STARTUP FINDS PART-TIME HOME AT DMDII
by UI LABS
October 27, 2016
Benjamin Bullis, an IT professional by day, has an idea for a new type of work light, a high-powered, ultra-flexible LED product. He envisions a light that is not only high quality and affordable, but designed and manufactured in the USA. He just needs a place to build it.
This summer, Bullis visited his local Haas factory outlet in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, to look into a $60,000 machine to use for production. While there, he learned from a Haas representative about the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute—a facility in Chicago with manufacturing equipment, including the machine Bullis was eyeing. Not long after, he was introduced to Kelley Patrick, lead engineer at DMDII, who told him there was space for Bullis’ startup, Frelux, on DMDII’s manufacturing floor.
DMDII has much to offer young businesses like Frelux, including expensive manufacturing equipment and the power to operate it.
“Guys like me wouldn’t normally have access to these types of machines,” Bullis says.
At Patrick’s invitation, Bullis began spending time at the DMDII facility developing his prototypes. Drawing on previous machining experience and with Patrick’s guidance, he quickly learned the operation of the Haas control.
He continues to work at DMDII, as much as his day job allows, using the Haas OM2-A machine. For software, he employs the cloud-based Fusion 360 from Autodesk, which he says “makes advanced CAD and CAM software very accessible, even to the small guys.”
Bullis purchased a Fanuc Robodrill Mate, which he operates out of his garage, to supplement the prototyping he does at DMDII. But once production begins, he may need additional machinery beyond what he can operate from home.
He isn’t accepting orders yet, but there are currently eight prototypes in production for distribution to media contacts for review. Meanwhile, Bullis plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign in the coming months to support Frelux’s production. And that could potentially mean leasing more space at DMDII to accommodate larger production runs.
DMDII not only has the equipment he needs, but the power and air capacity necessary to support the machines’ operation—things that are “a bit of a challenge for a residential garage,” Bullis says.