Craig Billings wants to put a 3-D printer in every Louisiana school, library and museum
When Craig Billings first heard about 3-D printers back in 2012, his first instinct was to buy one. As Business Report details in its new Entrepreneur feature, Billings, an engineer specializing in 3-D modeling, figured the machine would be a good professional investment, but a friend and colleague in a neighboring cubicle had another idea,
“Let’s build one,” said Robb Perkins, arguing it would be much cheaper to buy the parts and use their technical skills to make their own 3-D printer. They spent nights and weekends in Perkins’s garage and Billings’s kitchen building and testing.
Two years later—and for twice the amount they originally planned to spend—The Copperhead 3-D printer was born. By then, the idea that hatched in their cubicles had grown into a full-blown business venture.
“We were just designing a machine for us to use, but during the process—and certainly once we were finished—we realized we were onto something special,” Billings says. “No one else is doing this in Louisiana.”
Initially, Billings and Perkins hoped to manufacture and sell their printers to local businesses. But when Robb’s wife, Bree, saw the machine she immediately realized its potential in the education industry.
They formed Acadian Robotics in 2013, and by the following year they were working with schools and districts to provide teacher development and student preparation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, building lessons around The Copperhead.
“We made it as a kit so that we can easily repair the parts, but then we realized that the kit aspect was perfect for schools because students can assemble it, teaching them different aspects of engineering and electronics,” Billings says. “It’s STEM in a box.”
With the 3-D printer industry experiencing its desktop revolution, Billings and Perkins use the design and durability of their homemade machine to set themselves apart from the competition.
While Billings admits it’s always difficult to compete with China when it comes to manufacturing any product, he says The Copperhead delivers a return on investment in unexpected ways. “If you compare the specs in its class, we actually beat them in every area by price by half,” Billings says.