3D Printing in Manufacturing: Promoting a “Maker Culture” in RI

I originally guest blogged this post for Founders League. The original article can be found here: http://foundersleague.co/blog/3d-printing-in-manufacturing-promoting-a-maker-culture-in-ri

130 Rhode Island manufacturers gathered at Bryant University on Thursday for an educational forum on 3D printing. Panelists hailed from academia, RI manufacturers using 3D printing and organizations that support adoption of the technology.

The event started with a conversation on how 3D printing is disrupting manufacturing today. Many in the audience were surprised to learn from Tom McDonald that the technology has been around for 25 years. While everyone agreed 3D printing won’t be replacing mass-production anytime soon, the first thematic clash emerged: will 3D printing remain a niche manufacturing technology or should everyone adopt it? In favor of pervasiveness, Andy Coutu of R&D Technologies pointed to how Boeing hopes to one day print aircraft wings with no bending or cutting required, while Kipp Bradford of Brown School of Engineering downplayed the impact by noting that on his recent tour of factories in China, not one of them used 3D printing.

The conference continued with anecdotes from current users of 3D printing. Bruce Parkes of GTECH shared how his firm uses the technology to create better designed parts through rapid physical iteration and testing. Breck Petrillo of Ximedica projected that his firm will start using 3D printing for short-run production within 12 months. Dr. Bongsup Cho of URI School of Pharmacy, who 3D prints models of molecules in full-color for education, told the most entertaining story of the day. After placing an order for a $68k 3D printer, he received a call from the URI purchasing department: “Dr. Cho, this printer is rather expensive. Have you thought about Dell or HP?"

The final panel addressed the importance of promoting a maker culture in Rhode Island. Bert Crenca, the founder of AS220 firmly believes that you can build community around access to tools and that the entire state of Rhode Island sees themselves as artists and makers. Anais Missakian of RISD emphasized the urgency of bringing making back into eduction, starting at a very young age. And Sandra Potter of Bryant shared how 3D printing has enabled her students to be makers.

I also spoke on the final panel and conveyed the urgency of adopting 3D printing. According to Christine Furstoss, General Electric’s Director of Manufacturing and Materials, 3D printing will touch half of its manufacturing in 20 years. Companies that learn to design for additive manufacturing will thrive, while those that are slow to evolve will perish. As a nation, this technology will bring manufacturing back from overseas and create a culture where distributing a physical innovation is as easy as emailing a digital file. As a state and a region, we must invest in 3D printers so our makers and entrepreneurs can lead the 21st century manufacturing economy.

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