How differentiation into 3d printing helped a small Philadelphia manufacturer grow

Posted by Kelly Monahan

3D printing was introduced over 30 years ago, although a recently released research study suggests that few organizations are actively using 3D printers as part of their core business operations.1 Rather, many organizations are in the process of evaluating the technology or toying with its rapid prototyping capabilities. However, the implications of incorporating 3D printing can be immense across all sizes of organizations. While many of today’s 3D printing news stories focus on the large corporations utilizing its capabilities, we were interested in understanding the impact it can have on smaller organizations. How difficult is it for small businesses to adopt this technology? Are they gaining a competitive advantage and seeing an ROI on their investment?

In order to help uncover the impact 3D printing is having in the small business world, we recently sat down with small business owner, Pete Windle, whose company Windle Mechanical Solutions, was recognized in the 2015 Fortune Top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City businesses, to talk about how advanced manufacturing technologies, and specifically 3d printing, have contributed to the growth of his business.

Deloitte: Can you tell us a little more about your business?
Pete: I own a small machine shop in Philadelphia. Our core business is manufacturing engineering products – so we focus on highly customized products, often working on 2-4 pieces at a time for a client order. A big run for us would be 10 pieces. This is due to the level of customization that is required for each component. For example, we work on parts for the landing gear on an F-15 and we manufacture precise medical apparatus used to treat cancer. These parts require precision and customization in order to correctly operate within the lager product.

Deloitte: In your opinion, what sets you apart from other businesses in this space?
Pete: Our focus is on speed. We know that clients are waiting on a part to resume their business, so we often cut lead times in half –The additive manufacturing (3D printing) piece helps us do that. Some manufactures only focus on conventional and some on additive. Few do both, which is what sets us apart from other shops.

Deloitte: Can you tell us how additive manufacturing (AM) fits into your business model?
Pete: Sure, we use additive manufacturing on the tooling side. For example, certain types of ductwork in airplanes contain odd shapes that must be flame resistant. When it comes time for replacement, solely using conventional manufacturing (CM) can be costly and time-consuming. However, this is a perfect application for 3d printing. It not only knocks down the cost but the time to manufacture as well.

Deloitte: Are your customers skeptical of additive manufacturing?
Pete: Yes and no. There is of course still skepticism out there. I think this derives from the lack of testing as it relates to new materials and trying to find ways in which it can be commercialized. However, there is a lot of interest out there for this, it’s just finding the right clients who are willing to go into uncharted waters and test new ways of doing things. There is no doubt in my mind this is the way of the future, we just need more testing before it can be fully adopted.

Deloitte: What are the characteristics of the right client?
Pete: Both the manufacture and client need to be involved from the start. I think one of the most important aspects is collaboration. We look for customers with whom we can explore the potential of additive manufacturing.

Deloitte: Do you see additive manufacturing competing with conventional manufacturing methods?
Pete: No, not at all actually. I view these as complementary efforts. This complementary approach to manufacturing helps us better solve customer problems. We now have two different ways to approach a problem rather than one.

Deloitte: Do you think having AM capabilities has brought in more business for you?
Pete: It absolutely has. Clients who are still using conventional manufacturing see us as up to date with the different manufacturing methods and technologies. Being on the forefront of this has certainly increased our client’s confidence in our work. Surprisingly, we have seen our CM business grow as an indirect result of our investment in AM.

Deloitte: Can you talk a little more the talent implications of additive manufacturing?
Pete: Sure. We see 3d printing capabilities as a way to attract the bright young talent coming out of engineering schools and are looking to explore the possibilities of what 3d can bring. We hope to use our advanced manufacturing technologies as a way to recruit this type of talent.

Deloitte: If you could summarize the top three things that you are learning from additive manufacturing, what would they be?
Pete: First, I would say that AM is a complementary approach to CM – these two approaches work together. Those who can do both well will succeed. The second is to think of AM as a way to recruit new talent and business. Third, collaboration between manufacturer and client is key to successful AM adoption.

Deloitte: Pete, thank you for your time today and sharing your insights with us.

To learn more about the business case being made for additive manufacturing in all different size organizations, check out Deloitte University Press.

Windle Mechanical Solutions, Inc. Excel Machine Division was founded in 1969. It has always had a reputation for excellence, quality and innovation.

In late 2006, Windle Mechanical Solutions Inc. purchased Excel Machine. Pete Windle, CEO and Owner of Windle made the acquisition because he saw Excel as a platform to build and grow with. Pete started his career on the floor of a machine shop in 1978. During his career, he worked his way up through supervisory, sales and management positions in a growing machine shop and rotating equipment repair/spare parts environment.

13D Printing: Benefits, trends, enterprise applications, July 2014, accessed November 23, 2015.

One thought on “How differentiation into 3d printing helped a small Philadelphia manufacturer grow

  1. Yes 3d printing is great for small businesses. The ability to make their own prototypes and products with out having to go to another company and wait the long process this type of thing takes. 3D printers will be a huge advantage in all kinds of businesses just for the fact that they can make more customizable items, such as a shoe shop being able to make a shoe that exactly fits the person with the exact material they want in the way they want it to look. Great article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s