GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services Inc. is a privately owned service provider that specializes in rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing to serve its rapidly growing customer base. Based in the Midwest, and consistent with their roots, the company and its employees pride themselves on being honest, hard working and committed to providing their clients with the highest-quality product with top-notch customer service. “We deliver value through measurable results that continuously exceed expectations. We love what we do!” says Adam Galloway, recently appointed president of GPI.
After three decades as a leader in product development and rapid prototyping, the company recently adapted its focus to the metals side of the additive manufacturing business in an effort to better serve its customers. “We started GPI Prototype with plastics and quickly became a trusted supplier to our clients,” Galloway states. Over time, the company’s commitment to customer service, technical expertise, state-of-the-art production facilities and a continued investment in research and development established GPI as a preferred provider of rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing.
“As more service providers offered rapid prototyping and the market began to mature, we recognized two important shifts,” Galloway says. “One, metal was gaining traction in terms of its applicability for additive manufacturing and, second, our more-sophisticated client base was increasingly challenging and pushing the boundaries of the plastics technologies. This is when we decided to pivot our know-how to direct metal advanced manufacturing.”
Over the last few years, the company expanded, added metals machines and the business grew rapidly. “We are experiencing growth from all sides and across all industries,” Galloway says. “In particular, aerospace, medical and industrial are some of the earlier adopters of precision, direct metal services and have capitalized on our capacity, skills and relationships.”
Galloway goes on to explain, “We don’t offer a product; we are much more on the service side. All of our customers, such as NASA, GE, Black & Decker and Stryker, design their own products. We offer design consultation and engineering services to help them create a part which will take full advantage of direct metal advanced manufacturing, in many cases with a geometry that could not be produced using traditional approaches, like CNC machining.”
Industrial prototyping and additive manufacturing is a fast-growing field. Although it has been in existence for more than 25 years, in the past five to 10 years additive manufacturing has become mainstream, moving from rapid prototyping to the production of actual end-use parts. The technology offers tremendous potential as it essentially produces a part or product a layer at a time, using just the material required in most cases.
This gives the engineer or designer the freedom to create a part for optimal performance versus designing within the constraints of traditional manufacturing. Although metal printing is currently the domain of professionals like GPI, there is discussion today that additive manufacturing has the potential to offer consumers personalized machines to produce parts and toys in their homes. “3-D printing is now becoming mainstream,” Galloway declares.
As this dynamic industry develops, constant change is the norm. “The industry is in flux,” Galloway says. “It has changed dramatically in the last few years.” This change includes major acquisitions affecting the number and sizes of companies operating in the sector and recent announcements by Fortune 100 companies like HP, who intend to enter the space in the next eight to 12 months.
Working in a newer field like additive manufacturing, prototyping and 3-D printing requires constant education. “We work with a lot of customers throughout the year and help to educate them so that they understand this process,” Galloway explains. “As we teach how to design and really use the technology, many customers ultimately decide to acquire machines themselves to bring the power of additive manufacturing in-house, once they understand the value.” But that does not mean the customer ceases to need the support and know-how offered by GPI.
In contrast to standard manufacturing, additive manufacturing is not yet an exact science. “There are standard manufacturing processes that have been around more than a century,” he states. “Those processes are pretty well defined and understood. Additive manufacturing is not there yet and with its innate ability to deliver even the most exquisitely complex parts, new applications and uses are emerging all the time.” This necessitates further work, including process innovation and increased understanding of additive manufacturing capabilities and materials.
“To better support customers, we have recently become AS 9100C and ISO 13485 certified,” Galloway notes. “Both certifications provide GPI with standardized processes used to create quality products and meet regulatory requirements in extremely stringent industries like aerospace and healthcare. The internal management system, created by GPI during the course of certification, provides assurance in all manufacturing processes. Requirements include internal audits, record keeping, process procedures and monitoring, management reviews, and corrective action plans.”
With its growing metals capacity and know-how, GPI is moving beyond prototypes into full production. “We have been actively involved in production quoting and orders,” Galloway says. “We have already had more customer opportunities this year for production in 2015 than all of last year. The customers and industry are beginning to understand that additive manufacturing offers true production of components, not just prototypes.”
While GPI intends to expand into production, it won’t lose sight of prototyping. “Prototypes will always be at the core of our business,” Galloway says.
GPI demonstrated its capabilities in a unique way last year. The company partnered with the University of California San Diego and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and printed the Tri-D metal rocket engine, and the second generation earlier this year, the Vulcan-1 rocket engine.
The Vulcan-1 was recently tested in the Mojave Desert and is scheduled to launch to 10,000 feet in June. The rocket was produced on GPI’s direct metal laser melting (DMLM) machine, which is ideal for small satellites.
The team has also explored the functionality of other printed rocket components. “It is a wonderful test of the technology and machine capabilities, which pushes the limits of what we can build,” Galloway says.