September 20, 2013 Updated: September 22, 2013 at 1:45 pm
Maxx Sunglasses hopes to use 3-D printing to write a new chapter in its business plan.
The Monument-based sunglass maker bought a high-capacity 3-D printer last month for $70,000, and is using it to make prototypes of the glasses and other merchandise with logos and team colors from professional baseball and football teams and college football teams.
The company plans to spend $500,000 over the next three years to buy enough 3-D printing equipment to bring production of its sunglasses to Monument from contract manufacturers it uses in Taiwan. The company also use the printers to manufacture other products it plans to add to its lineup, such as gift items and chess sets.
Three-dimensional printers aren't printers like the ones most consumers use with their home computers. Using specs created on computers and sent to the printer, the devices build objects with plastic or powdered material held together with a super-glue-like resin, one thin layer at a time, with heads equipped with small jets similar to inkjet printers.
The machine Maxx uses is the size of a washer and dryer set side-by-side, and it can create sunglasses, chess sets and other objects in just a few hours.
"Three-D printing gives us so many options that it is an exciting thing for business. It reminds me of the beginning of the computer age or when we first began using the Internet," said Rick Milner, CEO, co-founder and owner of Maxx. "Our whole idea with 3-D printing is it gives us more access to other product lines for the licenses we already hold. It will allow us to move from sunglasses to other gift items, like a chess set, and allow us to partner with artists and entrepreneurs who have ideas for licensed products."
Already, the 3-D printer that Maxx bought has reduced the time the company spends producing prototypes from a month to two or three days, since the company no longer has to send designs to its manufacturers in Taiwan and wait for them to be made and shipped back to Monument, Milner said. That will allow Maxx to display potential products at annual trade shows and take orders from retailers, television shopping networks, online sales sites and the teams for which it holds licenses, he said.
Maxx plans to add at least 25 people to its 35 year-round employees once it begins manufacturing its own products, Milner said. The company has formed a separate division for its 3-D printing operations, called Maxx 3D, that will do 3-D printing, design and prototyping.
Milner and his wife and business co-owner, Nancy, couple got into the sunglass business in 2000 after owning other companies, including a vehicle window-tinting business that grew too quickly and failed. They initially sold sunglasses from trailers parked on street corners in the Springs and other locations before switching to a distribution model of selling through retailers, websites and television shopping networks.
Maxx expects to hit $10 million in sales this year, largely from licensing deals: one signed in 2011 with Major League Baseball; one signed last year with Collegiate Licensing Co. for 43 college football teams; and one signed in June with the National Football League. Since landing the first licensing deal, the company's sales have more than doubled, and licensed sunglasses - which are made in a team's colors and have a small medallion on the side with the team's logo - are expected to overtake its primary line of sunglasses by the end of next year, Rick Milner said.
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