By: Rich Wetzel
The nation’s advanced manufacturing industry is gearing up for North America’s main event for discovery, innovation, and networking in 3D printing. The annual RAPID + TCT event is being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh from May 8-11 - and will showcase new technology along with many presentations from experts in the industry. Although 3D printing will be the main focus, attendees can expect to see 3D scanning in the spotlight - thanks to a major 3D scanning project of the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Starting in October 2016, a collaboration between FARO Technologies Inc., Direct Dimensions Inc. and the NextManufacturing Center at Carnegie Mellon University took advantage of 3D scanning to create a digital model of the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Exhibitors will be given the CAD file for a chance to display their own 3D printed version in any size or material. 3D scanning the iconic Pittsburgh bridge pays tribute to the city’s history of manufacturing along with the rest of the rust belt, which has been rebranded as the tech belt. More importantly, the project shows the tech belt as a leader in advanced manufacturing.
The scanning project is also part of an annual Puzzle Challenge and will include 6 total pieces of the bridge. It gives attendees a chance to collect pieces and explore different processes and materials of 3D printing. Once all the pieces are collected, they can be assembled into the complete design.
“RAPID + TCT showcases the latest growth and advancements in the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry,” said Maria Conrado, SME event manager, RAPID + TCT. “Southwestern Pennsylvania is home to some 3,000 manufacturing companies, many of which are headquartered in Pittsburgh. It’s exciting that we are using additive technology to reproduce 3D models of a special landmark in this city.”
3D Scanning a bridge is no easy task. It involves collecting a large amount of data in a 3D point cloud and then converting to a 3D CAD model. FARO Technologies Inc. makes industry leading 3D scanning equipment, and with help from Direct Dimensions, Inc., they were able to transform the data into a format required for 3D printing.
“Scanning something as recognizable as the Roberto Clemente Bridge can spark many conversations,” said Michelle Edwards, applications engineering manager, FARO Technologies. “We want people to see this bridge as a 3D point cloud and begin to question their own processes. That’s how innovation happens.”
Innovation is the key to accelerating the adoption of 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing processes. The manufacturing base and academic resources throughout western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio continue to grow as more customers realize the benefits of advanced manufacturing.
“As additive manufacturing has flourished with new and enhanced 3D printing equipment, materials development has been surging along as well,” said Conrado. “By letting exhibitors print their own bridges, we’re demonstrating how this technology isn’t just for prototyping anymore.”
It’s great to see how quickly the 3D printing industry is growing - and it’s likely this year’s RAPID + TCT event will come with some exciting announcements. To find out more about the event, visit www.rapid3devent.com.
By Rich Wetzel
Innovation in manufacturing is a relatively new concept considering that traditional manufacturing methods have fundamentally remained the same for hundreds of years. Operational improvements have made them more efficient, but at the core, the processes have remained the same. Manufacturers started to realize the value of incorporating digital tools into their operations starting in the early 1980’s, but it’s grown a lot more with the rise of advanced software programs and Additive Manufacturing. Often called 3D printing, it’s the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by depositing many thin layers of a material in succession. A lot of buzz has been surrounding the 3D printing industry for about a decade now, mostly due to the expiration of key patents that allowed new consumer and business facing companies to form. During this time, early adopters learned that the technology could be used to create faster prototypes, add complexity and efficiency to their designs, bring production closer to home, and in some cases, produce end use parts. As a result, it sparked an increase in demand for more information and education around 3D printing.
Digital manufacturing refers to a set of design and manufacturing tools that starts with Computer-Aided-Design (CAD), and usually ends with 3D printing as an enabling technology for cost effective manufacturing solutions, typically for the product development stage, manufacturing tooling, or end use parts. Although 3D printing has been around since the early 1980's, it's only within the last decade that we've seen a significant increase in demand for 3D printing research and innovation. 3D printing, in conjunction with CAD, is changing the way we think about designing parts, and many industries are starting to take advantage and identifying new applications. This includes companies like GE who 3D printed over 25,000 CFM LEAP engine fuel nozzles in 2016, and recently opened a new state-of-the art 3D printing facility outside of Pittsburgh. Other industries taking advantage of the technology include automotive, aerospace, medical, energy, industrial goods, textile, restoration, and many more.
A common question among new users is, “How much does is it cost to have something 3D printed?” Unfortunately, the best answer is that it depends. Standard costs associated with 3D printing include design time on the computer, materials, printing time, post-processing, inspection, and labor. With over seven different processes of 3D printing, parts can be produced in virtually any material, such as different grades of plastic, nylon, various metals, and sand. Most machines are restricted to materials designed specifically for that machine, but new processes have been developed that use multiple materials at the same time. 3D printed parts can then be post-processed to include additional features and finishes. 3D printing isn’t going to replace traditional manufacturing, at least not in the foreseeable future. We don’t 3D print nuts and bolts because it’s slower and not cost effective. Think of it as another tool in the toolbox for manufacturers. A common practice called hybrid manufacturing involves 3D printing metal parts and then using traditional manufacturing to remove supports and fixtures.
One of the biggest challenges faced by early adopters is being restricted to only using overly priced proprietary materials controlled by the 3D printer manufacturers. Active users are pushing against this practice, and thanks to companies like JuggerBot 3D, open source options will play an important role in making 3D printing more accessible and affordable in the future. Another challenge is providing education for the new and existing workforce. However, with the valuable work done by the Youngstown Business Incubator, America Makes -The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and Youngstown State University, small-medium size manufacturers now have access to training workshops, networking events and subsidy programs that can be used to gain low cost access to the technology and to help develop an implementation strategy.
Youngstown and the northeast Ohio region are considered one of the best, if not the best, for 3D printing startups, education, research, and investment. YBI is rated as the best university affiliated technology business incubator in the country. America Makes is highest funded 3D printing research lab in the country. YSU has a world class 3D printing lab operated by some of the top experts in the industry. Together, this creates an ecosystem that has the potential to add important contributions to the growth of this industry and generate a pipeline of experienced students that would add value to any organization.
In order for manufacturers to remain competitive, they should be working towards identifying areas where 3D printing can improve their bottom line. If they fail to see value or are resistant to change, it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re pushed out of the market or their customers start requesting more use of the technology. According to Wohlers Report 2016, the 3D printing industry grew 25.9% (CAGR – Corporate Annual Growth Rate) to $5.165 billion in 2015. The CAGR for the previous three years was 33.8%. Over the past 27 years, the CAGR for the industry is an impressive 26.2%. Not only will this industry continue to impact the way parts are designed and manufactured, it will also play a leading role in allowing consumers to incorporate personalized features in their products.
These recent innovations in manufacturing will be pivotal in the development of a highly skilled workforce that will understand how to optimize parts for functionality and efficiency, and realizing that multiple technologies can be used together to source the most cost effective solution. This starts by getting students familiar with desktop 3D printers and other fabrication and design tools at an early age.
We’re at the forefront of a manufacturing revolution, and it’s time for the old school to start taking a look at new tools.
By Rich Wetzel
A recent example of how 3D printing is helping to save lives in the medical field comes in the form of Ethan Bradley, a nine-year-old boy from Grafton, Ohio. Thanks to highly skilled surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic, Bradley is now able to breathe freely again after suffering his entire life from Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare birth defect that involves the heart and other organs. In Bradley’s case, doctors said his heart had “two right sides” and no left, which resulted in serious breathing difficulties with oxygen levels rarely exceeding 55 percent, making him unable to participate in physical activities, including the simple task of walking around.
In August 2016, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic studied and practiced incisions on a 3D printed model of Bradley’s heart in order to lower the risk of complications during surgery. 3D printed jigs, models, and even end use parts are becoming increasingly popular within the medical community. Many successful cases have demonstrated the technology as a lifesaving tool for complicated procedures. 3D printed parts in the medical field have the ability to lower risks associated with surgery and increase patient turnover and recovery time.
Bradley only had a one to five percent chance to survive at birth due to his organs being arranged in the wrong place within his chest and abdomen. Remarkably, Bradley survived and underwent open heart surgery soon after birth and spent three months in the intensive care unit. Throughout his childhood, Bradley had many more surgeries which eventually took a psychological toll on the youngster. At just nine years old, Bradley was unable to participate in physical activities and felt out of place amongst his peers. It was at this time that his family decided to try a new type of surgery that would improve Bradley’s quality of life. After being referred to the Cleveland Clinic, surgeons began preparing for a procedure that would separate the atriums of his heart without affecting the lower heart chambers, and reroute the child’s blue blood to his lungs and his red blood to the aorta.
Dr. Hani Najm, chairman of pediatric and congenital heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, ordered a 3D printed model of Bradley’s heart so that he could study and mark down incisions. Dr. Najm noted, “The actual separation of his circulation on the inside is kind of novel – it is not common that we do this, but it is something that I was able to innovate. Because of the 3D printing, I was able to look at it, and sit in my office and decide what I needed to do.”
During the surgery, Bradley was dependent on a heart-lung machine as well as eleven staff members overseeing his care. Dr. Najm was able to prevent the organs from sticking to the child’s chest wall, and despite many possibly complications, the surgery turned out to be a huge success. It was such a drastic improvement to Bradley’s health that he was able to wean off his ventilator the next day and was home within a week. He was fully recovered five weeks later.
In a Fox News interview, Ethan’s mom Katrina Bradley told reporters, “It is absolutely incredible. We went from having this sick child who spent the majority of his day sitting on the couch or sleeping because he was just too tired or out of breath to do anything, and now he’s just running around the house excited.”
For the first time ever, Bradley is now experiencing oxygen levels around 95 percent. “It’s just a completely different kid,” his mother added. Bradley will likely need follow-up surgeries in the future, but thanks to 3D printing, doctors will know exactly how to prepare for a rare case like his.
Ethan Bradley is now exercising and has the goal of learning to ride a bike. After he masters the bicycle, he’ll test his skills on the basketball court to pursue dreams he never thought possible.