Posted: April 24, 2013
Made in Colorado 2013: ElectronicsBy Eric Peterson
Open-source 3D printers
Aleph Objects CEO Jeff Moe preaches the gospel of 3D printing.
Moe started Aleph in 2011 after selling his previous startup, ISP Verinet Communitcations, to Front Range Internet. He was a proponent of open-source software like Linux and Apache at Verinet, and found himself enamored with open-source hardware – especially 3D printers that print most any imaginable shape out of CAD files and plastic filament.
Moe bought his first open-source 3D printer kit and put it together in 2010. Three short years later, Aleph has made hundreds of the first two LulzBot models: the AO-100 and the AO-101. The latter retails for $1,725 fully assembled. Currently in production is the next-generation LulzBot TKO.
The beauty of the Aleph model is that they use their own product to manufacture their products. “We literally had a printer and we printed parts for two printers with that, then four printers, then eight, then 16. Now we’ve stabilized it at about 40 printers.”
The increasing scale makes for an exponential uptick in complexity. “It’s one thing to design one printer, but it’s another to have 40 printers and print 10,000 parts,” says Moe. “The AOs are now printing TKO parts.” He plans to start supplementing in-house production by working with injection-molding companies on the Front Range to scale up to make thousands of TKOs.
Customers, including manufacturers, artists and hobbyists, use LulzBots to make everything from electronics casing to flying quadcopters.
Maybe coolest of all is what each printer creates before shipment. “The last thing it prints before we put it in the box is an octopus. The customer gets the octopus that was printed on their machine.”
Why? “Octopi are awesome,” answers Moe.
Protection for cell phones, tablets and other accessories
OtterBox makes its cell phone cases and other products all over the world but it has increasingly been re-shoring production to Colorado and other facilities in North America, says Rick Brown, the company’s logistics and distribution manager.
With 544 permanent employees in Colorado, the company has as many as 186 people working to configure orders per shift in Longmont, adds Brown. The company manufactures a portion of its Prefix, Reflex and Defender lines in-state.
Brown says Colorado’s central location is a huge asset for the company. “We can get products all over the U.S.,” he says. “We’ve also got one of the best places to live, so we attract some of the best talent.”
Printed circuit boards
John Yacoub took over as Advanced Circuits’ CEO in 1996 when the company’s annual sales were about $3 million and there were 27 employees. “Today we are close to $100 million, with three locations and 565 employees,” says Yacoub. Those numbers make the company the third largest manufacturer of circuit boards in the U.S.
Employees in Colorado? “275 and growing,” says Yacoub. “We’re hiring four or five people this week alone.” The remaining employees are at facilities in Minnesota and Arizona.
Advanced Circuits builds circuits to suit a broad market that includes hobbyists as well as Ball Aerospace and Raytheon. “We have over 10,000 active customers,” says Yacoub.
Advanced Circuits expanded into a new 52,000-square-foot facility this January, nearly doubling its footprint in Aurora. Yacoub says he expects to hire as many as 30 more employees in Colorado in 2013. “It’s going to give us a lot of room for expansion,” he says of the building.
In 2003, Nathan Seidle started SparkFun as a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, distributing Bulgarian electronic components to his peers. Then he started making circuit boards on his own for quirky projects, including one that turns an old rotary phone into a cell phone, complete with real bell-based rings. (Get yours soon – SparkFun is retiring the product later this year.)
“That actually is a really good example of what SparkFun is,” says Production Director Matt Bolton. The company’s products let customers “learn how circuits work and apply creativity to the world of electronics,” he adds.
The catalog includes “Breakout Boards” that turn the miniaturization of electronics on its head, says Bolton, noting that hobbyists have a hard time with miniscule components. “Smaller is not better.”
Colorado’s manufacturing industry “seems to be very strong and vibrant right now, especially in electronics, he adds. “I was taken aback when I realized how much manufacturing we do here.”
For its part, SparkFun is in the midst of a serious spike in its growth curve, increasing from 15 employees in 2006 to 140 today. In March, the company broke ground on a new 80,000-square-foot facility near Niwot. “We want everybody to be in the same building,” says Bolton of the impending move.
Considering Seidle launched the company from a basement a decade ago, “It’s a pretty amazing story,” adds Bolton. “I’m excited to see what the next few years hold for us.”
Microcontrollers, memory and other electronics
Atmel manufactures most of its products in its only domestic plant in Colorado Springs.
MAM-A’s 24-karat-gold CDs are the best archival CDs on the market.
Lights and accessories
Makes a number of accessories in
Boulder, including the recently acquired Steelie iPad mount.
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com