Eric Miller: Riding the Wave of 3-D Printing 

And blending partner strengths to forge a strong company
by Linda Capcara

Flash back to 1994, and you could probably fit everyone outside of the aerospace sector in Phoenix who knew about numerical simulation and 3-D printers around one dining room table.

While the technology has now entered the mainstream, that wasn’t the case back when Eric Miller and his partners were launching PADT (Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies) 23 years ago. The team had the skills to design, simulate and prototype turbomachinery and wanted to apply that experience to a wider variety of industries. That business model has allowed the firm to grow into one of the top engineering firms in the Valley — but Miller hasn’t done it alone.

Tight partnerships and a strong culture have helped PADT consistently grow, and it now has a staff of more than 80 people working across the Southwest. Along with Miller are two other partners who have equal ownership and shared responsibilities in the company.

“It’s worked for 23 years,” Miller says. “I’ve had fantastic partners in Rey Chu and Ward Rand and, before he, sadly, passed in 2014, Mark Johnson. We are still feeling Mark’s loss. Each of us brought unique skills and relationships to the table.”

But running a business as a partnership isn’t without its challenges, Miller says. “It requires listening to each other and understanding each other’s point of view,” he explains. “If we don’t all agree to do something, we don’t do it, but we don’t get mad, either. If you get bent out of shape, turn it into a competition or get adversarial, it won’t work.”

The key, Miller says, is to be honest about your weaknesses and let the other partners play to their strengths. That sort of attitude affects the whole company culture in a positive way and the relationship with customers.

“We don’t view culture as being able to bring your dog to work or having an espresso machine,” Miller says. “We’ve worked hard to create an environment where people are empowered and work together without forcing it. The goal was to have a place where smart engineers would want come to work each morning, and, because we achieved that, we have very low turnover.”

That low turnover leads to a level of expertise at PADT that is hard to approach the world over. As an example, 3-D printing technology has evolved over the past few decades and many PADT employees have helped lead that evolution. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. “When we bought our first 3-D printer, nobody except large aerospace companies knew what it was, but over the years, that has changed a lot,” Miller explains. “It has gone way beyond being a specialty tool.”

One of the biggest changes in 3-D printing over the past five years has been the introduction of better materials, including a large range of plastics along with metal.

“We’re really excited about the future of 3-D printing, which is also known as Additive Manufacturing. The change we’re expecting is greater value to users — better, faster and more accurate,” Miller says.

While PADT continues to grow across the Southwest, its roots remain deeply planted in Phoenix. The business relationships Miller and the team have developed over the past two-plus decades have ingrained the company in the business community, and now it’s taking the opportunity to give back.

The company has created PADT StartUpLabs at the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation, where it offers free advice and mentoring, along with affordable 3-D printing, simulation and product development for startups that are in an incubator program.

“One of our passions at PADT is working with the startup community that are making physical products,” Miller says. “We enjoy sitting down with people and helping them figure out how to get their idea into something they eventually manufacture. We’re unique because we can apply not just design, but we’re also experts in simulation and manufacturing.”

Miller is also excited about the future of technology in Arizona. “We have seen a community of tech companies large and small come together to create something really special here in the state. Smart people doing smart things in smart ways. As I travel, I just don’t see the same thing. Arizona’s tech community is on the verge of becoming something special.”

Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies

PADT Matters

  • Eric Miller was a mechanical engineer at Allied Signal (now Honeywell) for more than eight years before co-founding PADT.
  • PADT currently has offices in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
  • PADT has invested more than $1.5 million in lab and prototyping equipment and currently has 14 3-D printers in-house.
  • PADT now serves as the largest reseller of Stratasys 3-D printers and ANSYS numerical simulation software in the Southwest and helps hundreds of companies bring their innovations to market through its product engineering services.
  • Miller serves on the board of directors at the Arizona Technology Council, the BioAccel Advisory Council, the President’s STEM Advisory Board for Grand Canyon University, and the screening committee of Arizona Technology Investors.
  • PADT bought its first 3-D printer for $250,000 in 1994, and it was the first non-aerospace additive manufacturing machine in the state at a small company. The latest 3-D printer PADT purchased has three times the capability of that early model and cost $50,000.

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