3D printing technology a winning play for Vegas-based company

By Brian Sodoma

Staying ahead of the competition is key to growing any enterprise, but sometimes in order to do so a drastic (and expensive) business strategy needs to be employed. For Craig Miller, founder of Las Vegas-based printing enterprise, Pictographics, a strategy to separate his company from national competitors would involve a nearly $20 million capital investment in what he calls “disruptively revolutionary” 3D printing technologies.

That move will ultimately pay off in the form of a growing local enterprise that’s adding high-paying jobs to the Southern Nevada economy while also bringing dynamic new printing industry capabilities to the area. With that, companies in a variety of industries the world over will look to Las Vegas for their 3D printing needs.

“The key for us was that we did not want to do anything that was ‘me too’ in our business,” he said. “To do that, you’re spending an awful lot of cash up front to buy this new equipment.”

Going from great to greater

Miller started his graphic printing business in 1994 with no background in printing whatsoever. He describes himself as a “tech wonk” who was curious about the business and how to expand its reaches.

Innovation in printing isn’t new to Miller. His company was one of the first to digitally dye fabric, use UV cured printing and engage in dye sublimation of metals. Through the years, major accounts came rolling in. His teams provided graphic prints and wraps for major installations like the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, NBA All-Star Game and did trade-show work for major corporations like Ford, Intel, GM, scissor lift company, JLG, among others.

We’ve just done so many high-profile things that gave us so many blue-chip clients,” he said, “but I always like to say ‘let’s go where they ain’t.’”

A little more than a year ago he set out to be a leader in 3D printing. This has led to the purchase of four 3D printers totaling $1.1 million in capital investment. Combined, the equipment offers unmatched speed, precision, color and size.

His new machines have produced full-sized helicopter cockpits mock-ups for trade shows, intricate life-size archways for movie sets, movie character figurines as well as custom parts for manufacturers and biomedical firms. He is now able to serve a wide range of needs in a variety of industries. His action figures were even featured on the Today Show in July.

Two of Miller’s 3D printers are engineered for additive manufacturing (AM). That means they can produce end-use products that compete with traditional manufacturing. This includes printing for extremely durable materials like ultra-strong plastics, composites, and metal.

“Manufacturing is a $12 trillion market. We want a piece of that, and AM puts us there” he said.

His company was selected as the beta site for a new revolutionary 10 million-color printer from Mimaki. It’s the only photo-realistic 3D printer on the market. His company has also been selected as the beta site for two unreleased 3D print technologies that he promises will be disruptive to the industry.

“Being selected as a beta site allows us to produce products faster, better and cheaper, and we’ll be in the market about six months faster than anyone else. So, we’ll be able to introduce a lot of amazing things before anyone else,” he said.

Getting help, bringing jobs to Nevada

Miller’s quest to become the most innovative 3D printer in the world is bold, but he’s also aware that he needs to be mindful of his resources in order to pull off the feat. He will hire 27 new employees in the next two years, most of them being high tech or other high-level professional positions.

“These are going to be very strong jobs we’re adding to Southern Nevada.” he said.

LVGEA helped Miller navigate the state’s sales and use tax abatement process that now trims his tax bill on equipment purchases from about 8.5 percent to 2 percent.

“When you’re talking about a million-dollar piece of equipment and having to purchase more than one of them, you’re talking about a significant tax savings,” he said. “It really incentivizes me to buy more equipment and hire more people.”

LVGEA requires those applying for tax abatements to create jobs that are above the state’s average wage, $22.54 per hour at the time of their application, explained Perry Ursem, LVGEA’s vice president of business retention. Other requirements for the abatement include the company needing to generate at least half of its revenues from outside of Nevada and also provide health insurance to employees for which the employer pays at least 65 percent of the premium.

“These are what we call primary businesses. They are really the types of enterprises you want to encourage to grow,” Ursem said. “The unemployment rate is below 6 percent, and we want to incent companies providing quality jobs with benefits.”

LVGEA’s Target Industry Validation Study, completed last year with the help of Louisiana-based management and strategy consulting firm, Emergent Method, revealed seven target industries the region’s economic development stakeholders should actively grow in the next five years. Those include emerging technology enterprises like Pictographics that can also utilize Las Vegas’s logistics hub advantages.

“They [Pictographics] are producing a critical component of the regional supply chain for companies that need that type of service or commodity… Companies like Pictographics are important to our ecosystem,” Ursem added.

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