RPM & Associates Inc.

Rapid City-based wear and tear repair for heavy industry
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

For more than 30 years family-owned and operated RPM & Associates Inc. has solved component and equipment wear problems for industrial customers. Based in Rapid City, South Dakota, RPM and its sister companies – RPM Solutions and RPM Innovations – are world leaders in machining, welding and hard facing, laser repair technologies, engineering analysis, design and more.

“RPM is a group of specialized machinists, welders and engineers taking parts from heavy industry – be it coal-fired power plants to mining operations, chemical processing or even aerospace – and rebuilding components considered non-repairable by conventional techniques,” says Robert Mudge, co-founder and president of RPM. “We can rebuild or add materials to make products last longer for many heavy industrial applications.”

At home in Rapid City

RPM & Associates, the first of the three companies, launched in April 1982 by Robert and his wife, Debbie Mudge, along with Robert’s parents, Jim and Phyllis Mudge. “I was born and raised in this area,” tells Robert. “I attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, receiving degrees in metallurgical engineering. When a raw product comes from the mine, it’s taken to a metallurgical engineer to recover and remove the metal from the ore and then process and alloy these metals to achieve the desired properties and strengths.”

Robert spent most of his early career traveling after college but came back to Rapid City to settle down for one important reason; his family. “I was tired of all the traveling and being away from my family. My father told me to stop complaining and start my own company,” he recalls. “I looked around and realized there was plenty of industry around Rapid City – gold mines, grain elevators, forest products – and all of these industries needed equipment repairs.”

Robert and his wife Debbie sold their car and boat and with a little help from Robert’s parents, set out to start RPM. “It took about three years to really get the cash flow we needed to survive without outside sustenance,” says Robert. “But then things really took off because everywhere we looked there were wear problems.”

RPM began doing more automatic welding and hard facing, completing rebuilds in support of mining and coal-fired power generation operations. In 1991, a customer asked RPM to look at rotary atomizers, spray dryers and flue gas desulphurization (FGD) systems. This launched the birth of RPM Solutions in 1996.

New technology and a laser-sharp advantage

Together, RPM and RPM Solutions drove success for the South Dakota operation through the ‘80s and ‘90s, but 2001 opened a unique door of opportunity. “As a graduate, I’ve always had a close connection with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology,” says Robert. “I got a call in 2001when the school wanted to bring in its first laser welding system and they needed a business partner.”

As the first to house Laser Deposition Technology (LDT) in the state, Robert and his team began pioneering the technology to rebuild components considered non-repairable by conventional methods. “LDT was an expensive start up because the technology is so new, it’s being developed as we speak,” explains Robert. “Due to the expensive overhead of the equipment, we ran all testing and development within RPM Associates until January 2013, when we finally spun off RPM Innovations, which is dedicated to LDT services for aerospace and heavy industry applications.”

In the LDT process, metal powder is injected into the focused beam of a high-powered laser under tightly controlled atmospheric conditions. The focused laser beam melts the surface of the target material and generates a small molten pool of base material. Powder delivered into this melt pool is absorbed into the melt pool, generating a deposit that may range from 0.005 to 0.040 of an inch thick and 0.040 to 0.160 inch wide. The resulting deposits may then be used to build or repair metal parts for a variety of applications.

LDT is a blanket term that also encompasses similar processes such as direct metal deposition (DMD), laser additive manufacturing (LAM) and laser metal deposition (LMD) – all harnessing the power of a focused laser beam. RPM Innovations has used this powerful technology to deliver cost savings to industrial and manufacturing clients by repairing worn components, surfaces and performing near-net-shape freeform builds directly from CAD drawings.

A world leader

As one of the few companies in the U.S. to house LDT, RPM Innovations is a national and international leader in the quality, size and complexity of the products they provide. “Today, we employ over 50 people across all three companies, all housed in our 60,000-square-foot facility in Rapid City,” says Robert. “LDT now encompasses 40 to 50 percent of our business.”

“We serve customers across the U.S., Canada and China and beyond. These customers are involved in any number of heavy industries – coal-fired power plants to cement plants, chemical and natural gas processing, iron ore or copper mining, Department of Defense, aerospace – the list goes on,” says Robert. “The common thread is we’re cost effectively providing new or repairing worn high-value components made from materials that are difficult to process.”

One of RPM Innovation’s top clients is Boeing. “We have some incredible projects going on with Boeing and have recently been  awarded one Gold-level and two Silver-level supplier awards, which designates RPMI among their top 150 to 450 vendors,” notes Robert.

Robert says the industry potential for LDT is virtually limitless. “This high-level technology could be used in so many industries far and wide,” he says. “Oil and gas, chemical processing, power generation – any company that needs to save material and machining time on expensive or critical parts.”

About a decade after diving into this business, Robert says he’s sometimes blown away by how far RPM has come. “When we started this company, it was modest,” he says. “It started in the little corner of our basement but through strong dedication we now have developed and employ world-leading technologies and a staff of high-level people from engineers to machinists.”

For Robert it’s about more than the monetary success RPM has garnered. “When I started this company I knew I wanted to make a difference in Rapid City and now we are one of the largest employers offering good, quality jobs and helping others achieve the same thing I wanted – living where I want to live and more time and means to support my family,” he says.

Today, RPM & Associates’ and its sister companies, reputation extends well beyond Rapid City as the company makes a global name in groundbreaking Laser Deposition Technology.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
BLH Power Industries Solutions Inc.
Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, Ashmore LLP
RPM and Associates Inc.
US Bank