GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - There is only one company in Louisiana making 3D printers and it is located in Gonzales.
In a building for Prejean Computer Consultants on East Cornerview, just off Airline Highway, is a sign for the Copperhead 3D printer and Acadian Robotics.
When I visited their office of Ed Prejean, Craig Billings and Robb Perkins, I had to smile when I saw the company logo printed on paper. It was also taped to the glass window on the door of the office. Nothing screams "new company" like that.
Inside, purring like a kitten behind the front desk, a "Copperhead" 3D printer was making parts for another Copperhead. Billings gave me a tour and showed me items of different textures, colors and weight. They were all made by the printer.
Is this a tough sell?
"It's very new," Billings said. "It's a 'catch-22.' We're the only one in Louisiana that actually does this. The hard thing about it is starting out as a small business getting this new technology in Louisiana. Getting 'who we are' out there and 'what 3D printers are,' it's the challenge, but we're up for it."
As we head down a hallway for a tour, we pass a storage room on the right with bins of ready-made nails, screws and other things for assembling parts. There are trays of wiring of different colors and electronic chips and panels. Craig explained that the printers are assembled and can be tooled to a client's tasks.
The group is hoping to not just sell to businesses, but schools as well. The partners said they have managed to make this 3D printer for a base-price of just the kit with instructions to sell for $995 right now.
"The assembled ones are anywhere from $1,250 to $1,450 depending on special things. You can get them around the country, but the difference is we're here. We offer tech support where you are and we're accessible," Billings added.
The kits weight about 50 pounds and can be shipped for about $50 unassembled. As we head to what is obviously the heartbeat of the unit's construction, two men are at a table. Robb Perkins is examining wooden pieces and a construction that has wiring and a motor. Businessman Tommy Cowser of The Wade Group has brought in a model.
"We are making a prototype for a crawfish peeling machine," Cowser said. "Is that cool or what?"
He has applied for provisional patents on a crawfish peeling machine that will turn out about 15 crawfish per minute. His wooden prototype is no bigger than a loaf of bread.
"We're going to use our modeling and 3D printers to build him a prototype and a manufacturing model," Perkins explained. "So, he can take that to a manufacturer."
"That transition to manufacturing can be the most expensive part of the process. A 3D printer can make the part from which you cast a mold. That makes mass production possible. And, it's lower in cost than the prototyping used to cost. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I knew this guy years ago that wanted to put a comb for a barber on a pair of scissors and to make the prototype, they told him it would cost $90,000. He just couldn't do it. When now, today, I could do it for $1,000," Billings said.
He tells of a woman starting a jewelry business in Gonzales who hired them to help her create molds for rings. She would mount stones on them.
"She sent us pictures off the internet of rings from the World War II era. I actually 3D modeled those had then printed them out and she sent them off to get them casted. She has a business. This saves her a lot of money," Billings added.
The Copperhead is a combination of plastic and wood and component parts. In the corner of the room stands the machine for cutting the wood by computer.
Billings points to a formerly handheld router tool mounted on a carriage that slides over rods pointing three different directions down the production surface, so that it can make long transverse cuts. The router is controlled at a Hewlett-Packard keyboard nearby. The screen shows the dimensions the router will perform and by clicking it sends the carver on its way...cutting clear through the wood or ABS plastic, but also embossing with carved letters, recessed areas. The ideas are limitless.
Perkins usually does this part of the production.
"Like a 3D printer adds everything to make an item. Well, this one does the opposite. It removes everything that is NOT wanted. I draw up a diagram of it and turn it into a code the machine can read and hit 'Start' and let the machine cut it out," he said.
Billings tells me how they dream of schools buying a Copperhead.
"It's like science, technology, engineering, art and math in a box," he said.
He thinks students will get a leg up on the future by assembling one of the kits. They simply need to follow the instructions and then produce their own 3D models.
"I can picture this," I said. "It's like 'Invasion of the 3D Printers.' It is sort of like the movie 'Body Snatchers.' We have a jewelry woman who carries one away and then, we have a school that comes and carries theirs away and hobbyists."
Acadian Robotics is ready to supply anyone and everyone.
"Bakers? They can make custom wedding cake toppers," Billings said.
Want to meet the Acadian Robotics gang or see a demonstration? The trio is in the office on Fridays after 1 p.m. at 1222 East Cornerview in Gonzales. Call 225-445-8913 for more information or visit the company's website at www.acadianrobotics.com.
They'll appear at the Goodwood Main Library in Baton Rouge on September 26 for this year's Makers' Faire.