Inventor of 3D-printing technology shares his journey from inventing in his garage to becoming a global company

By Leslie Streeter

The inventor of the technology used in 3D printing and WSU alumnus, Scott Crump told a group of WSU Tri-Cities engineer and business students that in order to invent new things, you have to break the rules.

“Starting out using your garage as your laboratory allows you to focus on inventing without having to follow rules.” Crump said.

Crump, co-founder of the 3D-printing company, Stratasys, spoke at a fundraising event for the WSU Tri-Cities Carson College of Business Saturday morning and then met with students in the afternoon for a tour of the engineering labs and a presentation. He shared how he came up with the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology used in 3D printing and what he learned while bringing his idea to market and eventually running a global company with 2,000 employees, 40 global offices, 25,000 customers and $650 million in sales.

He shared the lessons he learned about funding, the benefits of going public and the importance of branding and employees. “Don’t be cheap with employee salaries and hire the right employees the first time,” he said. “It’s really about your team.”

Crump, a 1976 mechanical engineering alumnus said he chose WSU because it had the best hands-on mechanical engineering school. His time at WSU, especially the senior project, prepared him and gave him the confidence to try new things.

“What’s unique to WSU is that they combine materials and mechanical engineering together, which helped me understand the characteristics of plastics and other materials,” Crump said.

When Crump and his wife Lisa first started Stratasys, they wanted to automate prototyping by filling the gap between computer aided design and the actual part. They called it 3D printing. They had the idea to solve the problem but didn’t know how to commercialize an R&D invention.

Crump said bringing an invention to market requires staying focused on your vision and the value you want to bring to customers. Pricing your service or product for the market, working with a seasoned mentor, having more variable costs than fixed costs and starting with contractors rather than employees are what make a “garage start-up” successful.

Stratasys started with a beta program and sold the first five systems to five different industries ranging from bone implants to aerospace. Next, they expanded regionally, then to Europe and Japan. Crump was the CEO of Stratasys for the first 25 years. The company merged with Objet Ltd, another leading manufacturer of 3D printers, which increased revenues to $600 million.

According to Crump, in the world of 3D printing, the best is yet to come. He stated there are huge opportunities in aerospace, composite tooling, composite parts, fixtures and assembly tools, injection molding and product parts.

Crump encouraged students to follow their dreams, have faith in their vision and take as big of risks as they can stomach. “A clear vision is more valuable than a detailed plan,” he said.