Success Story

Tyrone wood floor manufacturer utilizes OriginLabs prototyping facility

UNIVERSITY PARK – When Britta Teller and Evan Stover launched their sustainable hardwood floor startup, Steller Floors, in 2019, they spent a lot of time, energy and resources prototyping and iterating on their products by themselves.  

Five years into growing and running the business, now with their own manufacturing facility, a team of employees, and plans to launch a new product, Teller and Stover have a new Penn State resource to make the prototyping process a lot easier and more efficient the second time around. 

The Steller Floors co-founders and Tyrone natives are now regular users of Invent Penn State’s OriginLabs, a prototyping and fabrication facility located in downtown State College in the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub intended for community members, small to medium-sized manufacturers, students and faculty alike. 

“When I wandered into OriginLabs for the first time, my jaw hit the floor,” said Teller. “When I walked around the labs and saw all the available equipment, I said, man, whoever gets to use this place is going to be really lucky.” 

Just as Teller discovered, the resources available at OriginLabs, such as the 3D printers, the CNC machine, the panel saw, the welding equipment, and dozens of other pieces of equipment, are intended for research and development for anyone in the region with prototyping or fabrication needs. 

“OriginLabs will continue to be such a huge resource for us, and it has really performed its function,” Teller said. “Expectations somehow always deviate from reality when it comes to the promises that some programs give. But OriginLabs is exactly what they say they are, and it’s that big of a resource.” 

Most recently, Teller and Stover wanted to make a modification to their existing finishing equipment. Teller said retrofitting manufacturing equipment is always a necessary, expensive, and risky process, but by utilizing the CNC machine at OriginLabs, they were able to eliminate that risk entirely. 

Teller and Stover used the CNC machine to prototype a tray insert that would simulate the way Steller Floors’ finishing machine would function if they were to retrofit the equipment. 

They sent the initial drawings to OriginLabs Shop Manager Jose Nunez, had some back-and-forth conversations and iterations, and prototypes were completed within a couple of weeks. Those prototypes are being used today on the manufacturing floor at Steller Floors, resulting in an accelerated manufacturing process and reduced waste for the company. 

“To run this test, we needed a lot of those trays, and so to do it by hand would have taken months – it would not have been possible,” said Stover. “And we would have never bought that CNC machine for ourselves, because we wouldn’t have used it again or enough to warrant the purchase.” 

Stover said he has a whole timeline of projects he is planning to work on with OriginLabs, starting with prototyping a new product. 

“I have a little filament printer, but it’s just not the same as prototyping a produced piece,” Stover said. “The fact that they have all the different types of top-of-the-line 3D printers is incredible. If I wanted to prototype this piece in metal, I could have OriginLabs make it and see if it would do what I thought it was going to do under a production framework, because it would actually be made from material very similar to that of the end product.” 

In addition to OriginLabs, Steller Floors has taken advantage of other Penn State resources, including the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP), who assessed their air compressor and suggested ways to make their manufacturing process more efficient. Steller Floors has also worked extensively with both Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the Penn State Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on the business and financial side of their company. They have also had entrepreneurial student teams assist them through Penn State Behrend, the College of Engineering, and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. 

“We’ve maximized Penn State resources, and I’m so grateful. What we’ve done here would not have been possible without the immediate adjacency to the university,” said Teller. 

“A lot of people think that, to grow a startup, you have to go to Silicon Valley or some other expensive location to have any type of assistance,” Stover said. “Here in central PA, we have assistance from Penn State, which means we didn’t have to go anywhere to figure this out.” 

Teller and Stover said their door is always open to anyone reading this article who is curious and would like to come see what it looks like to be a five-year-old manufacturing startup. 

“We would also encourage anyone in the community who wants to start making something to go to OriginLabs and start making it,” Teller said. “I hope having this resource in the region helps more companies innovate, especially here in Blair County. It makes innovation so much more accessible, so anyone working in a manufacturing facility or running a startup who is saying, ‘Shouldn’t this process be different?’ has the option to find out by working with OriginLabs.” 

About OriginLabs 

Located at the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub in downtown State College, OriginLabs provides access to world-class prototyping facilities to students and faculty from across campus, as well as members of the public from State College and beyond. The OriginLabs facilities enhance the suite of resources available to researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs in the region in the form of sophisticated equipment, free workshops, and expert advice and technical guidance. 

This project was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community & Economic Development.