Advantage Prototype Systems in Sheboygan Falls might be one of the state’s best-kept secrets, at least for anyone who doesn’t need rapid prototyping services.
For companies that do have that need, however, APS is a well-known and respected entity.
David TeLindert, owner and president of the 26-year-old company, says APS has evolved over the years from its beginnings in stereolithography, which was the first commercially available 3D printing technology.
As the company grew, it expanded into new forms of 3D printing and even dabbled in injection molding. TeLindert came on board in 2012 and six years later the founders retired. That’s when the company split into two parts: The injection molding side of the business was sold, and TeLindert and his partners purchased the rapid prototyping division.
“The focus has always been the same,” he says. “Support other professionals with quality prototype parts, service and information so they can develop and explore great ideas.”
At its core, APS is a business that exists to help other businesses succeed. In other words, it builds concept models and engineering test parts to support new product development.
“In a way, it is all about quickly providing people involved in new product development with good information on their designs so they can make the best decisions possible,” TeLindert says. “To do this work, we use 3D printing technologies combined with our employees’ skills in part finishing, painting and traditional model-making.”
That skill at finishing is becoming a big part of what APS does. As 3D printing becomes more widely available, it’s the finishing that sometimes sets a professional job apart from an amateur effort.
“It doesn’t take a lot to 3D print a part these days,” he says. “Anybody can buy a small printer and make a part. Our team is dedicated to the finishing side. That’s become a specialty of ours.”
TeLindert says he also sees potential for ongoing development in the creation of production parts for manufacturing clients. In layman’s terms, that means that while the manufacturer of widget-making machines can crank out hundreds of similar parts in no time, the small, lightweight parts that can’t be made in bulk are a different story.
“The more complex a part is, and lower quantity, the better candidate it is for 3D printing technology,” he says.
In addition, TeLindert says APS is starting to branch into additive manufacturing, which uses 3D printing technologies to make parts for end-use applications instead of prototyping. “The technology, materials and processes keep getting better and for some applications are an ideal fit for production,” he says.
Because of the nature of the work APS does, confidentiality is a serious concern.
“Confidentiality is very important and applies to all rapid prototyping service bureaus,” TeLindert says. “Our role in new product development is just a small one. By the time a project makes it to us, there is already a lot of time and effort put into vetting the idea, market research, conceptualizing, designing, engineering, etc. We are usually working on products or ideas that will be ready for commercial release in two to four years, so it is critical we do our part to keep everything under wraps until it is ready for release by our client.”
During the past year, APS struggled as clients scaled back what they were doing in response to the pandemic and had less need for prototyping services. But TeLindert said he is proud that the small business survived.
“New product development was the last thing on a lot of companies’ minds this past year because everybody just kind of buckled down: ‘Let’s focus on bread and butter … keep machines making widgets, not the thinking about what the next exciting gadgets are going to be,’” he says. “That’s had an impact on us because that’s what we do. Our growth plans definitely got cut back again a little bit, but we made it.”