BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
Mark and Renee Eaton are manufacturers — and local business owners — at heart. “We had both been through corporate America,” says Renee, 56, a former manager of a Nabisco plant in Pennsylvania and now CEO of RapidMade, a Portland startup that provides rapid prototyping, reverse engineering, 3D printing and 3D scanning services. “We wanted to do something where we could create value and keep it local, hire people and be focused on more than just the next quarter."
The Eatons were also inspired to launch after reading a magazine article about the promise of 3D printing. Housed in the Portland State University business accelerator, RapidMade reproduces to-scale models of industrial equipment — pumps, boilers, container makers — so clients can easily transport samples to trade shows or customer sites.
“We’ve even made miniatures to be used as promotional business card holders,” says Renee, who splits her time between Portland and Baltimore, where the state of Maryland has launched an initiative promoting 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Three-dimensional printers are becoming less expensive, but software and printing materials remain costly, Renee says. “The idea that everyone and their brother are going to have [a 3D printer] in their home … I don’t think it’s going to happen as quickly or to the degree that people think it will.” This slow adoption trend bodes well for RapidMade. Renee declined to reveal revenues, but the startup, funded with the assistance of a $150,000 PDC grant, has about 200 customers, most in Portland. The company experienced significant growth last year and is making inroads in the mid-Atlantic states and Canada. “We’ll expand, but our hearts are in Oregon long-term,” Renee says.
“One of the biggest challenges we had was getting people to understand what 3D printing was,” Renee says. “In 3D scanning, you’re taking a physical object and making it a file. Three-dimensional printing is the opposite; you’re taking that file and creating a physical object.”
RapidMade employs four full-time staff, including Renee’s son, Micah Chaban, who serves as operations manager. “Everyone talked about how much harder it was going to be for the next generation to exceed us in terms of their quality of life,” Renee says. “So it’s been really exciting for me to be able to create something with and for the next generation.”