MOUNT VERNON — When Andries Breedt was a kid, he made a transistor radio and tried to learn how to fly.
Breedt turned his passion for invention into a 45-year career in engineering, design and manufacturing.
“My main goal is to design new things and I don’t want to retire,” said the 69-year-old.
Breedt opened Breedt R&D Skagit in Mount Vernon in September 2018. He said he considers the small manufacturing facility a laboratory to test new design concepts.
His projects are wide-ranging. They include environmentally friendly marine fenders; truck side guards to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe; fitness machines; pieces of art; and robotic cells for quality control testing.
He said his favorite part of the job is that he doesn’t consider it work.
“I think about these things when I’m driving or sleeping,” he said.
Breedt specializes in engineering tools, which help other manufacturers make products.
He emigrated from South Africa to the United States in 1995 and opened Breedt Production Tooling and Design in Kent.
For the past 15 years, he has worked on projects for the Space Needle in Seattle, most recently on a $100 million renovation.
Inside Breedt’s Mount Vernon facility sits a 2,500-pound, 2.5-inch-thick glass panel, identical to the 48 installed around the Space Needle’s observation deck in 2018.
“They couldn’t find a machine in the world to lift (the panels),” Breedt said.
He said the challenge was to design a lightweight machine to sit atop the Space Needle’s observation deck 500 feet in the air and strong enough to lift the panels. It also had to fold up into the Space Needle’s elevator.
He designed and built the machine in six weeks.
“I’ve done many projects in my life and this was the biggest stress-wise,” he said.
He named the machine Ndulu, a word in Breedt’s native language Zulu. He said the word means an animal that eats high in the trees. He names all his machines after animals.
Also for the Space Needle, Breedt designed new observation viewers, a lightning rod and 360-degree camera, and the 2062 time capsule.
Recently, Breedt R&D Skagit brought in a new state-of-the-art waterjet machine, which uses water pressure to cut metal parts.
The facility employs three people.
Charles Eric of Mount Vernon recently started as a technician at the facility, and said he sees the job as an apprenticeship.
“It’s the fact that I get to do everything,” he said. “Every day is a challenge.”
Breedt said after 50 years there is still more to learn.
“It’s a lifelong study, and I’m still doing it today,” he said.