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Industry Experts School State College on 3D Printing

by on August 28, 2015 6:00 AM

As an embrace of the maker movement, Schlow Library partnered with local organizations to put on a Maker Week.

All of the rage in "making things" these days is 3D printing, so it was only fitting that a panel of industry experts educated the community on the new technology. 

But calling 3D-printing a "new technology" is a bit misleading, as Lockheed Martin advanced manufacturing program manager Brian Foy said at the Thursday night talk.

"As a company, we’ve been involved in 3D printing in various capacities for 20 or more years. That surprises a lot of people," he said. "The technology isn’t new. What happened is a lot of patents have run out and people are hopping on the technology. 3D printing is finally getting a lot of press and we’re saying, hey, it’s about time."

At the most basic level, 3D printing can be accomplished in two different ways. The first is subtractive printing, which is essentially taking a hunk of some material and working away at it -- a newer take on the most primitive way of forming something. Additive printing, on the other hand, takes a material and builds something from nothing.

Penn State mechanical engineering professor Dr. Tim Simpson, who works with 3D printing at the university among other things, explained a method of building things like metal car parts. They start with a titanium powder, finer than fine sand, and build one layer at a time. A laser melts the powder, solidifying the part as the printer works upward. He passed a car part around to the audience to show an example of the end result of this printing.

Simpson said that the future of 3D printing goes beyond what most people realize, and the ability to print functional organs isn't all that far away.

"We've realized that it's not a question of if we can do it, but a question of when," Simpson said. "It will likely be 10 to 20 years down the road, but that capability is coming to make a liver right there in the operating room."

While 3D printing was once an extremely expensive technology only available to big businesses, it is quickly becoming a resource that can be used by an everyday inventor or small business. State College UPS Store manager Victor DeDonato was part of Thursday's panel because his store now has a 3D printer, available to any customer with an imagination.

"Why is the UPS Store doing 3D printing? Because it’s new and it’s exciting," DeDonato said. "It just offers a solution to the at-home inventor or tinkerer and even small or medium-sized businesses. No two jobs are alike. We get a lot of small gadgets and prototypes."

DeDonato said the store has seen a lot more interest in 3D printing recently, as the technology grows in popularity around the world. He thinks the future of the technology lies in patents in copyright. 

"If you need a part, why call the maker of your refrigerator when you can just download it and print it? That’s kind of a huge open vacuum right now as to where the legal side goes with that. I know Jay Leno prints car parts for cars from 100 years ago because where do you find those these days? You don’t."

Maker Week will culminate on Saturday with five hours dedicated to exploring the reliving the week's creations. All Maker Week events are free and no pre-registration is required. 

Visit the Schlow Library's Maker Week website for a full list of the week's interactive talks, demos, camps, and more.



Zach Berger is the managing editor of StateCollege.com. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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