Catch Up with Tim Ruffner, Our First Speaker for 3D Printing in Metal


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Last week, we got a chance to sit down and speak with Tim Ruffner, a 3D printing in metal expert and the first speaker for our 3D Printing in Metal Workshop starting March 27. With over twelve years experience in managing all phases of sales development cycle, from prospecting through detailed presentations/negotiations to closing in the manufacturing industry, Ruffner addresses 3D printing in metal from a unique perspective. His experiences in sales, marketing, PR, and corporate communications have given him the knowledge and skillset to address the benefits of 3D printing in metal for the manufacturing industry and the entire process as a whole.

CM: How did you make the transition into 3D printing?

Tim Ruffner: This is a funny story, but also very unique. I was selling CNC engraving machines for 6 years before I decided I wanted to run my own shop. I worked with a current customer at the time who wanted to make a change, so I decided to work with him at Brogans Awards In Gurnee, IL. It was a great transition, we actually won retailer of the year for ARA in 2005 because of the increase in business so fast with my help. Shortly after being there a couple years, I realized that I didn’t want to be part of retail sales although I loved the industry. I applied for a job online at GPI prototype, which was a start up. I went for the interview and because I didn’t have a degree, they chose someone else instead of me. I kept my head high and continued to build Brogans. About 3 months later, I get a call from the gentleman who took the job I applied for, and he asked me to come in for an interview. I interviewed and took the job! To get back into business sales I took a huge pay decrease and worked my way at GPI from red to black in just a matter of months. By then, the owner Scott Galloway realized that I could help take GPI to the next level, so he offered me the sales manager role. Within a few months after I was Sales and Marketing Manager, I was given the title VP of Business Development. It was something I always look back and thank the family at GPI for the opportunity as it has taken me to where I am today. I still have many friends who I grew up with at a young age, as well as my brother who work there currently. They continue to be very good friends of mine.”

CM: For someone who is looking to make the transition into 3D printing in metal, what advice do you have?

TR: “For someone who is interested in 3D metal printing, I would suggest to find a mentor. They are not too hard to find but they have fast knowledge of information to help you. I did something different as I got into 3D metal printing because it was very new. I googled as much as I could to learn about all manufacturing technologies. I was very green and was able to learn a lot from others in the industry just by asking. I met many amazing colleagues just by going to trade shows and asking! All of the colleagues I still speak to and/or work with today. I am grateful of their knowledge. I thank them constantly. Be a sponge, and keep them ears open, the industry changes and it’s important to listen to everyone. We all have some water to put on their sponge. I decided to take a huge leap and go into traditional manufacturing at STAR Prototype [now Star Rapid] in China so I can learn all aspects, I was thankful to met Pete Vigil who literally asked me to work for Star while at a trade show and had me sign the contract on a napkin, this is a memory I will never forget. I thank him as well as Gordon as they truly helped advance not only my additive career but also understanding manufacturing. Star offers CNC, Injection Molding, Die Casting and moved into Additive when we had hired my brother Jimmy to help set up the Renishaw system with a HAAS 5 axis post machining center.”

CM: What have you been most surprised about with the evolving manufacturing industry?

TR: “The one thing that has surprised me the most is the lack of innovation on current equipment. I have seen a lot of innovation on metals systems for additive but hardly take advantage of them in the production environment. For instance, while at GPI I wrote a white paper on conformal cooling while using EOS DMLS systems to help reduce cycle times for injection molding, yet to this day molders still think this is black magic. Truth is, this is a viable solution not only for reducing cycle times, but for time to market as well. I know this will come strong, and I’m waiting for this day. Recently at Desktop Metal, we had a case study showing the benefits of producing an insert. This case study didn’t include conformal cooling, but was able to showcase how the Studio system can print a blank insert quickly and reduce costs to help the molding industry.”

CM: What is the biggest problem 3D printing in metal solves?

TR: “It’s hard to say that there is a problem that 3D printing in metal solves, as each application has its own benefits. Sometimes 3D printing in metal isn’t conducive to the design yet companies will use it to just save time which how can you correlate time to savings, it is something I get asked a lot. I just don’t know that answer. Truth is nobody really does, if I were to save you a week by metal printing something that goes to market quicker what does that correlate to? In other aspects, there are many applications where metal printing can reduce weight in aerospace applications that can save millions of dollars just on one particular part. Other applications include taking assemblies and them putting them into a single metal printed part, for instance GE Additive has a fuel nozzle we all have heard about that took multiple parts and printed into one. The cost and time savings are astronomical. There are medical companies out there using metal additive for implants which is amazing but how about cutting guides along with dummy implants for size and fit before the true implant is put in ? That can save thousands of dollars for a surgery. We have companies to constantly use metal printing for jigs and fixtures which is an application most don’t realize is so viable to their business. In short, there truly isn’t a ‘biggest problem’ as every application is different along with several systems, materials and services that can truly help many organizations.”

CM: How do you see 3D printing in metal changing the manufacturing industry?

TR:I see 3D printing in metal change the industry when it gets to true additive manufacturing. There are metal additive systems coming out that can truly change the way we look at manufacturing. By saving upfront tool costs, having to order MOQ’s and stock you are able to print on demand as needed. Think about it, you can have a metal printing machine print as you need parts and ship the next day. What if you can reduce lead times by months, how many other jobs can you take on during this time? If you were to save 3 months of lead time on a tool, not to mention samples and tool changes, that could possibly be a multi million dollar deal to take during that time. That alone can pay for any metals system.”

CM: If money wasn’t a factor, what would you make with 3D printed metal?

TR:I love the idea of printing blanks so to speak quickly and inexpensively. Metal printing typically is used as a near net shape part in which case you can print a near net shape part quickly — not just one — but thousands a day. When I think of this and how quick it is, I think of consumer goods. Some items that come to mind are belt buckles to almost anything that can be produced additively as weight reduction. What does that solve in the end, maybe on a car not much but on an airplane every gram of weight saves fuel which not only saves cost but our planet. Plus this can all be done in the US which metal printing.”

Ruffner is the Commercial Sales Channel Manager, Mid-West Region, at Desktop Metal.

Make sure to join us to hear more of what Tim Ruffner has to say in our 3D Printing in Metal online workshop starting March 27!

Register now: 3D Printing in Metal: An Overview of Additive Manufacturing with Metals

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 


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