Member Profile: Steve Grundahl of Midwest Prototyping



                                                                                                         Steve Grundahl

Submitted by Pete Mack  


"On a recent trip to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) for an Advisory Board meeting I stopped at APMM member Midwest Prototyping for the nickel tour. Midwest is an impressive place with quite a few NWTC graduates. I talked with Steve Grundahl, Midwest’s president and founder and got some insight on Steve and
the company."


What’s your background and how did you come to start Midwest Prototyping?

I grew up on a farm, so I had a lot of mechanical aptitude, or at least I thought I did.  I enjoyed working with my hands and working on cars.  After high school, I went to the local technical college to learn how to paint cars and earn a diploma in the Auto Body program. I worked for a few years in a restoration shop focused on the vintage racing and collector car business.  In the early 90’s, the itch to learn more led me to return to school.  I attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) to study Mechanical Engineering and while there, I learned about a new technology called Stereolithography (SLA).

MSOE was one of few schools that had an early SLA machine, and I was able to have parts made on it for a school project. From that point on, I could never really shake my fascination with the potential of SLA technology.  I graduated from college and worked a few years for a manufacturer of large equipment in the paper industry. I was traveling extensively, which was fun for a while, but eventually decided to revisit the SLA technology. To make a long story short, I wrote a business plan and convinced a local bank to give me some money to buy my first SLA machine. By March of 2001, I had the machine and a very small rented space to operate it in and set about trying to find some customers.



                                                                                                                                                             SLS Lab EOS-P760

How many machines and what types of machines do you work with?

Today we have 17 different additive machines covering 6 different core technologies: SLA, SLS, FDM, Polyjet, ZCorp, and, our latest addition, the CLIP technology from Carbon.  We have a small CNC machine shop and manufacturing area, including welding and fabrication equipment and a woodworking shop. Of course, we have full finishing and painting facilities to finish parts to the customers’ desire. We have 30 employees and have grown into one of the largest independently owned additive manufacturing service providers in the US.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                SLS Lab


Do you see any new trends in additive manufacturing?

Yes, we are finally seeing some progress with the different additive manufacturing technologies. Although there are new machines coming out and improvements to existing machines, my opinion is that the biggest opportunity for improvement is in materials. As people begin to grasp the concept of freedom of design and begin to utilize additive manufacturing for end use parts (as opposed to rapid prototypes), material functionality, durability, and long term performance is paramount. Some nice progress has been made, but this is an open ended challenge. Material science is equally as important as machine platform development going forward.

Software is another area that is changing rapidly to capitalize on the promise of additive manufacturing. Optimization packages and topological design will be commonplace in the not too distant future.

The other really encouraging trend is that we’ve had several years now of young students being exposed to 3D printing in schools. Because of this early exposure, 3D printing as a legitimate manufacturing method, a creative outlet, and a problem solving tool is understood. These students don’t need to be convinced of additive manufacturing’s capabilities.  As this generation enters the workforce, there will be a multiplier effect on the number applications and creative solutions for additive manufacturing.


                                                                                                                                                                Matt - Finish Tech


Recently there has been consolidations of service bureaus with 3D printer manufactures buying companies. How do you see this impacting independent service bureaus like Midwest?

That has been going on since 2009, and it certainly becomes an interesting business model when we have to buy machines, materials, parts, and service from a company and turn around and compete with them for customers.  Oddly enough, we’ve continued to grow at a substantial pace through the wave of consolidation and in the face of this competition. We still have the advantage of being able to offer a very high level of personal attention and customer service that has allowed us to develop an incredibly loyal customer base. Certainly, I know that this industry will change rapidly and significantly over the next 10 years, but the ever increasing number of potential applications means more opportunity for all of us. We’ve been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S. each of the last 5 years, and I see that trend continuing.

 What challenges in the near future do you see affecting the additive manufacturing industry?

A common problem is workforce availability. Because this is relatively new technology and changing so rapidly, finding qualified employees quickly enough can be a challenge.  This is something we spend a lot of time on and invest heavily in.  As I mentioned earlier, materials and software development can never go fast enough.


                                                Alex - Quality Control Tech


Does your location in Blue Mound Wisconsin, a rural area, benefit you or is it a challenge?

We see our location as a positive.  Although it’s technically rural, we’re only about 20 minutes west of Madison, an hour from Dubuque, less than 2 hours from Milwaukee, 3 hours from Chicago or Green Bay, and 4 hours from the Twin Cities.  We love it here because we have a lot of freedom, no traffic, a beautiful work space (our office looks out at rolling hills, fields, and a state park), and room to grow.  We are outgrowing our current facilities and beginning to plan for what the next version of Midwest Prototyping will look like and where it will be – stay tuned.



                                                                                                                                              Midwest Prototyping Facility

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