A Love Letter to the Midwest RepRap Festival
Co-Founder and CEO
The Midwest RepRap Festival (MRRF) has a special place in my heart, in the hearts of many in the 3D printing community, and a unique place in Slice Engineering's history.
For the uninitiated, MRRF is a festival (aptly named), held annually in the middle-of-nowhere, Goshen, IN. The event takes place in a county fairgrounds normally inhabited by livestock. Nerds like us from around the globe descend on the place like flies, shocking the local residents who probably wonder who these folks are that have disturbed their tiny town. MRRF is also a festival in the sense that it's not a traditional trade show. It’s organized more similarly to how you would organize a birthday party or family reunion.
I first heard of MRRF in 2017 from Tom Sanladerer who had advised Chris Montgomery and I about where to "market test" our innovation. We were still both working full time engineering jobs and had spent way more time and money developing this crazy hotend idea, the Mosquito, than we ever anticipated. We designed shirts, hastily threw together a website, and registered an LLC. We had only 35 pre-production hotends (which looked rough compared to today), a few other products, no social media accounts, and no back end business systems.
We registered as a sponsor at MRRF in 2018 and showed up with our life savings in a couple of boxes, some cool carabiners, and a cooler full of beer and oranges. I remember flopping on my bed the night before the trip, exclaiming to my wife, “I really hope this works.” Almost two years of brainstorming, testing, planning, R&D, learning web development, setting up a supply chain, and reading books like “How to Start a Business for Dummies” (did you know that you have to register your business with both the state and the IRS?!) had already taken a toll, but we were excited to show our baby to the world.
Friday night at MRRF is about setting up and hanging out. This first night we met some great folks like David Randolph from Printed Solid (who became our very first reseller), Dave Gaylod, Tom Sanladerer, Tony Akens from RailCore, and dozens of others. A few bought Mosquito hotends, which blew my mind (people actually want to buy the stuff we’ve made! How cool!).
Saturday morning came like a flash, and our table was mobbed — no one had ever seen a hotend like this before. We sold out in less than 3 hours, including our demo units, with a bidding war ensuing for the last unit. It was an exhilarating time and a wonderful learning experience. By Sunday afternoon at closing time, our voices were totally shot, but we’d had an incredible (and exhausting) weekend. Sanjay (God rest his soul) from E3D was kind enough to come by and share a beer with us, kicking off a fun and competitive friendship that I genuinely miss. Eventually, it was time to get back home to the real world, but now the real world was filled with a glimmer, that maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to actually build a company around our new technology, and hopefully, help a lot of people print their dreams.
Now, in 2022, we’re heading back to the Midwest RepRap Festival. The place where it all started. Our customers now include Space X, NASA, Honda, L3 Harris, and multiple branches of the US military and our allies. We work with major research universities and national labs around the world on cutting edge additive manufacturing research, developing new products and life-saving applications. But it all started at a warehouse in the middle-of-nowhere, Indiana, and we haven’t forgotten our roots. Thank you to the 3D printing community that believed in us and supported us when I was working my day job and trying my best to answer customer support questions at 3 am after working a 14 hour day. Without you, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be coming back. Thank you to the tens of thousands of people who have purchased our products and support American-made innovation. You are creating jobs for engineers and pushing the boundaries of technology to help people print their dreams.