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RMJ Tactical produces top-quality tomahawks, knives and other tactical gear for members of the
military, law enforcement and the avid outdoorsman. (RMJ photo)
IMPO • SEPTEMBER 2017

Chattanooga’s
Start-Up Boom
IMPO tours three tech-oriented manufacturers
in Chattanooga, TN
By Rachelle Blair-Frasier

W
ith a population of more in the 1960s when air pollution was “It wasn't to just win the big fish. It was
than 176,000, Chattanooga at a high. The steel industry fell and to win the big fish and the little fish that
is the fourth-largest city population dropped. come too. That really reinvigorated the
in the state of Tennessee. Surrounded “The city put a lot of effort on manufacturing base.”
by the Tennessee River and served by cleaning up air pollution and started Wood estimates Volkswagen’s
multiple railroads, the city has a long community planning on what we wanted investment alone is pushing $2 billion,
and storied history in manufacturing. to be in the future,” he says. “The idea and they have a lot of room to grow.
“It started with a pretty active was to make this a place where people The company’s supply chain has
industrial development period,” wanted to live.” invested an additional billion dollars if
says Charles Wood, vice president Fast-forward to the early 2000s when he had to guess.
of Economic Development at the a plan to reinvigorate the manufacturing “We've had a pretty significant amount
Chattanooga Area Chamber of base went into effect. Land was of investment that has come out of that,”
Commerce. “In the late 1800s, early acquired from the federal government he says. “I tell everyone that we make
1900s we were known as the ‘Dynamo and redeveloped into an industrial park everything from over the counter
of Dixie’. There was lots of industry and where Volkswagen now calls home. Allegra to Zebra Cakes and everything
that grew through the ‘50s and ‘60s.” “The whole focus was around landing in between.”
However, Wood says the area began a very large manufacturer that would In late July, IMPO visited three up-and-
to see a significant decline starting bring in that supply chain,” Wood says. coming, technology-based companies
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in Chattanooga to get a feel for things in

IMPO • SEPTEMBER 2017


Tennessee’s manufacturing hub.

Welcome To Gig City


Chattanooga has a rich legacy of
entrepreneurs, and in recent years,
the area has seen a resurgence as new
service, tech and industrial businesses
have popped up. Many are attracted to
the area because it is “Gig City” — the
first city in the western hemisphere
to offer 10-gigabit per-second fiber
internet service to all residents
and businesses.
The Gig, as it’s affectionately called
by residents and business owners RMJ Tactical combines traditional blacksmith methods and
alike, came to Chattanooga in 2010. industrial machining to produce its high-quality tactical gear.
(IMPO photo)
The question was, what to do with all
that high-speed internet? That’s where
GIGTANK 365, a boutique accelerator that rises between every layer, because The key piece of Collider’s
for startups developing ultra-high we aren't stopping between every layer,” technology is what happens inside
bandwidth business applications, came Bredemeyer says. “We also get better the machine after the mold printing
into play. Many of the first startup surface quality in the hollow 3D is done. Collider’s tech is different
companies that moved to Gig City printed shell, which is also incredibly from most 3D printers in that instead
were in the 3D printing industry. cost efficient.” of printing the actual part, the Orchid
“That bandwidth has allowed the 3D
printing industry to gear up in a more
significant way here than you would
find in other places,” Wood says. “It's
a good industry sector that blends high
tech innovation with more traditional
manufacturing.”

Collider
First on IMPO’s Chattanooga tour
was Collider Tech. Founded 18 months
ago, it was the newest startup we
visited. CEO and co-founder Graham
Bredemeyer first came to the city as
part of GIGTANK, looking to put
together America’s first 3D printing
accelerator program, and ended up
forming his own company.
In developing the company’s flagship
printer — Orchid — Bredemeyer and his
team revolutionized how 3D printing is
done. The system uses DLP printing and
a specific wavelength of light to cure the
liquid resin into the shape programmed
into the machine. But unlike traditional
DLP printing that has the build plate
moving out of the resin in between each
layer, Collider’s technology enables for a
continuous pull.
“Continuous pull gives us incredible
speed compared to a typical 3D printer
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IMPO • SEPTEMBER 2017

An MRO employee runs a repaired industrial robot through a testing program.


(IMPO photo)

prints out a shell, or mold. It can then is sintered and the binder-resins are usually costs more than $10,000
be filled with basically any material burned off. per mold.
used in traditional injection molding, “It’s like an injection molding “If you compare this to the traditional
including rubber, silicone, plastic and machine where the mold can change at molding process, Collider's process is
even metal. the push of a button,” Bredemeyer says. going to save you weeks,” he says. “There
The material cures inside the mold, The technology shortens the product is no mold to wait for and no shops to
is removed from the build plate and development lifecycle allowing companies coordinate with, and Collider's machine
put into a hot water bath. The mold to make prototypes in production quality can make your part in a matter of hours.”
dissolves, leaving you with a finished materials. Another benefit of the new Currently, Collider leases Orchid
piece. For the metal parts, the process technology, Bredemeyer says, is cost and to innovation departments at major
is finished in a furnace where the metal time savings. The traditional mold process manufacturers, as these companies

Experienced MRO technicians provide solutions to customers. (MRO photo) The Collider team: Luke Bechtel,
Graham Bredemeyer, Cacky
Calderon and Joseph Alnas.
(Corey and Emily Critser photo))
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improve their speed to market by

IMPO • SEPTEMBER 2017


RMJ Tactical president Richard Carmack displays some of the top-quality
focusing on improved prototyping. tomahawks and knives the company manufactures. (Jaime Smialek photo)
Soon, they will lease to service
bureaus, R&D and design shops, and
other manufacturers.
“We're looking at reducing product
development lifecycle, reducing
inventory costs for high-inventory
products, and mass customization,”
Bredemeyer says. “I think there is a
mindset that 3D printing isn't going to
disrupt the supply chain for decades, but
it's happening way faster than that.”

Manufacturing Repair &


Overstock (MRO)
Next up on our tour was
Manufacturing Repair & Overstock
(MRO). Five years after first starting
the business, MRO has recently moved
into new, larger, digs. Even before any
photos were hung on the walls, its 38
employees set to work checking in,
diagnosing and repairing equipment
sent in from customers.
Co-founders Justin Wilson and Russell
Looper describe the company as a
solutions provider. On any given day
MRO receives anywhere from 20 to 100 IMPROVE OPERATIONAL FLEXIBILITY
boxes with broken equipment looking to
be repaired — everything from a circuit WITH TMI INDUSTRIAL CURTAINS
board to industrial robots.
“We try to be the solutions provider,”
• Fast and easy
Looper says. “Our whole goal is to installation
reduce our customers’ downtime.”
It is MRO’s job to find the best • Separate
environments to
solution for their customer. Sometimes
control temperature,
that means replacing diodes and
noise, contamination
capacitors or buying a refurbished piece
and the elements
of equipment. The machine part could be
new, or it could be decades old. • Can be opened, closed
“That’s the benefit of companies like and reconfigured as
us. Maybe you have a $1,100 touch needed
screen on a machine that's damaged and Industrial Curtains from TMI
the original manufacturer of that piece are an affordable way to divide
doesn't support it any more and you end large spaces into smaller work
up with a million-dollar paperweight,” areas while still maintaining
Looper says. “Whereas people like us, we easy access. Unlike fixed walls
can take that part, repair it and keep that that can require plans, permits
machine going.” and approvals, Industrial
Curtains can be installed at any
Looper likes to equate diagnosing
time.
a broken piece of equipment to a
TMI International
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“A lot of times the patient shows up in about our Industrial info@tmi-pvc.com
the emergency room and no one knows Curtains. 800.888.9750
what happened,” he says. “They are
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IMPO • SEPTEMBER 2017

MRO receives boxes with broken equipment looking to be repaired —


everything from a circuit board to industrial robots. (MRO photo)

Collider's Orchid uses DLP printing


and a specific wavelength of light
to cure the liquid resin into a mold.
(Collider photo)

Incubating
Startups
Both MRO and RMJ Tactical
got their start at the Hamilton
County Business Development
Center’s business incubator in just lying on the gurney and you have “He thought ‘if I make them, my
Chattanooga, and that’s where to figure out how to get them back to parents will let me have them’,” says
Collider currently calls home. consciousness and alive.” Johnson’s business partner and RMJ
The 127,000-square-foot MRO and its expert staff currently Tactical president Richard Carmack. “So
building offers space and
services thousands of facilities from all over he got a hibachi grill, a piece of railroad
support for those looking to
the county. Many of the technicians have track and a ballpein hammer and he
start their own business and
make it a success. The INCubator
specific skills — some good at electronics started making knives.”
helps entrepreneurs succeed others at servo motors. In addition to regular That interest grew into a calling and a
through a three-year progressive training, the team also share knowledge and career path. In 2001, Johnson was tasked by
development program. It also work together to make sure a repair is done an Air Force Special Operations member to
provides shared administrative right and quickly. The average turn-around make something capable of penetrating a
services, manufacturing time on a repair is 10 days. Kevlar helmet. From there. the modern day,
and office space, training “What I love about our system is all-steel tomahawk was born.
workshops, use of a state-of- if something comes in that someone Since then, RMJ Tactical — officially
the-art technology conference is having a hard time figuring out or founded in 2005 — has been producing
center and access to free onsite
isn't familiar with it, we have all the top-quality tomahawks, knives and
business counseling.
experience of all these guys and girls that other tactical gear for members of
Currently the facility is at
capacity with 73 companies.
can put their heads together and figure out the military, law enforcement and the
Kathryn Menchetti, director an answer,” Looper says. avid outdoorsman. Carmack says the
of small business and Utilizing a repair company such as tomahawk is more than a weapon — it’s
entrepreneurship, says the MRO is beneficial to manufacturers an all-purpose tool.
INCubator graduates one-third of because not many companies can afford RMJ Tactical production has been
its population every year. to have the number of experienced growing steadily and quickly outgrowing
Now in its 30th year, the technicians on-hand that MRO does. space. It currently operates with 12
INCubator boasts 560 graduates. “A plant wouldn't hire this number employees, but Carmack expects to need
MRO was the 500th graduate. of people; it wouldn't make sense four more by the end of the year.
“We have below-market rent
financially,” Looper says. Prior to moving to its new location
so they can put their money back
the company was producing 300 units
into the company,” Menchetti
says. “We soften the blow for
RMJ Tactical each month. In the new space, Carmack
them. One out of every two Finishing up our tour was RMJ Tactical. estimates producing 500 or more —
businesses fail and we have a RMJ Tactical founder Ryan Johnson got basically doubling output.
92-93 percent success rate. involved in the art of blacksmithing at “We’re world-class as far as
It’s a rich environment the age of 12 years, when he took up an tomahawks go,” he says. “Now
of entrepreneurship.” interest in ninja tools such as throwing we’re learning how to be a great
stars, knives and swords. manufacturer.”