How 3D Printing Turned an Idea Into a Product

            The Perfect Ribbon began the same way I would assume a lot of small businesses start, talking about an idea over a couple of beers. One night in the fall of 2017 my partner Stu brought up an idea about making something that can help service members attach devices to their ribbons. My first thought was, “It’s a great idea, but how would you even begin designing, prototyping, patenting, and producing. It would take tons of money and we wouldn’t even know where to start”.

            My confidence to begin the process began that same year when I won the Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge.  After winning the contest I was sent to the University of San Diego where I was introduced to 3D printing.  Following the trip, Stu and I grabbed another beer and decided if we could validate the idea we could use 3D printing to create a business.  In a simple handshake, Stack (Stu + Zach) LLC was made.

            As active duty Marines we knew how to do more with less. This skillset was critical to our ability to move forward.  Before we started 3D printing, we built our first prototype in Stu’s truck. We melted a $0.99 candle and used the wax to form the shape of a ribbon.  We then heated up a 5/16” personal star with a lighter and then pushed it into the wax. After creating our first proto-type, we were able to prove the functionality of the concept.  All we had to do following this moment was learn how to 3D print.

            Our first 3D print experience started with calling in a favor from a friend.  One of the great things about the Marine Corps is all the other Marines you serve with. They quickly become life long friends and normally will do anything to help you. Stu and I had one such friend who had recently gotten out of the Marines and was working on his masters in engineering at a local Washington DC University. We reached out to him and he was able to print some of our prototypes through the engineering department. It wasn’t too long after Stu and I had our own set of 3D printers. Our time was consumed by trying to perfect our product so we could save our fellow service members the hassle of preparing their ribbon stack.

            For months Stu and I designed, printed, and tested our molds. We knew Marines would be one of the main customers and they would demand perfection. Also being Marines ourselves, we knew how important a correct set of ribbons can be in a promotion photo or meritorious board. We ensured our molds placed devices in accordance with uniform regulations down to one tenth of a millimeter.

            It may have taken us almost a year to design, test, and launch our product… But it didn’t take tons of money. Throughout my time in the Marine Corps I have met numerous Marines and Sailors who have had extremely innovative ideas and sadly not enough of them come to fruition. To anyone who has ever wanted to try to turn an idea into reality… we say, “Go for it!” You don’t have to break the bank trying to launch a creative product.