Dayton resident Andrew Knoll is using 3D printing to create vintage motorcycle parts.
Knoll’s love for small motor vehicles begin at age 5 when he received a snowmobile for Christmas. By age 10, he rode a motorcycle for the first time. Then he experienced taking motorcycles apart, becoming familiar with the parts and restoring broken or worn out pieces started in high school.
This fall, Knoll will begin his senior year at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He chose to major in mechanical engineering, because “working on motors has always been a passion of mine, but I realized that it’s not just motors that interest me it’s pretty much any mechanical part,” Knoll said.
During this past spring semester he and his friend Joe Kastner entered the 2019 Shark Tank Entrepreneurship Competition at UMD. Similar to the television show, contestants pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges. However, instead of seeking business partners, contestants win various scholarships for winning the competition organized by Labovitz School of Business and Economics.
Before hearing about the competition, Knoll and Kastner had already been experimenting with creating plastic parts with a 3D printer to restore some of Knoll’s old motorcycle parts within his collection of vintage motorcycles as well as helping a friend out in Texas. The first part they printed was a filter cage for a specific make and model, the 1984-1985 Kawasaki Tecate. Knoll said this specific vintage bike has a filter cage that breaks easily and finding a replacement part has proven difficult. They worked from the original filter to create dimensions and come up with ways to improve the original design.
The filter cage is originally an aluminum part, but Knoll noted that all his other motorcycles had plastic filter cages, so he thought it would be a good piece to develop with a 3D printer. “We do take a lot of caution not to do critical components. We specialize in things that are necessary for function, but if they fail they don’t cause injury,” Knoll explained.
Several prototypes with different plastics were created until a final design was shipped off to his out-of-state friend and was tested and proved to function successfully. Around the same time, Knoll and Kastner got word of the Shark Tank competition and decided to audition. Once the Knoll Restorations duo was named one of the six finalists, they were assigned to a mentor in the industry. As the pair put in countless hours perfecting their business plan, Tim White, owner and president of Crud Cloth, helped coach them along the way. Knoll said White used his background in business, motorsports and engineering to prep them for presenting their product in front of a panel of judges.
Even though the product, the Race-Flo Filter Cage, had been solidified, other humps needed to be worked though before competition day. One challenge was figuring out the best approach to explain how creating motorcycle parts in low quantities positively sets Knoll Restorations apart from the mass-quantity, motorcycle industry standard. They also spent a lot of time making sure their pitch sounded put-together and natural all at the same time. Knoll said although he isn’t a big fan of public speaking, “We were the last team to pitch, and we kind of nailed it.”
Knoll Restorations ended up taking first place and earned the top scholarship prize of $3,000. Knoll said letting the judges ask a lot of questions instead of presenting a long-winded pitch, and specifically identifying where funds were needed helped separate Knoll Restorations from their competition.
Moving forward, Knoll said he wouldn’t be interested in auditioning for the show “Shark Tank” quite yet. The business is too small to pitch on the show, “and our biggest focus right now is just to try to build the business ourselves,” he said.
Instead of having investors purchase percentages of the business, Knoll said he is looking to build the company up from his own investments and to keep things simple for the time being.
Another priority for Knoll, is keeping products at perfect cost. This is done by not overspending on material costs, while still giving customers exactly what they want, he said.
Since, Kastner is based in Duluth this summer and Knoll is back in Dayton, they have been working independently. Over the summer, Knoll hopes to expand his 3D printing knowledge by getting familiar with all the capabilities of the printer he recently purchased. He will continue to create low-quantity replacement pieces, like a stator cover he is currently developing, and delve deeper into cosmetic custom pieces, like adding numbers or initials to small motor vehicles.
Besides expanding his business and restoring some of his own bikes this summer, Knoll is also pursuing an internship at Resolution Medical, a medical device company located in Fridley. His day-to-day work there involves using the SolidWorks computer program to design concepts that can be applied to real life.
Using and gaining a better understanding of SolidWorks goes hand-in-hand with expanding his side business, as Knoll develops motor vehicle parts with the program too. A long-term goal for Knoll Restorations is to develop and reverse engineer specific parts at the request of customers. To follow all things Knoll Restorations, visit facebook.com/knollrestorations.