It’s here, and it works.
The Louisiana Business & Technology Center at LSU’s former south campus has a Stratasys 3-D printer.
LBTC Executive Director Charles D’Agostino said last week that the $30,000 box of futuristic equipment is expected to shave months and thousands of dollars from the time and expense of building product prototypes.
“This will print actual moving parts,” said Matthew Wiggins, LBTC’s manager for the freshly minted ProtoStripes center. In some cases, Wiggins added, the time needed for development of a prototype may be reduced by more than 80 days.
That’s welcome news for area business owners and operators of 34 fledgling incubator companies in nearby buildings on property now known as LSU Innovation Park.
Casey Self, head of business development for HitLights, said the new equipment is expected to shrink the time needed for that incubator tenant’s prototype development by at least 30 days.
“We will save anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000” per prototype, Self added.
D’Agostino noted that prototypes are needed by many firms to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products to manufacturers, retailers and potential investors.
As for HitLights, Self said prototypes sometimes are used to show the feasibility of proposed design changes for light emitting diodes, or LEDs, the company manufactures and markets.
Pointing to the 3-D printer, Self said, “This keeps everything local and in-house.”
Instead of sending design specifications to a remote location for slow fabrication and delivery of an expensive metal prototype, she said, the LBTC’s new printer can quickly deliver a hard-plastic version at significantly lower cost.
That’s a big plus for a small company that makes LED bulbs and strip lights at the local incubator then stores them in a warehouse for eventual shipment to Internet customers, Self said.
Matthew Magnuson, chief technology officer for St. James Technologies, said the financial savings from use of LBTC’s 3-D printer will be remarkable.
In most cases, he said, time required for development of the firm’s future circuitry and sensors will shrink by at least 25 percent.
Magnuson then picked up a metal prototype that was about the size of a pocket comb. He said it cost the technology company between $3,000 and $4,000.
Had the same prototype been created from plastic in the 3-D printer, it would have cost “a couple of bucks,” Magnuson said.
“The cost of that is nothing,” D’Agostino said. “If you make mistakes, it’s not a big deal.”
“This is a monumental shift,” Wiggins added.
D’Agostino said LBTC also should receive a 3-D scanner in less than a week. He said the scanner will further streamline production of prototypes at ProtoStripes.
Instead of developing a new computer program for 3-D printing of an improved product, D’Agostino explained, the existing product can be scanned into a computer, easily modified, then quickly printed.
D’Agostino also said Magnuson was too modest about SJT’s accomplishments.
The company has developed sensors and other electronic devices designed to shut down industrial cranes and other expensive heavy equipment if oil or other coolants fall below safe levels, D’Agostino said.
To ensure barges are not overfilled on the Mississippi River or underfilled because of difficulty in measuring loads, D’Agostino said, SJT developed GPS and laser technology to determine when a vessel is exactly full.
That pleases manufacturers, equipment buyers and people concerned about possible contamination of waterways, D’Agostino added.
Incubator companies are hiring more employees and producing more products in the buildings that surround the LBTC in LSU Innovation Park, D’Agostino noted.
Magnuson said SJT has eight full-time employees and one part-time worker.
Self said HitLights has 15 full-time employees and two part-time workers. She also said the firm hired two LSU students as interns this summer.
D’Agostino said HitLights and SJT are among 34 incubator companies on the campus at 8000 Innovation Park Drive. Combined, those companies employ 266 people.
“We want to keep them all here in Louisiana,” D’Agostino said.
“All these buildings are full,” D’Agostino added. “There’s no other place in Louisiana with 40 chemistry labs. We have 40 chemistry labs.”
D’Agostino has headed the LBTC since it was formed on the LSU campus in 1988. In 2005, the center was moved about 5 miles south to more than 200 acres at what is now LSU Innovation Park.
Over the decades, D’Agostino said, approximately 175 companies have graduated from the incubator program.
“Eighty percent are still in business,” D’Agostino said. “We’ve had failures, of course, but we’ve only lost two successful companies to out-of-state locations.”
Of the 34 companies at the LBTC site, D’Agostino noted, 29 were started by LSU students or former students.
He said LBTC will host a launch party for the Protostripes facility from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Sept. 10.
Louisiana Business & Technology Center
WHERE: 8000 Innovation Park Drive, Building 3000, Baton Rouge
FOUNDED: 1988 on LSU’s main campus
FUNCTION: Operates a business incubator for small businesses
OCCUPANCY: 34 tenant companies with a combined total of 266 employees
In 2013, 30 of those tenant companies averaged:
- salaries of $44,130
- $799,469 in annual revenue
- $118,867 in equity raised
- 23 percent annual growth rate
GRADUATES: 175 companies
ASSISTANCE: Has helped small businesses and entrepreneurs obtain more than $172 million in loans, grants and investments
JOB CREATION: More than 10,000 jobs
STUDENT INCUBATOR: LBTC annually supports over 40 student-run businesses.
Source: Louisiana Business & Technology Center