RAPID CITY, S.D. – VRC Metal Systems recently completed its fourth year of operations. Employment increased from about 20 people to 40 during 2016 and sales rose from about $2 million to more than $5 million. “We’re expecting to exceed $10 million in 2017. We’ve been more than doubling in sales the past four years running,” said Christian Widener, co-founder and chief technology officer.
The company makes hand-held, high-pressure, cold spray systems that can be used, for example, to apply metal coatings to repair fighter jets.
VRC’s metal-application systems have enormous potential for use, said Gary Archamboult, director of the Small Business Innovation Research program in South Dakota. The systems can be used to repair corrosion on bridges, for instance. “There is almost no end to how this technology can be used,” he said.
Archamboult and the SBIR program helped VRC get established as a business. The program already has provided VRC grants for about $300,000 in U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy funding to assist in product development. Follow-up grant applications potentially worth more than $2 million are pending.
VRC also has applied for and received grants from other state and federal programs. Archamboult has been helpful in identifying funding opportunities and in helping with applications, Widener said. “He’s also a good encourager. We all get busy,” Widener said. “Gary does a good job of keeping opportunities on the radar for us and sending out emails and calls for reminders.”
SBIR is among the business-assistance services that are part of the South Dakota Small Business Development Center. SBIR services include business counseling, help with federal registrations, assistance identifying potential funding sources, editing proposals, and providing connections to university researchers and other information.
The cold spray technology manufactured by VRC was developed under a joint ownership agreement between the Army Research Laboratory and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City. VRC was founded by Widener, who doubles as a lab director and associate professor at the School of Mines & Technology, and by Robert Hrabe, a former Air Force pilot and military technology developer.
“We’re proud of the growth that VRC has shown and will continue to support their efforts to grow in any way we can,” said Terri Haverly, executive director of the Black Hills Business Development Center. “It’s been exciting to see them grow and need more space in the incubator, and I believe 2017 could see them graduate.”