Entrepreneur: Craig Billings
(Photography by Brian Baiamonte)
POSITION Managing partner
COMPANY Acadian Robotics
WHAT THEY DO Manufacture 3-D printers
ADDRESS 1222 E. Cornerview Road, Gonzales
NEXT GOALS See a 3-D printer in every school, library and museum in Louisiana
When Craig Billings first heard about 3-D printers back in 2012, his first instinct was to buy one. As an engineer specializing in 3-D modeling, Billings 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.” As the director of education for Acadian Robotics, Bree Perkins used her background in education to write a curriculum to help teachers incorporate the machine into their classroom even after it’s built.
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. In designing a product to market to schools, museums and libraries, Billings focused on building a highly durable, low maintenance machine. And since it functions as a kit, all the parts are interchangeable, making repairs relatively simple. Another plus is The Copperhead can use almost any material, giving it unique versatility. But Billings says the company’s biggest advantage is that “we are here, we are local,” meaning tech support is just around the corner for teachers, librarians and museum curators.
IMAGINEERING THE FUTURE
For Acadian Robotics, the ultimate goal is to see 3-D printers in every school, library and museum across the state with the help of nonprofits and grants. Billings regularly attends educational events to market The Copperhead, speaks to students in their classrooms and teaches 3-D printing classes at local libraries. He sees how the technology sparks new passions in students and helps business owners take their products to the next level. “When kids have STEM week, no student misses a day of class,” Billings says. “Things are changing and schools need to change also, and we see that.” Acadian Robotics hopes to continue its steady, self-funded growth across Louisiana in the years ahead. One day, Billings hopes to see Acadian Robotics branch out into other types of automated technology, like robots that can accomplish chores from office cleaning to lawn service. “I have a list of about 40 other things,” Billings says with a smile.