Making Metals Work through Cold Spraying – Rob Hrabe of VRC Metal Systems

Rob Hrabe, President and CEO of VRC Metal Systems

Rob Hrabe, the President and CEO of VRC Metal Systems, grew his company’s revenue from $842,000 in 2014 to $7,3 million in 2017, a 766% increase, and to around $16.8 million in 2018.  

VRC Metal Systems provides high pressure cold spray systems and process development.  

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Rob shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:  

  • Drawing from his experience as a B1 bomber pilot and recognizing the huge market of repairing worn out aircraft parts with cold spray technology.  
  • Identifying other industries where repairing worn out metal parts quickly is critical (such as on military aircraft and vessels, nuclear power plants, and oil & gas facilities).  
  • Staying ahead of the competition by researching and developing new cold spray technology, processes and materials and applications.  

Computer generated transcript - VRC Metal Systems Interview (transcribed by Sonix)

Download the "Computer generated transcript - VRC Metal Systems Interview" audio file directly from here. It was automatically transcribed by below:

Malcolm Lui: Welcome to the High Value Sales Show of I'm Malcolm Lui, the Managing Member of Eversprint, and today we're speaking with Rob Hrabe, the President and CEO of VRC Metal Systems, a provider of high pressure cold spray systems and process development. Welcome to the show Rob.

Rob Hrabe: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Malcolm Lui: Rob, you grew your company's revenue from $842,000 in 2014 to $7.3 million in 2017, a 766% increase, and in 2018 you hit around $16.8 million. Before we talk about how you grew your company so fast, can you briefly share what your company does beyond my quick intro, and how your company differs from the competition?

Rob Hrabe: Sure. We we specialize in high pressure cold spray equipment it's a it's a metalworking technologies. That's relatively new to the market. Basically you're taking a metal powder. You accelerated with the carrier gas through a supersonic nozzle and similar particles to mark to to mark three so the particles are going the speed of a rifle bullet. So if you think of shooting a rifle bullet into thick metal plate it's going to basically embed and weld itself in there. So it does that without melting. So essentially you're Coldwell and you're forcing the material together with kinetic energy. So the upshot is you can repair a lot of things that you couldn't otherwise repair. So this technology is really hot in the aerospace market in terms of repairing castings aircraft skin panels things like that very high value components. Where we differ from the competition is our system is portable and it can be used handheld. So we can wear the only hand high pressure system on the market that that has a handheld capability so we can go out into the field repair something repair corrosion or wear that other systems can't do. Our company also does a lot of developmental work in terms of we offer a turnkey solution instead of just selling the equipment we sell the automation. You know it's soundproof booth is needed dust collectors robots. We we offer a turnkey solution in this space and our competitors primarily just just sell the

Malcolm Lui: Now. Can you give me an idea as to the size of the portable unit the handheld unit

Rob Hrabe: Well actually our current unit unit is is about the size of you know your standard desk why it's a little bit taller. But we have two new units that are coming out on the market this this spring. And one of them is small enough to fit down the hatch of a submarine. So a twenty three inch man way comes in three components and they they fit down the hatch of the submarine

Malcolm Lui: Will

Rob Hrabe: And then we have one that's slightly bigger that's rugged as for use on shipyards as well.

Malcolm Lui: And when these things are in operation is it like using a in a regular welding type device or is it totally different

Rob Hrabe: It's kind of kind of like using a welding device. It's like almost using like spray paint only your spray in spraying metal onto the onto the substrate. So you're actually welding the metal on but it goes on almost like spray paint. So you're there spraying back and forth about the speed that you would eh I brush your spray paint gun

Malcolm Lui: And is thus is the strength of the world comparable to a traditional hot welding type application

Rob Hrabe: Hides it. It's comparable you actually get stronger in terms of the tensile strength and the the overall strength of the material. You do have a bond line and you can. So you can develop your process to get either stronger or weaker bond on how you do it Bond strengths are typically ten thousand pounds up to thirty thousand pounds. So pretty strong bond a lot stronger than other thermal spray processes and you don't get melting and re crystallization like you do with regular welds so there's not you don't have the heat. He didn't put in the distortion that you would have with the with the regular Weld.

Malcolm Lui: Right. And is it messier like would there be metal spray particles everywhere as I'm using your tool.

Rob Hrabe: It's it's actually it's actually a green process. So you spray it with helium or nitrogen which are inert gases you have about a 10 percent over spray of the powder so you take about 10 percent of the powder is collected as fugitive dust. But it's not you don't have toxic fumes like you do with regular Well

Malcolm Lui: And the powder is not necessarily toxic either

Rob Hrabe: No not necessarily toxic. Depends on what you're spraying you you're. You can spray most metals to clean thing blow Rockwell 60 hardness. So so you're softer metals. You can do it canal and steel and those different materials but generally those are non-toxic

Malcolm Lui: Right. And I assume your process wouldn't be useful for the oil rigs that are out in the middle of the ocean somewhere because it doesn't work underwater

Rob Hrabe: Actually. Actually we think it will we haven't tested that but because it's high pressure. So two years sprang this metal on it a thousand PSA. So we think that process will actually work underwater. Because because you're using such high pressure

Malcolm Lui: Very cool

Rob Hrabe: So do you. So we're looking to do some development work on that and try it out on some offshore offshore oil platforms.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Now is there because there's no heat involved. But on the other hand there's a lot of pressure is your. Is this way of doing welding safer or more dangerous than the traditional method.

Rob Hrabe: In general it's safer if there is some heat involved. So. So you do heat the gas to up to 80 percent of the melting point so just below where where it's somewhat softens the material that doesn't melt that. So you can get. I mean it does get hot. So. So there is some hazard there but it doesn't get near as hot as regular welding so. So it's a little bit less hazardous.

Malcolm Lui: And I take it from eyesight perspective there's no need to wear those ultra dark eye shields when using your product.

Rob Hrabe: Well yeah we you would use typically use a dust mask in a in a in a face shield and the only reason for that really is if if the high pressure were to blow Say a Little Rock or something a piece of debris from the surrounding area you know bounced up and hit you in the face or something and that's really the only reason to wear a mask.

Malcolm Lui: I would hurt too. And can a trained traditional welder can they you pick up your product just like that and get get rolling.

Rob Hrabe: Well it does take some specialized training. So they they have to be trained in and in the process itself. So there's not enough crossover between traditional welding to this that someone could just pick it up immediately. It's a lot like welding though in the sense that you know I can teach you to weld in one day but teach you to be a certified welder they can weld upside down and fill it Weld and so on and so forth you might take a year or so before you get enough practice that you can you're really you know a certified aerospace welder for example.

Malcolm Lui: Right. Got it. Now you said before that you were that some of what you provide. You're like the exclusive provider. What are those things again that you do exclusively that no one else does

Rob Hrabe: So. So our forte is is the high pressure portable system so our system is both portable high pressure and has a handheld or robotic capability so seemingly it's the only system out there that that has all those features. So it's it's on a cart type system so you can roll it around on a shop floor or you can roll it out on the flight line to repair something. And it's it's portable in this sense or a modular in the sense that you can you can actually take the gun down into say that inside of a submarine and repair something in a really tight tight to reach spot.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Rob Hrabe: And so the gun is made so that you can you can either handhold it or you can mount it to a robot arm and use it robotically the heater is integrated into the gun like competitor systems so it's it's lightweight it's about five pounds so it's it's not it's not difficult to handle

Malcolm Lui: Right now do you have patents that give you some exclusivity on the technology or or this code. Great technologies available to others as well

Rob Hrabe: That the cold frayed technology itself is available to others. Our patent is on one portable aspect of ours. So the separation of the heater from the gun. So that's what makes our system unique That's patented. We also have some process patents on applications such as aircraft scan panels and hydraulic to being and things like that that we we've got to process patents on as well as some patents on some of our automation products where we where we provide you know like a fully automated type system that will do you know take apart pretty machine it cold spray it post machine it do the FBI everything all in one all in one system

Malcolm Lui: Right. Right. Your business grew from eight hundred forty two thousand in 2014 all the way up to sixteen point eight million in 2018. What were the three biggest drivers of your growth in that period. It was it's pretty chunky. You almost always get a five times four times. Yeah. You add group is quite rapidly here. So over 10 times 20 times your business over the span of four years

Rob Hrabe: So that the biggest driver was aerospace and defense which has been our focused almost all time my my background is I'm a retired military size a retired B1 pilot I was in engineering for six and a half years before that. So I had kind of a background in military operations and maintenance and so forth. So that's where we would put a lot of our focus a lot of the components in in the military space are very expensive. So the return on investment is pretty much a slam dunk for this technology. One example is we had aircraft skin panel that was had a head like a two year lead time and costs two hundred twenty five thousand dollars and we're able to repair it in two weeks for around twenty five hundred bucks. So you just got a really good return on investment. So that's where the. That was probably the biggest cost driver or biggest sales driver also getting out into a lot of heavy industry nuclear power oil and gas those kind of things have have generated quite a bit of revenue and then R and D. So it's so it's still a relatively new process. So. So you know people are still developing different materials substrate combinations because you can weld since you're not melting the materials I can weld copper onto aluminum I could weld aluminum onto steel I can you know Weld titanium onto aluminum I can I can weld different materials together like that that you couldn't do before. So. So that opens up a whole area of research and development for people who are looking to develop lightweight or you know maybe a lightweight material that has a hard surface on it or something like that.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Rob Hrabe: So the RTP side has been probably the other biggest driver of the growth.

Malcolm Lui: Ok so the three drivers one you you develop your business into aerospace and defense market. So that worked out really well. It was a right place right time right sector. Then you also moved into heavy industries nuclear power oil and gas and also found success there. And then lastly you continue to research and develop your product refine the product. You talk about separating the heater from the gun for example so

Rob Hrabe: Correct.

Malcolm Lui: Those are the three drivers. OK. Now you said before you were a retired B1 pilot so when you're on the ground you do a lot of operational maintenance worker or oversight. That's how you have you. You have some expertise that led you to where you are today. The RC

Rob Hrabe: Well as a pilot I was always the one that complained about something not working right.

Malcolm Lui: Get

Rob Hrabe: So so I really got back into the maintenance business after I. Towards the end of my career and when I was retiring looking at the cost of maintenance and some of the aging weapons systems out there that have been in service for a lot longer than they were originally designed for so they have a lot of a lot of maintenance needs that weren't anticipated when when the systems were designed. So we found that as a heads up pretty ripe opportunity in the timing was right because of course you know budgets and the cost of new weapons systems were were skyrocketing so. So it was really an opportunity to help the military out by by saving them a lot of money on maintenance while at the same time developing a new technology that. And that was you know heretofore not common.

Malcolm Lui: Right. So do you see yourself as a vendor to the military

Rob Hrabe: Yeah we are aware that we do a lot of military contracting. The Navy U.S. Navy is really come on board with this technology as you can imagine this is this is a great solution for corrosion in the Navy has lots of corrosion. In fact they spend billions of dollars on corrosion repair and maintenance. So. So this is a perfect fit for for for a lot of the problems that that they have to deal with on a day to day basis. So so. So it's really been a you know kind of a marriage made in heaven because they have that they have these problems that are just ongoing very difficult to solve. And this is just one way to get it done

Malcolm Lui: Right. So you founded the company in 2013 and how do you start the company you had to see solid technology. You saw the the cold spray technology and right away you saw applications that use it within the military from what you saw and your own experience. Is that how the company got started.

Rob Hrabe: More or less. I was active duty military at the time and actually I was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base flying B ones and the base was actually slated to close in. Out of that they ended up getting taken off the closure list but as part of that process they started looking at putting in aging aircraft facility out on the base proper on Ellsworth Air Force Base. And just to add additional missions out there and they were using the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology which is a local university they all they have is engineering that's all they do. They don't do humanities or anything else. It's just all engineers and their forte really is metallurgy metalworking processes process development those kind of things. And so they were doing this study they needed me because I could speak in the engineering language and I knew kind of what the problems were. You know at least on the B1 and in the military in general so. So we worked together on that study and what I learned was that there's this market there kind of niche market for people like me that can can speak to engineering language I can talk to the guy that's an inch wide and a mile deep and one technology but I'm also you know experienced in in the ways of the world and how how maintenance works how operations works those kind of things that you need to really commercialize a technology. So I found that perfect spot for me was to take these bright people that work in these labs and try to transition those technologies out of the lab into the commercial space.

Malcolm Lui: So while you're still in active duty you start working at the local university and they were investigating playing around with cold spray and that's how you going to put everything together.

Rob Hrabe: Yeah yeah that's exactly right. And we were we were actually had three technologies at time friction stir welding Laser Deposition and cold spray and but frictions through welding and and cold spray got big in out. So we actually split those off into separate companies and I took the cold spray piece

Malcolm Lui: And when you say the company the first year only eight hundred forty two thousand dollars. What was a story way back then was it getting your first sale

Rob Hrabe: Well most of our revenue that first year was all R and D work. We were the army at that point had already developed a engineering model of a of a handheld portable system. But they didn't have any way to produce it or develop it into a commercial product. They let us borrow it to try to see if we could put some controls on it. And those kind of things. And during that process we found that we developed some some patented aspects of it. And that's when we decided you know this is really something that we should try to commercialize. And so we you know we went through probably the first couple of years three or four different prototype units that we took in it we tested and we we did all kinds of work with them. And then eventually developed it into something that was you know a commercial product.

Malcolm Lui: Right. When. When did you start. When were you able to start selling it and really grow your business rapidly.

Rob Hrabe: Probably our first kind of commercially you know it was probably 2013 2014 timeframe.

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Rob Hrabe: And then in the you know one or two per year there and then you know we've gotten up to our worst we're selling you know 10 to 12 per year.

Malcolm Lui: How much is your business is from military contracts. How much is it from non-military

Rob Hrabe: We're about 60 40 60 percent military 40 percent non-military. We may be a little bit higher than that. This this coming year in 2019 because the Navy the Navy is really coming onboard strong this year. So I. So. So we may be 70 percent military in 2019. We hope that the commercial market though is going to grow a lot faster overall. So that at some point will probably be more the other way 80 percent commercial and 20 percent military. But that's probably at least two maybe three years down the road.

Malcolm Lui: Right. And what happened in between 2017 and 2018 when you more than doubled your business from seven point three million in 2017 to sixty point eight million in 2018.

Rob Hrabe: Well we had we had several big projects. We started getting down in the commercial market. The Army research lab guy named Vic champagne was really doing some great work in terms of the development of the technology and actually getting the word out that that this technology is now kind of coming into prime time so it people started hearing about it. So you started getting a lot more interest. We were able to win several big military contracts called rapid innovation funds because they could see the potential for large cost savings. We got a lot of help from our congressional delegate congressional delegation here in South Dakota as one of the benefits of South Dakota they you know it's a small state so you can get to know your your Senators and your congressmen and they can help you push these kind of technologies

Malcolm Lui: Now you said before that you're selling roughly 10 to 12 units and just keeping really simple math. So you did you sell 10 units last year. 2018 is I mean at your units your systems are generally 1 to 2 million apiece

Rob Hrabe: Well the debate system is closer to 300000. But as I mentioned earlier one of one of the difference between us and our competitors is that we we will offer a term key solution so we do more than just cold spray we'll do the automation we'll do the robotics we'll do the shielded enclosure the the the soundproof booth we'll do the dust collection the whole nine yards. So that'll take us you know a system that we could spray part. My gosh three hundred thousand. But the total solution might be between seven hundred thousand and one point two million depending on what all you want. We also offer a two him recovery system which helium you get. You get better properties with cold spray. We're using helium because the speed of sound is faster so you get higher particle laxity but helium is expensive. So we develop the helium recovery system which will recover. Eighty five to ninety five percent helium. So you can recycle it. So that really saves you a lot of money. But that that system itself it's about 700000 by itself. So that can push a sale to you know a million million half depending on depending on what all the customer wants

Malcolm Lui: Yep. Now when you put together these turnkey systems how big is everything. How much square footage does it take to do what you described the automation the robotics enclosures sound booths healing recovery

Rob Hrabe: Most most shops or everything can be incorporated in about two to three thousand square feet for for a full set up with helium recovery and everything. A lot of these shops are bigger than that. Now if you just do a if you just do a booth with a external dust collector you know it can be as small as you know a 10 by 10 booth so

Malcolm Lui: Right

Rob Hrabe: It can be use up 300 square feet of your

Malcolm Lui: All right.

Rob Hrabe: Shop's Miss.

Malcolm Lui: So you built the equipment at your home office and then you and your team go to the client's site and put it all together for the.

Rob Hrabe: Correct. Then we'll do onsite support too so if they want to they need onsite training they might need even their process developed like for there for their particular product line they might be looking to you know develop some materials or other things and we'll do that for them as well.

Malcolm Lui: And is there like a recurring element. Well your systems only run on your metal powder so you find your metal powder forever to buy the easiest.

Rob Hrabe: Well. Well one of the benefits of our system is that it does operate on commercially available powder. However we do offer certain powders that are especially process to provide a certain quality so sort of looking for quality control in their powder or they're looking for certain properties like say you're looking for a certain tensile strength or certain activity or or maybe we have a powder. One of the interesting things about cold sprains that you can mix powders and they spray almost almost like an alloy or so. So we have like a chrome carbide nickel chrome mix that mimics hard chrome. So rather than taking a chrome part that's damaged and completely stripping it down and replacing it which causes a lot of hazardous waste and those kind of things you can just repair the damage by just by spraying on this chrome carbide nickel chrome material. And so we'll sell that that mix of powder as a bagged powder so somebody can just dump it in their powder feeder and spray it

Malcolm Lui: Now the powder the metal powder how fine is it is that like powdered sugar that fine or even finer than that.

Rob Hrabe: Actually actually finer than that. It's more like baby powder type it's it's five to 50 micron is the typical size. So it's so embellished baby powder.

Malcolm Lui: And does it feel like metal.

Rob Hrabe: Oh yeah. No you can't you can't. It's machinery all fully machinery also. Once it's on you can't really hardly tell the difference between that and the substrate if it's the same material

Malcolm Lui: But like say you had a bag of the powder sitting there and I just pinched a bit of it. Can I tell it's made out of metal

Rob Hrabe: Probably if you didn't know it was metal you cry wouldn't be able to to to tell that

Malcolm Lui: Right. Okay

Rob Hrabe: You can taste the different metals taste differently.

Malcolm Lui: Not really. What's a in the old for you. Tell me what's the most interesting tasting that you've tried

Rob Hrabe: I haven't ever I'm not actually a metallurgist I'm a mechanical engineer

Malcolm Lui: Okay.

Rob Hrabe: So. But there's actually old metallurgists who can even tell you down to the alloy by just looking in metal you know they can tell you it's in Canal Bay by looking at

Malcolm Lui: Interesting. It I make for an interesting contest when they're here. All right. Very interesting. So tell me about your plans for 2019. What are your targets and how will you get there.

Rob Hrabe: Sir our overall strategy for 2019 is is to get out into the commercial market. So we have established some relationships with market leaders. One of the interesting things about cold spray is that it has a really broad application if you think of any you know wherever there's corrosion and wear on metals this this technology has some game. So the net can be anywhere from nuclear power to conventional power to shipping you know aircraft just a ton of different applications but they're very very broad based. So what we have to do is partner with companies who specialize in those particular markets and get them to develop the market. So our challenge is to get the word out in that market and develop products that are useful for say oil and gas or or nuclear power or something like that. So you you have to partner with people that are that are you know experts in in those particular industries and then help them develop the don't develop product within that industry. As

Malcolm Lui: So

Rob Hrabe: I mentioned the Navy the military is coming on strong. So we're still having to really ramp up to support them as well.

Malcolm Lui: Right now is the commonality of these partners is it corrosion oriented or are there other applications that make sense.

Rob Hrabe: It's kind of a combination of corrosion and wear. So some of the applications are just where our applications where you have you know two components that are aware and against each other and eventually one team gets down at times.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Rob Hrabe: So you're just spraying on enough material to to make the tolerance match. In other cases it's just corrosion or pitting or something like that that causes the the part to be out of out of tolerance. So that that's the typical to two areas although you know there's getting to be quite a few industrial applications there's even medical applications for this technology. There's copper is a natural anti-microbial so to kill germs without having to without having a clean surfaces you can just spray a thin coating of copper on and met surface Well I mean the copper automatically kill the germs

Malcolm Lui: Interesting. So you so you imagine that operating room environments they can just quickly spray copper everywhere to clean off the germs. That kind of application

Rob Hrabe: But

Malcolm Lui: And that's a big

Rob Hrabe: I think what you would do is you would coat surfaces like bed rails feet food trays cold buttons

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Rob Hrabe: Anything people Mitchell out door knobs

Malcolm Lui: Ok

Rob Hrabe: And

Malcolm Lui: It isn't really

Rob Hrabe: Put

Malcolm Lui: A permanent

Rob Hrabe: Out the

Malcolm Lui: Application

Rob Hrabe: Permanent application and then and then the germs that that get on that surface would automatically be killed within like 20 minutes. So

Malcolm Lui: Wow. I

Rob Hrabe: So.

Malcolm Lui: Did not know that

Rob Hrabe: Yeah. So it's that's that's a potential huge growth area for this technology

Malcolm Lui: Yet definite but it's not something that happens at the manufacturer or magnet manufacturing of those parts as opposed to someone taking your portable unit and spraying doorknobs in an existing hospital. Right.

Rob Hrabe: Well I think you would probably do both. I mean you'd probably have manufacturers that would use the technology to coat coat their product and provide and provide a better product. But you'd also have cases of you know an existing hospital or something that you know just just wants to coat certain things within there you know within their hospital could be a word that is specifically geared towards infectious diseases or something

Malcolm Lui: Right

Rob Hrabe: And they want to be everything in a word they can with copper just to kill it

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Or even the intensive care units right there.

Rob Hrabe: And the other thing is like portable there's you know even portable medical facilities that the military uses and things like right now there's a big Ebola virus outbreak in Africa and they use portable portable medical facilities for that. And if you could you could coat those with copper than you would really you would really have an opportunity to save a lot of lives and prevent a lot of infections. One of the biggest things that military people you know people they get injured in battle a lot of times they die from the infection not from the actual injury.

Malcolm Lui: Right

Rob Hrabe: So you can prevent a lot of that with this kind of technology.

Malcolm Lui: Very interesting. Can you ever foresee that technology or portable units ever becoming small enough and an inexpensive enough to actually be a consumer product.

Rob Hrabe: I think eventually they will be our are what we call our Dragonfly product the one I mentioned that is designed to fit down into a submarine is about half the price of the original unit. So I think eventually we'll get down to half again the price and then I think it will be within the realm of the consumer product. And I think eventually we'll get maybe come up with some ways to come up with the temporary repair capabilities that use the cold spray technology

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. I mean excellent applications right. Kids toys fall apart. He can fix it really quick. Vi was a new parent and I'm afraid of germs I can spray all the metal surfaces with copper in my home.

Rob Hrabe: Exact

Malcolm Lui: Then I could see some applications there and you can be some in the art side it would be interesting art with your with your device as well. I mean

Rob Hrabe: Especially using different metals you can really create some pretty some pretty artwork where you're using different types of metal to create a contrast for

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. And even just putting pieces together that are normally difficult to put together. Right. You have this tool that can get some interesting implications for the future for this. Very cool. So how are you going about finding your partners the ones that specialize in pitting corrosion wear within those different verticals

Rob Hrabe: And so so we look out into those markets we try to find experts within that market space that understand the market and kind of understand what the what the pain points are in that market and then let them kind of bring the potential applications to us and let them use their expertise within that market space. So the key is to find the right people and partner with the right companies so we do a lot of it is education because people don't know about this technology they don't know what it can do so it takes us. We spend a lot of time just educating the potential customers or potential partners on just what the what the technology can do and then we we spend a lot of time you know they most people are from Missouri so they know they want me they want you to show them exactly you know how it works and they want to see coupons and they want to do testing and you know so. So a lot of times that might be a year year and a half process to convince them that this is really going to work for their industry.

Malcolm Lui: Right for you to to grow your business and take advantage of the opportunities that you share that you see what this is the biggest challenge the biggest obstacle that you your team needs to overcome.

Rob Hrabe: I would say education is probably the biggest obstacle. You know because there's a there's in a lot industries a fear of the unknown or fear of something new. You know we've been doing welding forever. You know it's it's it's a known thing and have specification I have standards I have all the training I need. So why would I go to something new just to save some money.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Rob Hrabe: So. So education is probably the biggest obstacle I think the other probably biggest hill to climb really is is scaling because when you say we have the only portable handheld high pressure system on the market but if we can't scale fast enough then then I'm sure that there will be other competitors that will show up so to maintain cutting edge of the technology and and to be able to scale the company at the same time is is a pretty big challenge.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. You also mentioned before on the education side you said it takes up a lot of time is it because you have to actually get in front of people to educate them. You're finding that more passive ways of doing it this isn't working with your market. They're not the kinds of people who will say yeah watch this video and learn about it's great. That's just not their way of learning.

Rob Hrabe: Yeah well they'll do but they're not necessarily going to believe everything they see so they're going to want to actually you know come see it. They're going to want to talk to you about it. They're going on and do some coupons. They're going to want to test them and then if it works then they're going to want to do some prototypes and so on and so forth. So it can be you know people always look at a new technology with somewhat of a skeptical eye and tell you prove to them that that that it's going to work for their application.

Malcolm Lui: Right now you mentioned a word or phrase coupon a couple of times. What does that mean

Rob Hrabe: So in the metalworking world you typically spray. You know maybe a small block or a you know a flat substrate and then you would cut it up into a little dog bone and pull it apart. See how strong it is. Laurie you pull that try to pull the coating off to see how strong the bond is.

Malcolm Lui: Okay.

Rob Hrabe: So those are what we call coupons. They're just little test pieces that they use for various tests

Malcolm Lui: Okay. And then you send it to them and then they do their testing. They try to break it

Rob Hrabe: Exactly. Break it or pull it

Malcolm Lui: They're

Rob Hrabe: Apart or burst blighted. And do you know look at it with the microscope and so forth.

Malcolm Lui: Ok. So you see us guy drive drive around with a trunk full of these things that they just hand out whenever someone wants to try it out.

Rob Hrabe: Well we. We have a lot of samples that we do carry around. But typically though the customer wants. He wants his own set. So we we will oftentimes spray them a set of samples to their specifications

Malcolm Lui: Right

Rob Hrabe: The way they will test it. So we'll we'll do all that and spray it forum and then let them do all the testing they wanted to

Malcolm Lui: Right. Yeah I can see how that can be a pretty slow process since it requires someone on your side to get it done right. Yeah.

Rob Hrabe: Know. Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: All right.

Rob Hrabe: Soi

Malcolm Lui: Three final questions for you. First one. What would the billboard for VRC metro system say. A billboard perhaps in their town for example or maybe a near your biggest biggest customers. What would your billboard message say

Rob Hrabe: Cold spray is a repair technology that can save you thousands of dollars on repair and maintenance

Malcolm Lui: All right. Yeah. I mean he didn't even say which you prefer. Two hundred fifty thousand dollar replacement plate or a that you need to wait twelve months for twenty five hundred dollar repair done the same day

Rob Hrabe: Yeah. I think if you just used the term cold welding people kind of get what you're talking about.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. At

Rob Hrabe: You

Malcolm Lui: Least

Rob Hrabe: Know

Malcolm Lui: The ones that matter to you guys

Rob Hrabe: Yes. Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: And he doesn't understand that they're not your market. OK. And who are your ideal customers and what's the best way for them to reach you and your team.

Rob Hrabe: So our ideal customers are people that have high value components or or actually plants or so forth that that you know when they when they are shut down for four metal failures cost them a lot of money so people that are spending a lot of money on maintenance to clear of metal components should be should be looking into the cold spray technology and that can be like you said a very broad range of people. So that can be anybody from a from a refinery operator to to someone who operates ships shipping people to aircraft maintenance and overhaul people. So it's a lot. It's a broad range of people but they all have the common problem of metal components that are used to wearing or corroding or failing in some other way that they need a repair technology for

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Rob Hrabe: They can contact us directly. You can go to our Web site VRC metal systems dot com and get a hold of us there. There's a lot of conferences on thermal spray and one called Cold spray action team actually that's that's uncalled spray. Go to one of those conferences and you can really get a pretty good understanding of the cold spray technology and what it can do for you.

Malcolm Lui: Very cool. Now one last question came to mind that I forgot to ask about earlier in terms of marketing. I took a peek at your website and I didn't really see you using any paper advertising nor do I see a strong SVOD presence. Is it simply because your market just doesn't respond to those channels.

Rob Hrabe: And so so it is it we're not that much in the consumer space we're all be to be right now or or to G. And so we haven't had a lot of success in that market or in that with that strategy. I think that may change over time more and more people are responding in those spaces. But it's it is hard to get down to the you know who the metallurgy guy is within a company and who can who can specify this type of

Malcolm Lui: Right. Yeah I guess as part of the problem is that people don't know about code spray. Would you say people do know about Earths. It's still a new technology that people don't

Rob Hrabe: But

Malcolm Lui: Know about it.

Rob Hrabe: It's still a it's still a relatively not well known technology so it's it's relatively unknown so. So it takes a lot of a lot of education it's not known that much out in commercial commercial industry heavy industry it's starting to get there but it's getting to be pretty well known in the military and we think that ultimately that's going to carry over.

Malcolm Lui: Yep. Yeah. Part thing with the papers I pay per click ads only works if people are searching for it right. But if they if you have a new product news service that is really new and people don't know about it they won't even think about searching for it right.

Rob Hrabe: Exactly. That's exactly the case pretty much everybody that comes in and sees the technology for the first time they go Wow I didn't know that you could do this and they then they lay awake at night thinking different ways they can use

Malcolm Lui: Yeah well I'm kind of thinking about how I could use it around the house him having something. Assuming

Rob Hrabe: You

Malcolm Lui: It's small

Rob Hrabe: Say

Malcolm Lui: But I mean so many times things metal things break me which he just put it back together easily right.

Rob Hrabe: Exactly. Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: Instead

Rob Hrabe: No

Malcolm Lui: Of a

Rob Hrabe: I

Malcolm Lui: Can

Rob Hrabe: Think

Malcolm Lui: Of

Rob Hrabe: The

Malcolm Lui: Wd 40 you have a can of code spray. I would be ideal

Rob Hrabe: No. I know and someday someday they will get there but we're not quite there yet.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah but when they arrive that's gonna be fantastic.

Rob Hrabe: Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Oh right. It's been fantastic Rob having you on my show today. Have really enjoyed learning how you grew a business and learning about code spray.

Rob Hrabe: Oh thanks for having me I appreciate the opportunity. And if anybody wants to know more about cold spray they can look me up and then we'll be happy to. Well happy to tell them all about it

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Maybe you can send them some samples as well.

Rob Hrabe: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Malcolm Lui: All right.

Malcolm Lui: We've been speaking with Rob Hrabe, the President and CEO of VRC Metal Systems, about his company's rapid growth. For interviews with other fast growing, high value sales companies, or to learn how we can accelerate your firm's high value sales through automation, visit

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