In 1958, Burton Precision was established, focusing on the sale of metrology equipment by traversing machine shops throughout the upper Midwest. Today, the Comstock-based company's legacy in the region lives on, offering scanning, inspection, 3D printing, and metrology services. Jim Krug, the president of Burton Precision, is a second-generation owner, leading the 65-year-old company toward an Industry 4.0 future that involves additive manufacturing and software-driven optimization. Key clients of Burton Precision include Tesla, Wolverine Worldwide, and Perrigo.
Thanks to the Michigan Economic Development Program's Industry 4.0 Implementation Grant, Burton Precision received $25,000. This funding facilitated the purchase of a state-of-the-art NEXA3D Lubricant Sublayer Photocuring 3D printer, bringing cutting-edge 3D printing technology to the Grand Rapids region. The new 3D printer is capable of producing rigid and intricate parts using different materials in a matter of minutes, eliminating the time constraints that other 3D printers face when printing complicated items.
(Video of a NEXA3D Lubricant Sublayer Photocuring 3D Printer)
Automation Alley sat down with Krug to talk about additive manufacturing, Burton Precision’s history and how the MEDC I4.0 Implementation Grant will keep the company competitive for generations to come.
Throughout your career in manufacturing, when was the moment when you considered additive manufacturing a necessity instead of a novelty?
We sold software from a company called Geomagic, and worked with that company for quite a while. It was fantastic software for reverse engineering things that we did. They were purchased many years ago by 3D Systems, which is a large 3D printing company. One day they [3D Systems] approached us after this purchase to sell their 3D printers. I really didn't know anything about them. But once I took a hard look at what it could do, I said this is the way we want to go for sure.
Burton chose to use the grant for a NEXA3D printer utilizing Lubricant Sublayer Photocuring Technology. What makes this special and what benefits does it provide?
It provides two things: One is that the speed of the printer is incredible. There is nothing like it out there in the market right now. That will help us out a lot. The other thing is it has the ability to print multiple types of material — from extremely hard plastics with high temperature resistance, to soft rubbery type materials. We can print just about anything with that printer.
What new markets do you see emerging regarding additive manufacturing in Michigan?
One of the most interesting things that has come up lately with us is in the field of gear manufacturing with all the new EVs [Electric Vehicles]. The gears are for what you could call an EV transmission. Gear production is very important with very high tolerance. Today, we have a couple of customers that are 3D printing gears and we’ve helped them along the way with that. A lot of testing goes into making sure a gear that is printed is stable and functional for the life of a car. That really is one of the areas that have exploded for us.
Your father Karl Krug ran the company before you. What was he like and how do you think he would view the technology Burton Precision provides today?
He enjoyed his time at the company and was highly committed to his role. Even after retiring, he would visit the office nearly every day to ensure that everyone was performing their duties correctly.
As Burton Precision started to explore new technologies such as scanning, providing scanning services and creating high tolerance parts for clients, my father was amazed at how quickly things changed.
One time I 3D printed a small piece with a few gears and a handle for my father when he was 92. The part was printed in one shot with no assembly required.
I showed the piece to my father who examined it carefully, turned the handle, and was skeptical when I told him it was 3D printed from a CAD file without any assembly or CNC involved. He sat silently for a few minutes before handing the part back to me and said “I don’t believe you.” The incident was amusing but highlighted how incredible the advances in technology have been.
What would you tell a fellow manufacturer about how the implementation grant could help them and how the whole process has been for you?
It was a great experience. Terry Hossink [The Right Place Inc. Vice President of Manufacturing Services] really helped us out a lot. The grant helped us move ahead with the NEXA3D printer and bring that production capability into our place. It was opening a door for us that might not have otherwise been opened. We are grateful and thankful for that.
It was a good experience for everyone involved, and not only myself at Burton Precision, but all of my employees as well.
You’ve been around since 1958 and evolved with the ever changing realities of manufacturing. What advice do you have for a fellow manufacturer with less experience on how to navigate change?
The first thing I’d recommend is doing your homework with new things that come out and come across the desk of an executive. Make sure you don't jump into things too quickly, because everything is changing so fast. Don’t always go by what someone says what a product will do for you. Make sure you see it in action.
For more information about Burton Precision, visit the company site here.
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