I Get to Work With Robots All Day
Along Route 14 South in East Randolph lies a nondescript commercial building. It is more than 90 years old but in good shape, with a fresh coat of paint. There is no business sign outside, so passersby would be forgiven for not knowing the building is home to one of the most technologically advanced manufactures in Vermont.
KAD Models & Prototypes, the SBA’s 2022 Vermont Veteran-Owned Business of the Year and New England Veteran-Owned Business of the Year, uses the latest in CNC technology to design and build product samples for companies to be used all over the world — and even out of this world. KAD has made prototype parts for everything from satellites orbiting Earth to buoys drifting in the ocean. KAD’s variety of computer numerical control robots can precisely cut a variety of materials, including, aluminum, steel, copper, silicone and titanium, into practically any shape.
“If you can envision it, we can probably build it. The only real restriction is size,” said the company's founder and owner, Brian Kippen, a disabled veteran who served in the Marine Corps.
Since its founding in Alameda, CA, in 2011, the company has made more than 3,000 prototypes for clients in fields of technology and consumer electronics, and aerospace as well as the automotive, industrial, marine and medical industries.
“So many (of our competitors) don’t build prototypes — so much is bulk,” explained Kaplan. “Creating prototypes is primarily what we do; we can turn a quote around in 24 hours, whereas many in our field can’t because of their mass production workload.”.
A native of Vermont, Kippen lived and worked in California most of his adult life. Good with his hands, Kippen trained as a mechanic and worked for a prototype manufacturer until 2011, when he decided to strike out on his own. Returning home to Vermont was always in the back of his mind.
In 2019, opportunity knocked when a friend told Kaplan about a building on Route 14 in East Randolph that was for sale. Kaplan thought he could make the property work to expand KAD’s business.
It was not a turnkey situation; before operations could begin, several environmental issues had to be addressed. The work took about a year to complete. But once he got KAD up and running, COVID hit.
“It was a tough time. At first, we were not considered essential, so we did have some down time here. Thankfully, we were able to use the Paycheck Protection Program to help us here and in California,” said Kippen.
Since reopening for business, the company has been humming along. More than half its sales have been through the Vermont location. In a little over two years, KAD has grown to have 10 employees, three of whom are Vermont Technical College graduates. Kippen serves as an adviser on VTC’s manufacturing program advisory board as well as for the Randolph Technical Career Center’s Advanced Manufacturing program.
“One of our newest and youngest employees recently told me, ‘This is my dream job; I get to work with robots all day,’” Kippen said with a smile.