Area entrepreneur hopes to inspire innovation in Wiregrass
Greg Summerlin envisions a future where the Wiregrass area is a technological leader.
“You hear a lot about Huntsville and Birmingham and Mobile and all of their technology,” the entrepreneur says. “Why can’t we be like them? Why not us?”
Summerlin and his wife, Laurie, have launched GL Robotics in rural Houston County. Through 3D printing, printing filament production, and robotic lawn mowers, the couple hopes to inspire more residents to embrace technology and even innovate projects and businesses themselves.
“Technology has always improved people’s lives,” Summerlin says. “Resistance to new technology is always based on people not understanding how it works and how it can benefit them. My family has noticed over the years that we’ve gotten a lot of benefits from 3D printing and from robotic lawn mowers. We decided we wanted to help other people get that, too.”
The process of 3D printing involves heating plastic strands, called filament, to create 3D objects. These can range from figurines to cups and even the tools needed in a business. All it takes is a 3D printer and a design uploaded into the printer.
“Most people have probably heard of 3D printers, but they don’t have one because they don’t understand what’s in it for them,” Summerlin says. “We want to help them understand. If they’re nervous about it, we’re here to help them along the way. I’d like for the Wiregrass to be known as a resource for 3D printing and the robotic lawn mowers.”
It’s a dream years in the making — made possible with the help of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC).
Engineering a New Path
Summerlin’s background is in marketing. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and a master’s in business administration from Kennesaw State University.
About six years ago, his oldest son, David, decided he wanted to be an engineer. Seeking to encourage that dream, the Summerlins discovered the Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics program. It’s a series of competitions that urge youths to build robots and to compete in problem-solving challenges.
The Summerlins, along with several other families whose children attended Ridgecrest Christian School, decided to create a BEST team. During the competitions, the Summerlins realized that technology — especially in 3D printing — was evolving quickly.
This realization led the Summerlins to launch GL Robotics from a building behind their home. While Summerlin maintained his job with a large national business services company, he began selling robotic lawn mowers on the side.
Eventually GL Robotics expanded to the 3D printing market with the intention of just distributing — not manufacturing — filaments. When the filaments arm of the business began, though, orders poured in from all around the country.
Coupled with material shortages and customers’ frequent requests for more specialty filaments, the Summerlins decided to become a filament manufacturer. They are now one of about 20 filament manufacturers based in the United States.
Expanding Electrical Needs
To extrude and roll 3D printer filament requires large pieces of machinery and a significant amount of electricity. When the Summerlins looked for a new place for their business, they knew any location in WEC’s territory would receive great service.
“I knew I’d get a lot of support from WEC,” Summerlin says. “We had learned a lot about their company culture when they helped our BEST Robotics team two years ago. You can get a feel if a place is business-friendly by visiting them, which we did when we toured headquarters with the robotics team. They support businesses, and they continue to do so.”
GL Robotics now resides deep in WEC territory at a location south of Rehobeth. Summerlin says WEC’s engineering team anticipated each of his business’s needs — even installing the electrical connections high enough to avoid encounters with semi trucks visiting the business.
“You can tell they put a lot of thought and care into a project,” he says.
WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro says the Summerlins’ experience reflects the goals of every cooperative employee.
“We at WEC take many steps to help our region grow, and one of the most important ones is to provide excellent service and support to businesses that are located in our service territory,” he says. “We applaud the Summerlins in their efforts to inspire innovation and growth locally.”
Aiming for a Bright Future
The Summerlins stand ready to assist anyone with their 3D printing needs. They employ an assortment of 3D printer models to handle a variety of projects. These include resin printers, which can produce highly detailed designs.
They also want to help those residents interested in handling 3D printing projects themselves.
“I design a lot on my own projects, but you don’t have to,” Summerlin says. “There are a lot of designs out there. There are several sites that you can just go on and download. It’s all unique stuff.”
Eventually Summerlin envisions high school and career-technical college classes visiting to learn about technologies and skills that can lead to great careers.
“If your job is to supervise eight robots that take a box off the conveyor and shrink-wrap it instead of doing it yourself, you’ll make good money,” he says. “You don’t have to be an engineer with that. Companies are begging for these kinds of skills. Now we’ve created a lot more value for that person and a better lifestyle.”
The desire to educate and inspire through technology all stems from Summerlin’s community mindset.
“At some point in your career, you just want to give back,” he says.