As an engineer in the Air Force, Rob Hrabe was an active duty B1 pilot when he was asked to take part in an aging aircraft study facilitated by South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Not only did he know the aircraft’s functionality and mechanics inside and out, he also spoke the language of the engineers on the project.
After months of working on a study where research meets military, Hrabe quickly learned there was a need in transitioning technologies out of the lab and into commercial markets.
“I saw an opportunity to start my own business,” said Hrabe, “to be the go-between for researchers developing their project into a mass market.”
In 2013, Hrabe created VRC Metal Systems and is the company’s President and CEO. Starting with friction stir welding, the company quickly grew and split into divisions when demand for their cold spray technology began to increase. This portable, high-pressure system is not only being sought out by large corporations like Honeywell and Eaton but is being used by multiple branches of the military. VRC’s technology saves time and money for maintenance costs, and is being used by the Air Force, Navy, and Army.
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“It has been incredibly helpful having space at Ascent Innovation, particularly in the early startup phase,” said Hrabe. “Not only were we able to be close to SD Mines, but we were able to meet other companies and influential people through the facility.”
Now, VRC Metal Systems will be graduating from the incubator into a facility of their own. After a $6 million renovation of Box Elder’s vacant Vandenberg Elementary School, the company will be tripling their space to 55,000 square feet allowing for more projects, as well as employees.
Beginning as a startup company at Ascent Innovation to becoming the recipients of the Governor’s Giant Vision Award, as well as being listed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies in the United States, VRC Metal Systems is here to stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota.