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March 02, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Two engineers turn passion for R&D into a burgeoning business

Loci Robotics is a business making large-format hybrid additive and subtractive manufacturing equipment in the heart of downtown Knoxville.

Two engineers who met during their time at the now-defunct Local Motors microfactory in West Knoxville have turned their passion for R&D into a business making large-format hybrid additive and subtractive manufacturing equipment in the heart of downtown Knoxville.

The two Co-Founders are Max Heres (left in this photo), who serves as Chief Executive Officer of Loci Robotics Inc., and Jeff Foote, who is the start-up’s Chief Technology Officer. They left Local Motors several years before its demise and launched the new, self-funded venture in June 2021.

“We wanted to develop our own 3D printing system,” Heres said, explaining that the two Co-Founders’ initial plan was to serve as a consultancy to the additive manufacturing market, but their search for an ideal polymer printer led them to develop their own.

Now, nearly two years into the new business, Heres says they just recently doubled their space in the Able Trade Maker Space area in the historic Jackson Terminal. It is a co-working facility for companies like Loci Robotics and its first customer – PROTOTYP3 – which just relocated from Los Angeles to Knoxville.

Loci Robotics’ initial product is named, appropriately enough, LOCI-One. As described here, it is “an easy to use, cost-effective solution for printing and machining anything from a flowerpot to a garden shed, while fitting in the footprint of a one-car garage. Modular attachments and a flexible control system allow rapid integration of new options and technology at the speed at which they are developed.”

The description of the large robotic device is consistent with the goals that Heres and Foote had when they launched the company.

“It (additive manufacturing technology) wasn’t accessible for small businesses,” Heres explained. “We wanted to make it affordable and accessible and also provide an ROI (return on investment) for them.”

LOCI-One is a turnkey hardware solution for robotic 3D printing.

“We sell it as a system,” Heres says. “We also offer 3D printing services for those who don’t want to purchase their own equipment.”

With its expanded space, LOCI Robotics can build three or four systems at one time for its clients that come from across the U.S. and even some from around the world.

We had the opportunity to meet Ian Backstrom and MJ Mayo, Co-Founders of PROTOTYP3, during our recent visit to the Jackson Avenue facility. They are using additive manufacturing for consumer products, initially planters for various plants.

Heres has more than 10 years of diverse experience in fundamental science and hands-on engineering, ranging from experimental polymer physics research to additive/subtractive manufacturing, machine design/mechatronics, fabrication, and production engineering. He holds a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an M.S. in Condensed Matter Physics from the University of Knoxville, Tennessee (UTK). His academic research, conducted at UTK and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, focused on the molecular dynamics and transport properties of polymers.

Foote has more than 15 years of progressive engineering experience in the areas of machine design, structural analysis, topology optimization, and mechanical testing. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from Tennessee Tech University where he also served for more than five years as an instructor.

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