviation on the surface," says Jason. "Subsequent layers that the printer prints will adjust for that micron deviation, so you're getting real-time quality control as you build the part."
Jason forecasts 2023 as the year aerospace primes begin using additive-made parts in production. "What we're trying to do is prepare ourselves for that," he says.
In the meantime, Precision Additive will work on certifications that are prerequisites for defense and aerospace work and serve a broad base of customers. The company is currently making enclosures for LED lighting providers Jason worked with previously as well as manufacturers and machine shops looking for tooling and workholding fixtures or rapid prototyping.
Quick turnaround is a differentiator. "There is a need for more folks who can deliver within three to six days," says Jason. "That's what we're trying to do."
The company currently has 12 printers (11 from Markforged and one from Formlabs) in a 2,000-square-foot facility, with capacity for small to mid-sized production runs. "With 3D printers, it's really important to keep the temperature within a certain range," says Jason. "Basically, you don't want it to go above 81 degrees Fahrenheit. We got really lucky because we found this building, because there's no air conditioning in warehouses in this area. We found this building that's basically underground. It never gets above 78 degrees in there."
Challenges: "I think it's just getting customers," says Jason. "That's the biggest one. . . . Fortunately, my brother and I both have done a lot of business development in our careers and understand how to go out and find customers and serve their needs."
But Precision Additive also needs to focus on educating the market about additive manufacturing. "With 3D printing, the design process is very different from designing a part for a subtractive manufacturing method," says Jason. "Many engineers are used to working in that subtractive mindset, and that's tough to shift over without really good educational content."
Opportunities: Beyond aerospace and defense, Precision Additive is targeting electronics manufacturers that need "rugged" enclosures as well as automotive, medical device, and robotics companies. "We've got a list of basically 2,000 companies we'd like to do business with in Colorado and the surrounding states," says Jason. "We've decided to target the industrial market -- anything manufacturing-based."
He adds, "I think there's going to be a renaissance of American manufacturing with everything that's going on geopolitically."
Needs: "I think we need really good process performance," says Jason, noting that upcoming certifications for ISO 9001 and AS9100 dovetail into that push after completing ITAR registration in July. "We do business now with a lot of design firms that aerospace companies outsource a lot of early product development and testing to and so forth. For those folks, we can serve really well, but if we want to do business with Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. and those types of companies in our backyard, we've got to have the most stringent of quality controls in place and just be very, very process-oriented."
Jason also cites coming needs for employees to help with post-processing work "in the relatively near future," followed by more design engineers in the longer term.