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Tariffs Have Entire World in a ‘Holding Pattern’

The tariffs have forced companies and customers to put big orders on hold. Star Rapid CTO sounds off on the state of the industry.

Gordon Styles is the president and chief technology officer of Star Rapid, a China-based company that specializes in low-volume manufacturing and prototyping. 

Styles started his company as a one-man operation based out of a hotel room in a foreign country. The company has since grown to 300 employees and a 65,000-square-foot footprint.

The growth was at first attributed to prototyping work, but the business has swung to more than 65% low volume manufacturing. Styles attributes much of this growth to the constantly-improving capabilities of mid-range 3D printers and additive manufacturing machines (typically $10,000 to $50,000).

With new printers from Carbon and Markforged, Styles is invigorated by the new markets that could open up as a result of the new carbon fiber additive manufacturing technologies that are printing high-precision, high-strength carbon fiber parts.

He also notes industry excitement, especially in China, over the new Jet Fusion 3D printers from HP. According to Styles, a lot of companies have been buying the machines, and the parts off of the machines have thus far been impressive.

Star Rapid experienced 38% growth in 2017, but the pending trade war has “put a chill on things.” According to Styles, the tariffs imposed by President Trump’s administration have forced him to put purchases on hold, including new CNC machines from CA-based Haas Automation. Customers have also put orders on hold, because they don’t want to be hit with a 25% increase on Chinese goods.

According to Styles, “the whole world is in a holding pattern,” but he remains inspired by good American leadership — you just have to look for it in new places. In particular, he names Titan Gilroy, owner of Titans of CNC and reformed criminal, as one American who is moving this country in the right direction.

Other than the trade war, Styles believes that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is designing for metal 3D printing. “You can't just print anything in metal, you're dealing with metals at extreme heat, on hot beds, and with significantly higher technical challenges,” he says. Styles pushes for more training throughout the industry, but remains hopeful as one of his employees, an 80-year-old designer, has been able to pick it up just fine.

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