Kyle and Liz von Hasseln, the husband and wife team behind innovative Silver Lake 3-D printing studio Sugar Lab, got a sweet surprise last month.

Their five-month-old firm, which fabricates custom sugar-based 3-D printed dessert components, was acquired by printing giant 3D Systems Corp., a Rock Hill, S.C., public company with a $5 billion market cap.

“When they first approached us, they really were just interested in what we were doing,” said Liz von Hasseln. “They were really excited about pushing 3-D printing into as many different applications and industries and hobbies as possible.”

She said 3D Systems at first only offered technical support, but after discussing Sugar Lab’s goals, they found they had the same vision – to push 3-D printing further into food production, an area more relevant to consumers in daily life than “higher-end industries” such as aerospace or architecture.

“Sugar is a really good place to start 3-D printing food, because sugar plugs into dessert, and there is already a cultural expectation of dessert as a design object,” von Hasseln said.

At the core of the fabrication technology is the ability to “print” three-dimensional objects from digital models. A 3-D printer adds layers of material until an object forms.

The von Hasselns will continue to run Sugar Lab while working as 3D Systems’ creative directors for food products. Liz von Hasseln said Sugar Lab is largely operated independently right now, but 3D Systems is looking to integrate Sugar Lab’s specialties and skills into its food products. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The couple’s interest in 3-D printing dates back a couple of years to their days as students at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, where they used a second-hand 3-D printer to print architecture prototypes. They were awarded the school’s inaugural Gehry Prize for their innovations with 3-D printing in 2012.

In May, they sprung for a new printer and started Sugar Lab, sustaining the business by producing nonsugary architectural models for Sci-Arc students.

Partner bakeries make the underlying cakes and cupcakes, while Sugar Lab produces the custom latticework of sugar to crown them. The company accepts just one food project a time. The cost for topping an 8- to 10-inch cake ranges from $700 to $1,000, depending on specific design, digital modeling and complexity of the 3-D printing process.

Rolling Along

Convaid Inc., a Torrance manufacturer of lightweight, compact folding wheelchairs, is trying to reinvigorate its international sales effort.

The company struck a deal two weeks ago to have health care company Centric Health Corp. in Toronto distribute Convaid’s products throughout Canada, either in retail stores or through direct sales.

“We are really looking now country by country,” said Nanneke Dinklo, Convaid’s director of global marketing, “What should our focus countries be? Where do we want to expand first?”

The company has been selling internationally since the 1990s, but overseas markets have only recently become a priority. In addition to Canada, it’s also working actively to expand sales in Europe and Japan – countries with larger population bases and the economies to support sales.

Established in 1976 by Merv Watkins, an engineer, and his wife, Rachel, a therapist, Convaid has traditionally been focused on the engineering side of the business. But Dinklo said in the last year that the company has been more active in building its brand, aiming to transform to a more customer-driven and marketing-based company.

All of Convaid’s products are manufactured at its Torrance facility, and because each chair is a custom order, the company carries no inventory. It usually takes three to 10 days to produce a wheelchair, which can range in price from $1,800 to $3,500, depending on the style. Employing more than 120, the company said that it sells more than 10,000 pediatric wheelchairs, strollers and adult wheelchairs a year.

Flying High

Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. announced a series of initiatives last month to help retain aerospace companies in Los Angeles County.

Its Job Defense Council gathered a team of government officials and business experts to contact aerospace companies about their concerns and try to help them find industrial land, address skill gaps among workers and ease the permitting process.

The organization will also address regulatory and cost barriers, and advocate for local and state incentives for aerospace companies.

After talking to people at more than 30 sector companies in the past year, LAEDC’s business assistance staff found that high taxes and difficulty in finding qualified workers ranked among the greatest concerns.

The council will meet this week to discuss actions and begin implementing plans.

Staff reporter Kay Chinn can be reached at kchinn@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 237.

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