From Little Things, Big Things Grow: ImageNet’s Slice of 3D Printing

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They say that experience is the hardest kind of teacher, testing you first and letting you find out the lesson afterwards – this must mean an A+ for seasoned service provider ImageNet Consulting. The company has been in operation for over 60 years, having started out in 1956 selling and repairing typewriters, then shifting over time into other technologies as they have emerged.

“We’ve always gone through changes, wherever the industry leads us next,” said TJ Russell, Director of Additive Manufacturing at ImageNet. “We moved into calculators, printers, copiers, and scanners, but we see 2D printing is in 2% decline each year.”

It was therefore a natural progression for the Oklahoma-based company to move across into 3D printing, to become experts in designing, printing and servicing the equipment. “It’s almost like going to school, and learning about a completely new industry,” said Russell. “Not only are we now educating our current clients, but we’re also still educating manufacturers.”

Russell says that even though 3D printing has been around for 30 years, in some ways the industry still doesn’t quite yet know its place. His perspective is that additive manufacturing has always been about manufacturing and not as much about service. Some companies that boarded the additive manufacturing train early on, he says, and they didn’t have the right training and service to use their machines to their full potential. As such, they are now sometimes hesitant to invest in new, more advanced technologies. “They have a bad taste in their mouths from previous bad experience,” said Russell. “We’ve seen people who have spent $300,000 on equipment, when they really only needed to spend $20,000.”

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ImageNet therefore sees a strong opportunity in re-training previous users of additive technologies – in essence, showing them that additive manufacturing is far better than it used to be. BigRep is one of their latest partners on this journey, with ImageNet having recently joined the BigRep global reseller network.

Though for their customers and contacts across higher education, aerospace, government agencies and other industries, there isn’t one specific angle on which they focus. It’s about upskilling companies in all verticals, across all the states in which ImageNet operates: Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri, the latter of which is the location for their new office, in St. Louis. Along with parts of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, the company casts its net across 20% of the United States. Their professionalism and national footprint for other products proves that their position within the additive industry will only grow.

Russell describes their customers and target audience as “anyone that utilizes CAD software”. He believes in a broad-minded approach to who can benefit from additive manufacturing technologies – everybody is a candidate in some way, whether from a marketing, educational, prototyping or manufacturing perspective.

BigRep is the first large-volume 3D printer provider in ImageNet’s portfolio, which Russell says was a logical step for them in building their “one-stop-shop” for 3D-printing equipment. “There are a lot of clients out there that needed a bigger build volume. We really liked where BigRep was headed, how they were coming out with faster printers.”

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Like BigRep, ImageNet was a part of the recent Rapid + TCT trade fair in Fort Worth, Texas, showcasing their portfolio of machines and reaching out to the broad range of industries present at the fair. BigRep’s booth was a place for customers to see for themselves the size of the BigRep STUDIO 3D printer, and view a variety of large-scale sample prints in BigRep materials, from BigRep’s workhorse machines.

They have an array of industrial use cases that support the switch to large-scale 3D printers. One such customer case that springs to Russell’s mind is an air conditioning manufacturer that needed to be able to test their fan designs. It’s somewhat dangerous when testing RPM speeds with metal parts, so not only did they increase safety and security by 3D-printing the parts for testing, but they also ended up saving a lot of time and money in the process.

“We’re still growing on the 3D side of the business, working on building out a CAD group to help customers with designs,” said Russell. From what started as a company built by one Bobby Roberson out of his garage, working from a $50 loan from his mother, has become a company that is a very model for diversification of a business. “It’s a fun story,” remarked Russell. “From being told we didn’t belong in this industry 5 years ago, to now being an up-and-coming VAR in additive manufacturing, providing the best technologies in the industrial sector.”

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