Interview with Gordon Styles, founder of rapid prototyping company Star Rapid, exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with metal additive manufacturing. First appeared in issue 129 of New Design magazine.
Gordon Styles’ message is clear: metal 3D printing is an amazing technology, but the design and manufacturing industries need to be realistic about its application. “There is no point considering metal 3D printing for a part that is price sensitive,” he says. “The only time you use metal 3D printing is when you are trying to manufacture something that simply cannot be made by any other manufacturing process.”
Alongside more traditional manufacturing techniques such as CNC machining and injection moulding, Styles’ company Star Rapid is equipped to offer clients Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) 3D printing. Star Rapid’s factory in Guangdong Province, China has a Renishaw AM250 machine that enables the printing of metal parts directly from CAD data.
Styles has been involved in the engineering industry since the age of 18 and in 1993 (at 28) he was running Styles RPD, an early adopter of 3D printing, and eventually the company grew to become one of the UK’s largest rapid prototyping companies. He sold the business in 2000 and set up a new company, this time specializing in low-volume production. However, the timing was unfortunate: by 2003 low-cost Chinese manufacturing was undercutting the UK market and the company found contracts hard to come by. When two months elapsed in 2005 with no new work whatsoever, Styles made the decision to close down the business.
However, rather than dwelling on adversity, Styles saw opportunity in China. In May 2005, he travelled to China to assess the market and by July 2005 he had established Star Rapid (then called Star Prototype). Setting up in China was, Styles admits, a leap of faith, but his ambition paid off: Star Rapid now employs 250 people and engages with clients throughout the world.
After building the business predominantly around CNC machining and moulding, Styles decided to develop a metal 3D printing offer as he felt it would provide significant added value to the company’s business model.