Deepak Atyam and Alex Finch’s success story: Purdue alumni and cofounders Tri-D Dynamics

Two Purdue University alumni were recently recognized by Forbes magazine for their impact on industry. Deepak Atyam and Alex Finch, co-founders of Tri-D Dynamics along with Jesse Lang, were named to the magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in the Energy category.

Deepak Atyam, Purdue alumnus and co-founder of Tri-D Dynamics. (Photo provided by Deepak Atyam.)
Alex Finch, Purdue University alumnus and co-founder of Tri-D Dynamics. (Photo provided by Alex Finch.)

Atyam and Finch earned their master’s degree from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Tri-D Dynamics created products that offered pipeline operators autonomous, remote-control communications for most of their pipelines. In 2021, Tri-D Dynamics was acquired by Titomic, an industrial scale additive manufacturing and 3-D printing company in Australia.

UCSD, 3-D printed rockets and NASA

Atyam and Finch started their path toward Tri-D Dynamics at the University of California, San Diego where Atyam started a rocket club and used 3-D printing technology to create rocket engines. With their complex physical parts, rocket engines are very difficult to fabricate. Finch said it could take a year to manufacture a single rocket engine with traditional methods.

“Metal 3-D printing significantly dropped the barriers to manufacturing an engine. For less money than traditional methods, it was possible to get a lot of people involved in creating the design and then test it,” Finch said.

Deepak Atyam and Alex Finch’s rocket club at the University of California, San Diego. (Photo provided by Deepak Atyam.)

Atyam and Finch received money from NASA to create a rocket engine, and they had their first successful print and test model from the university.

Pivoting at Purdue: smart pipelines

Atyam and Finch went to Purdue to build Tri-D Dynamics. They were accepted together and received scholarships to continue their time together. That’s when the company pivoted to 3-D printed smart infrastructure, namely pipelines.

“We used 3-D printing and other fabrication technologies to create smart metal products and infrastructure. These were smart pipelines for the oil and gas industry. We embedded sensors into them to measure the pipeline’s integrity as well as their contents,” Atyam said.

“The traditional way to place sensors and receive data from tests was very archaic, and we saw we could embed those components right into the part itself with 3-D printing. You end up with a product that is more seamless and you can keep it protected.”

Before Tri-D Dynamics’ smart pipelines, pipeline managers mostly had no electrical or autonomous control over their underground assets; they were manually controlled above the ground.

“If a manager wanted to control how the wells were functioning, the state-of-the-art was ball-drop technology. An iron ball travels miles down the well to hit a valve and make it open or close. Managers needed people on-site for those functions,” Atyam said. “Electronic and autonomous infrastructure allows for remote powering of devices underground.”

Finch said the Tri-D Dynamics technology is analogous to contemporary auto vehicles sharing information like oil levels and tire pressure levels, notifying a driver without having to ask for it. A pipeline manager saves time and money because of these automated notifications.

Growing with Purdue resources

At Purdue, Atyam and Finch refined their business model. They also increased their credentials, built their team and expanded their network by recruiting from the university, hiring interns and building their base. Along with doing their academic research, they also worked with the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, Purdue Foundry and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corp program.

“Foundry has an ideation program to suss out business ideas so people can figure out if they still want to pursue them. They help you think of preliminary business models and conduct customer interviews. We then graduated to their local I-Corps program. The national program from National Science Foundation gives grants to teams to conduct customer development and research. Teams are paid to talk with customers in person, and they need to conduct 100 or more interviews within a six-week timeframe. Professor Matt Lynall from Krannert School ran the national I-Corps program and was a huge help,” Finch said.

“We also won the Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition in 2017; it was the biggest competition we participated in, and we received good feedback from pitching in front of a panel of judges. And the resources we received from winning funded us for a whole year once we graduated. We also were part of the SVBIG program, also run by the Foundry. It gave us a network of Purdue alumni who were part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. We flew out to California and were hosted by our advisory committee. We had seven different advisors, people who all had sold businesses or otherwise been involved with the Silicon Valley startup culture; two became full-time advisors over the long term, and we have relationships with them to this day, relationships that will be helpful for our career and our future.”

The Titomic acquisition

Tri-D Dynamics continued to grow and develop after Atyam and Finch graduated from Purdue. But perhaps the biggest milestone was when Titomic acquired the company in 2021. So how does it feel to have a company you founded and built acquired by an international manufacturer?

“The big feeling, irrespective of the validation you might get, is that Alex, Jesse and I created something of value and another entity saw that value. They decided to buy because they believed that what we put together, what we designed, what customers we put together would be of value to them now and in the future,” Atyam said.

Finch and Atyam said startup founders do not know what tomorrow holds, that they react to new information at a macro scale. Finch said it’s difficult to plan out a year in advance or even three months.

“You have to take everything day-by-day and that mindset carried us through the entire acquisition process until signatures were on the dotted line. You really have to enjoy that journey and the people; Deepak is the person I’ve spent the most time with over the past several years, due to being business partners,” Finch said. “I have enjoyed the seven-year journey from our launch to the acquisition.”

Congratulations again to Deepak, Alex and Jesse on building Tri-D Dynamics, having it acquired by Titomic and being recognized by Forbes magazine for their influence on industry!

(From left) Alex Finch, Deepak Atyam and Jesse Lang, co-founders of Tri-D Dynamics.

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