CEO Spencer Loveless is using additive manufacturing to remake his wet-dry vacuum manufacturer’s supply chain.

Spencer’s late father, Mike Loveless, invented the parent company’s first product to vacuum up ash from the wood-burning stove at home before launching a manufacturer to take it to market.

“I think we’re the only ash-vacuum maker in the United States,” says Spencer. “Everything else is sourced in China. That market shrinks every year as people move away from wood-burning stoves.”

The Dustless brand emerged with a pivot to wet/dry vacuums that leveraged the same patents in 1997. “Ash is always very hard to filter,” says Spencer. “It has a crystalline structure. Back in the day when you used to buy a house vacuum, it would say, ‘Do not suck up ash,’ because it would plug your filters.”

The key innovation is his father’s filtration system, which utilizes cyclonic action. “Even before Dyson had their cyclones, we were using cyclonic action in our vacuums,” says Spencer. “There are actually four layers of filtration. If you turn on your Shop-Vac or Rigid vac, a plume of dust comes out of the motor. This filters everything so you do not get any dust that escapes.”

Since ash is structurally similar to drywall dust, the move to the Dustless brand was a natural evolution for the company. “We tout that you can pick up a whole 80-pound bag of concrete dust,” says Spencer. “You couldn’t do that with very many vacuums out there without stopping and cleaning out the filters.”

The company still makes ash vacuums under the Love-Less Ash brand, but wet/dry vacuums are about 85 percent of sales, with ash vacuums and dust shrouds representing the remainder.

Domestic manufacturing is another big differentiator. While the company has outsourced injection molding to shops in Salt Lake City as well as China, Spencer aims to change that by designing with additive manufacturing in mind. “We found some ways we can bypass injection molding and China by just 3D printing some of our parts,” he explains.

That has led to a separate startup, Merit3D, with five dedicated employees based at Dustless’ 25,000-square-foot facilities in Price. “It’s a separate business we started last year [2020],” says Loveless. The company has several filament-based printers as well as larger-format machines.

Jobs have included promotional items, parts for cribs and chainsaws, and phone cases for Phone Skope, as well as Dustless’ new DustBuddie, an attachment for demolition hammers to collect dust.

“Our game plan going forward at Dustless is to design all of our new products around additive manufacturing,” says Spencer. “We can produce hundreds of thousands of components very quickly without the time frame, the tariffs, the molds, and everything else that comes with outsourcing.”

Growth has been a constant, but the curve has been manageable. “We’ve steadily increased,” says Spencer. “There hasn’t really been a boom or a bust; it’s just growing year over year.”

Challenges: Staying on top of ever-changing regulations is a big one. “We’re very dependent, because we’re in the fine-dust area, on EPA regulations,” says Spencer. “Sometimes, they withdraw them; other times, they put more in place.”

The increasingly “fragile” supply chain is another challenge, he adds. “How do we prepare for that and plan for any unforeseen issues? . . . There’s plenty of disruptions, it’s just a matter of working through them.”

Photos courtesy Dustless Technologies

Opportunities: The U.S.-made status brings Dustless plenty of vacuum customers. “That’s been a huge driver for some of the big construction companies,” says Spencer.

He says he also sees big growth potential with Merit3D contract manufacturing to a diverse range of customers. “A lot of people are looking for other avenues for sourcing besides China,” he explains. “There’s a lot of opportunity, and a lot of people we can help. As we’ve started to bypass our Chinese suppliers, we’ve been able to help other companies do the same thing. It’s been awesome just to see their reaction and their love of manufacturing when they realize you can do this in days or weeks rather than months or years.”

He adds, “Our argument is if you’re going to challenge the inventory coming over from China, you’ve got to meet them in quality and cost and scalability. That’s the only way we’re going to challenge a lot of the inventory coming over on boats.”

Needs: “We want to innovate very quickly,” says Spencer. “If you injection-mold it, it takes forever and it’s very costly.”

In terms of Merit3D’s needs, he says he hopes to see “more market adoption” of additive manufacturing for production across all industries. “We’re proving the possibilities with it, but there aren’t as many certifications for some of the materials and there aren’t as many proven manufacturing methods,” explains Spencer. “We’re taking that and proving that, yes, this is a viable way to scale, it is viable price-wise, it is viable quality-wise.”