It began as a hobby, a way for Clay Guillory to fill his evening hours.
But in just a few short years, tinkering in his garage with 3-D printers has led to an internationally known company with revenues last year of nearly $1 million.
"It's a rocket ship, man," says the 30-year-old Guillory, founder and CEO of Titan Robotics.
Titan builds and sells large-scale, industrial 3-D printers; it also does print jobs for customers. Additive manufacturing - or industrial 3-D printing - helps produce everything from prosthetics to footwear to car parts.
An aircraft nose cone and a skateboard are among print jobs on display in Titan's meeting room.
"You name it, we're printing it," Guillory says. And he sees few limits. "We've been able to do most things that everyone has thrown at us."
Titan's printers are at the forefront of additive manufacturing, making bigger parts at a faster speed.
Most 3-D printers use a filament system - "sort of like Weed Eater string," Guillory says. Titan uses widely available injection-molding pellets in a process called pellet extrusion, which is faster and allows a greater range of materials.
The printers are typically custom built to order; prices range from $35,000 for "the most basic machine" to $200,000 or so.
"We're one of the most advanced 3-D printing companies in the world," Guillory says, "because of this technology that we created. . We are able to do things that previously were impossible."
A move to Colorado
Guillory - "Louisiana born and bred" - graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he majored in mechanical engineering and German. It was there he met his future wife, Maddie, a news reporter who had just moved from Texas and was doing a story on cuts in the university's German department.
Maddie interviewed Clay for a story that helped save the department, and they became friends - and eventually something more. So when Maddie - then Maddie Garrett - moved to Colorado Springs to work for KOAA, Clay followed her and got a job at Diversified Machine Systems. (They got married last year.)
Titan's website says that Clay "is a mechanical engineer by day, and a mechanical engineer by night." Sure enough, even with his day job at DMS, Clay took up that hobby of 3-D printers.
"She (Maddie) was working nights and I was kind of bored," he says. He started with a kit for a 3-D printer, put it together in his living room, then moved it to the garage. After putting an ad on Craigslist offering to make 3-D printers or parts, he got a request from an architect for a printer much larger than what he had been dealing with.
"He just happened to call the right guy," Clay says, "because I was making really big machines at DMS, so I knew how to do it, and how to do it accurately and cost-effectively."
More orders followed, including one from the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park.
"It just got to a breaking point where I was working so many hours in a week that I couldn't stay awake at work anymore," Clay says.
With the hobby evolving into a business, he left DMS in 2015 and started working full time on the printers; he moved the business from his garage to a facility on Garden of the Gods Road in 2016, the same year he was honored as young entrepreneur of the year at the annual Small Business Week Awards.
Titan now has about a dozen employees.
Clay's parents helped get the business going; his mother, a certified public accountant, handles the finances. And Maddie works in customer relations. A video she did landed Titan one of its more unusual customers: one of the largest foundries in West Africa. Clay traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to install the printer at Nigerian Foundries Limited.
"I didn't think they were real at first," Maddie says, referring to online Nigerian scams. "I was like, we're going to need the payment up front for this one."
Nigeria is just part of the global interest Titan has seen. Clay will be in Australia this month installing a printer.
Word of mouth, social media - "Clay does a lot with Instagram," Maddie says - and trade shows are ways to attract business. Titan will make its first appearance at the Space Symposium in April.
"Trade shows are exhausting and expensive," Maddie says, "but also a lot of fun, and it's exciting to see what else is out there and getting to know the movers and shakers in the industry."
Clay views himself as the best salesman for Titan's printers "because I know everything about these machines. There's not one thing I haven't seen or haven't worked with, so I can shoot straight with any customer and be as technical or nontechnical as they need me to be." (Maddie calls him "the most personable engineer I know.")
The business side has not always come easy.
"Working on growing the business, focusing on how to do that the right way and pivot the company constantly to weave through the increasing competition, advancing the technology and making customers happy, that's the hard part for me," Clay says.
Allison Jones, a mechanical engineer and Paralympian, joined Titan as she transitioned from "an athlete by trade and an engineer by education" to "a full-time engineer and part-time cyclist." She just left to work for an automation company in Portland, Ore.
"He's a good guy," she says of Clay. "He's got vision and he's got the drive to get things done, and he really wants to make a difference. He's new to business, so it's been a learning curve for him. He wants to tear things apart and figure out what will work next and what will work better."
Clay has long seen the potential for making prosthetics from 3-D printers; a prosthetic hand he made for a Denver girl was the subject of a Denver Post story.
Jones, born with a birth defect that left her without her right leg, also opened their eyes to producing assistive devices for athletes with disabilities, Maddie says.
Clay is "always pushing design limits and never being satisfied," Jones says.
With pellet extrusion, Jones says, "we've been able to test and push the boundaries of what plastics can get printed."
Titan is poised for more growth as it continues to push those boundaries, Clay says. The company saw "huge numbers" just in January - "a lot of big customers that have committed to machines." And the company is "doing a lot more prints for people, which ultimately ends up leading to machine sales."
Titan is bringing in business partners - "strategic partners like chemical companies," Clay says - and is potentially seeking investors to further growth.
It is nothing he envisioned when getting his mechanical engineering degree.
"I was expecting kind of a comfortable life, a comfortable desk job. I had a comfortable life and I had a comfortable desk job, and I got bored, I wanted something more exciting. I didn't ever mean to start a company; this is totally by accident. But I found something that I'm really passionate about."