Strictly by definition, three-dimensional printing is formal and precise. It’s a manufacturing process of making solid objects from a digital file, the result of laying down successive layers of material until the object is created by machine.
Those digital files, typically consisting of sophisticated computer-aided designs, don’t allow for uncalculated wiggle room. The process, like the plastic models that result, is inflexible and uncompromising. What you see on the computer screen is pretty much what you get once the printing is done, which is inherently helpful to engineers, inventors and other customers seeking immediate, tangible feedback on their creations. Nonetheless, the approach is, for the most part (pun intended), rigid.
Those limitations don’t apply to Ken Brace.
Brace is the owner, chief executive and lone employee (excluding his cocker spaniel, who assists on some deliveries) of Rapid Prototyping Services in Satellite Beach. After 17 years of running a sheet-metal business with his father, with clients such as the U.S. Department of Defense, Brace scrapped one industry for another and employed an entirely different technology. At the same time, he also was able to maintain a base of former customers who were “real familiar with what I could do for them and my work ethic.”
Smart move. Since 2004, in his own bit of ingenuity, Brace has engineered his company to become a model itself — one used by area economic developers to showcase the depth of service providers available to prospective companies relocating to the Space Coast.
Or, it can be said that one quick turn by Brace led to many others for his business.
“The gist of 3D printing is you don’t have to wait for your machine shop to do it,” explained Brace, a 1986 engineering graduate of the University of Central Florida. “A 3D printer can do it overnight for you. You can get it in your hand and make any changes you want, then we can print it overnight for you again.
“You can look at something on the computer all day, but until you actually get it in your hand, it’s really a huge difference.”
That’s where some marketing ingenuity has come into play in the form of a little extra personal service, according to one local aerospace/aviation customer (company name withheld for security reasons). In one instance, an early Friday morning request by the customer was fulfilled by Brace with next-day delivery on a Saturday. “A larger company might go the extra mile, but a lot of times it’s with added costs and red tape,” the customer commented, adding Brace even made recommendations on how to reduce production costs.
“The gist of 3D printing is you don’t have to wait for your machine shop to do it. A 3D printer can do it overnight for you. You can get it in your hands and make any changes you want, then we can print it overnight for you again.”
– Ken Brace, Rapid Prototyping Services
That equipment consists of five large Stratasys Ltd. 3D printers, able to run 24 hours per day, if necessary. With no employees, Brace says he’s continually able to reinvest in equipment, with Stratasys being the recognized leader in 3D printers and production systems for office-based rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing. When his previous business sold, Brace’s company had approximately $5 million in machinery. That knowledge of equipment has proved invaluable, he added.
Notably, Brace also has done his share of donating equipment. As one example, he gave a group of young UCF engineers three 3D printers to help advance their work in adolescent prosthetics. That group, now well-known as Limbitless Solutions, has won international acclaim. “I’ve met some of the kids who are showing off their new arms, and it just gives you chills,” Brace said, simply.
These days, Brace is in a good place. In fact, Brace says he’s in the right place at the right time.
“I found a niche that no one was servicing here locally,” he concluded. “It’s worked out really well for me. I just count my blessings.”