Ed Graham fell in love with mechanical drafting early — ninth grade, to be exact — but it’s the additive manufacturing industry and ProtoCAM’s unique company culture that satisfy his need for speed, variety and creative collaboration today.
Graham’s path to becoming the lead engineer at ProtoCAM began at a high school drafting table. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Graham was drawn to the inventiveness of mechanical drawings. This was before the rise of computers and CAD machines—designs required tables, triangles, protractors, pencils and pens. To Graham, it was art, but curiosity drove him to dig deeper and explore the engineering concepts that took mechanical designs from paper and into real life.
Graham earned an associate degree in mechanical engineering just as the plastics industry was experiencing a period of growth, and there were only a handful of accredited plastics engineering programs in the country. Graham saw an opportunity and jumped on it, specializing in plastics for his bachelor’s degree; even going so far as to take on a full-time position in the industry while completing his final semester.
When a position opened up with a startup rapid prototyping company in Northampton, Pennsylvania, Graham decided to check it out. It was 1996, he was just out of college and ProtoCAM was a fledgling but growing business. One thing was clear to Graham from the beginning: The ProtoCAM team had an obsessive commitment to not only detail and speed, but service.
Direct Access to Expertise
What Ed Graham does now is quite a bit different than what he did when he started all those years ago, but it suits him. He still puts pieces together to make them work, but today that often involves matching customer needs with ProtoCAM services, adjusting equipment and human resources to get the best efficiencies, or troubleshooting how designs translate (or don’t quite translate) during an additive manufacturing build. When it comes down to it, Graham is a problem solver – and that character trait is one of the reasons why he has become an invaluable part of the ProtoCAM team.
“While customers are more fluent in 3D printing than they used to be, our industry changes weekly and differences in technologies can be confusing,” Graham said. “Client engineers are always experts in their own industry, but they don’t have the time to stay on top of rapid prototyping trends and advances. That’s what we’re here for at ProtoCAM.”
Graham believes ProtoCAM excels in the additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping industry due, in part, to its collaborative, customer-focused process. Customers talk directly to the ProtoCAM engineers who can assess a project, outline options and explain what each means for the final product.
“What we want to know from customer is what are the goals for the finished product?” says Graham. “What are the essential features for the end use? With that information in hand, we help customers select the right technology and then go ahead and start the build.”
ProtoCAM’s team of engineers is fluent in all aspects of additive manufacturing and the company has found the right balance between experience and innovation. “Many of today’s designers are working completely in 3D and they forget you need dimensions and tolerances to check out,” Graham said. “Having a background in non-computer drafting makes a huge difference in how quickly and efficiently we can complete a project. On the other hand, we all get excited by the latest advances and how we can exceed customer expectations with the newest technologies.”
When he’s not working with customers, engineers or the additive manufacturing machines at ProtoCAM, Graham is either helping his wife chase their four children (13, 11, 9 and 7) or chasing his personal best at obstacle and mud runs like the Pennsylvania Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. The pace of his family life matches the pace of his work life, but Graham says that’s one of the more rewarding things about ProtoCAM.
“We turn things around here in days and I like that fast-paced environment,” Graham said. “Being able to adapt quickly is a necessity when it comes to rapid prototyping and we have a really strong team. The ProtoCAM crew is like family. We might disagree sometimes, but at the end of the day, we come together and we make it happen for our customers.”
ProtoCAM: Engineering Products and Partnerships
The biggest change in the industry Graham has noticed over the years, due, in part, to the incredible advances in additive manufacturing technologies, is the quality of ProtoCAM’s deliverables. As rapid prototyping industry capabilities have expanded, more and more customers are looking for products that push the envelope—specific tolerances for end-use pieces, more precise surface finishes and colors, combinations of materials in a single part.
Customers are much more demanding, but, Graham says that is a good thing for ProtoCAM.
“There are plenty of rapid prototyping companies that can take an online order and drop a piece in the mail, but a lot of those companies sacrifice quality for automation and speed — which isn’t always very speedy,” he said.
ProtoCAM’s engineers closely evaluate every single part before quoting and, Graham says, they still typically have much faster delivery times than the automated shops. They’re also more likely to get it right the first time, delivering a quality part with fewer design rounds. It is a “measure twice, cut once” kind of philosophy that drives the ProtoCAM process, and it works.
“Finding the most appropriate build method is not something you can really automate,” said Graham. “Sometimes something as simple as reasoning out the orientation on a design can improve the quality ten-fold, shave time off production, or save a few dollars.
“When you call ProtoCAM, you not only get a human, you get an engineer fluent in the technology whose goal is to produce your product quickly and to the standards we establish together. ProtoCAM doesn’t just engineer parts, we engineer partnerships.”