In what looks like a college lab (it actually is) at the Montana Tech campus in Butte is the most unusual manufacturing business in Montana.
This is the home of CAMP, the Center for Advanced Mineral & Metallurgical Processing.
Simply put, they make things to help a business make other things.
“We do that through either a straight up fabrication if it's a metallic part, we use it that way,” explained Ronda Coguill, CAMP program director. “Or if 3-D printing can facilitate it then we use our printers and we make it. We scale it down and make it into a size that so we can see what the product is. We can make the adjustments and then we go on and start building it, help the designer make their product into something that could be salable.”
Twelve Montana Tech students work in the program, whether with fine-tuning ideas or actually processing parts in the 3D printer.
It turns out some of these students are paying attention to what's going on here and they are making plans to enter the business world themselves.
“What our real work is supposed to be is characterizing materials but the entrepreneurial part is so exciting,” said Coguill. “So we have students that work for me always are thinking ‘Oh, I know what I’m going to do, and so we're launching some from within too. Some of the students that work for me actually are starting their own businesses.”
“I remind the students, they're not really doing anything from 11 pm to 2 am, might as well start a business,” Coguill added.
Nick VanHelden is one of the students. He's taken advantage of the services available here and his business is off and running.
“I couldn't afford just having machinists prototype all these little parts for $80 a pop,” said Vanhelden. “It would run me broke, and this is just quick and easy. I can do this in a day rather than wait 3 weeks for a turnaround and they're like, ‘Oh this doesn't work.’”
CAMP is not just for Montana Tech students.
Marji McCaffery is in the final stages of developing her own business, thanks to CAMP. Without them, her future would have looked a little different.
“I probably would have taken some sketches and tried to do some licensing but that's really hard,” said McCaffery. “I don't really think I would have been that successful. I think you do have to have a prototype so you can really convey the functionality.”
Having an idea is one thing - bringing it to a salable product is entirely different.
“Truly, I knew nothing,” McCaffery admitted. “I just knew there was a need for this product and that I thought I should try, so that's what I did.”
Thanks to work done at CAMP, McCaffery is very close to becoming a manufacturer.
CAMP has helped 5 new businesses get up and running. They help not only with manufacturing but also with providing access to other businesses and even Patent Law information.