Geo Week News

August 17, 2012

3D is driving the new manufacturing surge

Without really thinking about it, manufacturing is fairly obviously a 3D endeavor. When you’re making things, it’s hard to get away from length, width, or height. So it shouldn’t be surprising that new developments in 3D technology are where people are investing as a way to drive the manufacturing industry in the United States and elsewhere. 

As point of evidence, see the new $69 million investment the US federal government is making in Youngstown, Ohio, for a new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. “Additive manufacturing” is code for 3D printing, basically, and the article does a good job of advocating for why 3D printing makes sense in the manufacturing process:

Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, who helped make Thursday’s announcement, said the process is 10 times less expensive than conventional materials manufacturing methods, like using molds, adding that cost control and advances in weapons manufacturing are valuable assets for the Department of Defense.

I’m not sure exactly how something can be “10 times less expensive” than anything else (perhaps “one tenth as expensive” is what he meant?), and even that may be engaging in hyperbole, but it’s clear that those who can show how to manufacture more efficiently will be the ones that receive investment money. 

Further, Youngstown received the money for this partly because it had shown a pattern of innovating with 3D. The chemistry department at Youngstown State, one of the collaborators in attracting this grant money, is also home to the National Defense Center of Excellence in Industrial Metrology and 3D Imaging. Further, another of the partners who brought in the grant, and who played host for the announcement of the money coming to Youngstown, is M-7 Technologies, which is doing some really interesting work with 3D data capture. 

M-7 started out in 1918 producing bronze castings! Now they’ve reinvented themselves to take advantage of new workflow possibilites. The company says it’s capable of manufacturing 100,000-pound assemblies with accuracies of +/- .0005″. They say they’re currently researching the obstacles to broad-scale adoption of laser and sound-based measurement – sounds like my kind of research (they’ve also got a seat on the ASTM E57 committee, which is also my kind of research). 

All of this is to say that developments in 3D are being rewarded. It’s not just on the fringes anymore, but being recognized with real dollars as the path forward for manufacturing. How can the data capture community capitalize on that and make sure it continues to be part of the conversation as workflows are converted to take advantage of new 3D printing capabilities?

Also, in case you’re interested, a little video on the announcement in Youngstown:


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