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Wichita State Students Launch Prototyping Business

Three students at Wichita State University have founded and opened a new business that will help small engineering firms save both time and money in the research and development stages.

ProtoBench, founded by computer science major Andrew Trefethen, aerospace engineering major Zane Woltz and business management major Austin Slater opened in January. The business uses means of 3-D printing, CAD modeling and various forms of casting in order to create complete product prototypes, including wearables, product housings and replacement components.

The three students identified a problem faced by small organizations and individuals who do their own engineering, and they created ProtoBench to help address the issue.

Due to the fact that key parts manufacturers will only ship orders of 1,000 or more parts, inventors and engineering are left with just two choices: order in bulk and hope that the parts will work in their design; or spend an extended period of time reviewing each new product for design flaws based on manufacturer specs.

"These processes lead to wasted man-hours, and the time spent reviewing the product could have been used getting to market before their competition," Trefethen says. "The same technology can prepare individual innovators or new entrepreneurs to get in front of investors."

Trefethen added that getting in front of investors is key.

"Investors are less and less likely to get sold on an idea alone," Trefethen says. "Prototypes are just another form of evidence for investors.”

 Higher-quality innovation

ProtoBench manufactures individual, physical product models. This saves engineers and inventors the expense of buying parts in bulk.

"Lower R&D costs and faster turnarounds lead to higher quality innovation," he says.

ProtoBench uses its 3-D printing and casting equipment for small prototypes, and on larger items, the team contracts with local manufacturing firm Leading Edge Aerospace.

The company is still working on gaining a steady client stream, according to Trefethen, and the ProtoBench founders have been active in various networking events, such as 1 Million Cups and the 2016 Engineering Expo.

Trefethen, Woltz and Slater are also working with the Kansas Small Business Development Center, which Trefethen says has been a big support, as well as the College of Engineering.

"Thanks to some of the professors, we have developed methods to mimic materials and properties we thought were years down the road for us," he says.

ProtoBench is located at 2065 S. Edwards.

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