FORGE heating up Downtown’s start-up scene

Adams Dukes (left) and Bryce Pfanenstiel of FORGE. Photos by DVI.

There’s a possible Guinness World Record that now calls Downtown home, and it’s up to Adam Dukes and Bryce Pfanenstiel to babysit it in their free time.q

Crammed between to large panes of glass in a wooden frame is a mountain of sand and about 1,000 ants, carving their way through the grains in tunnels and hills. The ant farm – a One Spark project called Ant Mama – was built by Dukes and Pfanenstiel, the founders of FORGE.

While the pair gets a kick out of carpentry projects like the ant farm, it’s digital carpentry that’s their specialty – three-dimensional printing.

3D-printing is a relatively new, low-cost manufacturing phenomenon that involves printing three-dimensional objects designed on a computer in hundreds of layers, using liquified versions of materials including silicone and aluminum. As the industry evolves and technology rapidly changes, you’ll find Dukes and Pfanenstiel thrilled to sort through the latest challenges in their Bay Street studio.

“When we saw the capabilities of 3D-printing, we knew it was a revolutionary technology that would not only help us, but all creators,” said Dukes. “FORGE is an attitude as much as a company. It is about taking ideas and leveraging modern technologies and relentless resourcefulness to bring them to life.”

A sample of FORGE’s 3D-printed projects.

The longtime friends first discovered 3D-printing when researching how to create a zombie-apocalypse training aid for Pfanenstiel’s dog – we’re just going to let that statement speak for itself. Since then, they’ve produced custom jewelry, architectural models, sculpture replicas, replacement car parts, medical prototypes, branding irons, custom electronics cases and doll heads, just to name a few projects. They also frequently work with inventors and patent holders to prototype and develop new products.

“The quirkiest day I’ve had involved discovering how many things in the office we could implode using a vacuum pump while trying to cast a product in silicone,” Dukes said. “After destroying every air-tight container we had, I bought a vacuum chamber.”

Buddies since high school, Dukes’ and Pfanenstiel’s backgrounds aren’t what you’d expect for 3D printers – or is it? Pfanenstiel went to school for marketing and creative advertising and has lived in Jacksonville for the past seven years. Before Jacksonville, Pfanenstiel began the first Wireless ISP company in Kentucky, among other pursuits. Since arriving in the River City, he’s helped develop several other businesses.

The "Ant Mama" ant farm built by FORGE.
The “Ant Mama” ant farm built by FORGE.

Dukes’ background is computer-science. He spent seven years working at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis as a software designer working in cancer genomics. He’ll tell you he’s more of the computer, designer guy of the team, and Pfanenstiel focuses more on equipment functionality and marketing.

The guys chose Jacksonville for FORGE’s home because of the city’s “young, thriving entrepreneurial spirit” along with its nicer winters, Dukes said. As for landing in Downtown, the urban core turned out to be the perfect choice.

“We’ve found Downtown to be a nexus of passionate, hard-working young professionals and business owners,” Dukes said. “Downtown is the heart of the city, and all of us are trying to create a thriving and exciting place to live and visit. From a business standpoint, I am most excited about the momentum behind Downtown revitalization. There are many promising projects taking off Downtown, and the growth of the One Spark festival is a promising sign for the success of other endeavors.”

Pfanenstiel agrees.

“Downtown is a great place to start a business for several reasons,” Pfanenstiel said. “Perfect weather most afternoons and evenings, nearby accessibility to resources and an urban core that is not only patrolled for safety but actively cleaned. The Downtown atmosphere is one of Southern pride without the pretentiousness and fancy modernization most cities embrace. This atmosphere and attitude might move a little slower, but it’s a bold Southern charm that grunts and gets things done.”

DSC_0599_webWhat’s next for FORGE? The guys hope to take their concept nationwide and deliver quality “geek manufacturing” to other metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, they’re perfecting their new 3D-scanning capability. Upcoming projects involve full-color 3D figurines, Dukes said.

“People from all backgrounds, unique projects, new challenges,” Pfanenstiel said, “these are elements at the core of innovation, and building perpetual momentum will have Downtown Jacksonville prepared to be on the forefront of the digital manufacturing revolution.”

For more information on FORGE, visit or ‘like’ FORGE on Facebook. Also, FORGE is usually open Art Walk nights, so be sure to stop by to check out the studio when you’re walkin’ the walk.