Rohrabacher tours 3-D printing plant

At a Costa Mesa-based 3-D printer manufacturer, humans help in the process, but otherwise it’s a scene where machines make machines.

On Monday afternoon, about 30 of Airwolf 3D’s printers were busy executing their programmed duties: making little parts for — what else? — more 3-D printers.

Erick Wolf, Airwolf 3D co-founder and chief executive, welcomed

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who remarked that it was as if Airwolf was “making their own factory.”

The congressman, whose district covers Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, was accompanied to Airwolf’s headquarters by his wife and triplets for a close-up view of the innovative technology.

“I’m glad to see anything that’s manufacturing in my district, especially cutting-edge technology manufacturing,” Rohrabacher said.

Airwolf was founded about two years ago. Last year, the company set up shop in a small facility off McCormick Avenue, near John Wayne Airport, but recently moved a few suites over into a larger 12,000-square-foot space.

Airwolf’s desktop printers are relatively small, about the size of a boxy television before flat panels became the norm. The company is the only one in Southern California that makes such small-scale 3-D printers. It sells 100 to 150 a month.

The devices take material from wound-up spools and, like a glue gun, eject the substances in precise patters within the printer’s hollow core.

One tiny layer at a time, the desired object slowly takes shape, whether it’s a simple plastic gear or a more complex Batmobile toy or a tiny Yoda head.

“This is very consumer-friendly,” Wolf said. “It’s the next stage of everything.”

The printers use 20 different types of plastics to make objects.

Airwolf’s customer base includes big companies — Boeing, John Deere, Raytheon and Honeywell — as well as schools and home hobbyists. The flagship model of the 40-pound devices retails for $3,000.

The company employs about 25 people. Sales are increasing by 7% to 20% a month, Wolf said, and he expects revenue to be as high as $6 million this year.

Several of Airwolf’s printers were recently used by Orange County students in the Maker Challenge. After O.C. teachers learned how to use the devices, they taught their students, who then brought their wares to the Imaginology event last month at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

During his tour, Rohrabacher commented that he sees 3-D printing as “something that can and should be manufactured in the United States. We need to give people who are entrepreneurs, like the ones right here, as much encouragement as we can.

“In a world where competition is on a global scale, our entrepreneurs are our front-line troops securing a prosperous and stable future for our people.”