3D printing: New York NOW

Mar 19, 2014

3D Print story begins at 19:50

SUNY New Paltz hopes to redefine itself as the center for the next manufacturing revolution, changing the way we think about what we can make and how. The university recently opened the MakerBot Innovation Lab Center devoted to 3D printing technology. The goal is to link the worlds of science and technology with the creativity of fine arts.

SUNY New Paltz’s School of Science Dean and Director of the Hudson Valley Manufacturing Center, Dan Freedman describes the program.

“There’s a combination in both the design and the artistry that can really come either from the art side or the engineering side as well as a lot of technical issues that come from the all of the equipment that’s being used and software for designing these objects.”

Professor Freedman helped put together the 3D printing lab with hardware from the Brooklyn based startup, MakerBot. He also runs the related manufacturing center out of it. As the lab was being developed for the engineering department, he realized the engineering and computer science students were just as interested in design, and many of the fine arts students were also technically sophisticated.

“I get a lot of sort of surprised looks when I say we’re putting together a program between the two schools because everyone seems to think that engineering, art are very separate worlds but they really aren’t and probably the first person to really apply this in the business world was really Steve Jobs.”

Despite appearances, SUNY New Paltz’s MakerBot printing lab isn’t just about making stuff with this new-fangled technology, although everyone in the class does plenty of that, including their Digital Design and Fabrication visiting professor, Arthur Hash.

“The face over there was actually produced on the MakerBot using an iPhone, so there’s actually an app that will scan your face.

Oh, that’s actually somebody’s face?

That’s my face. It’s hard to tell with the glasses off but with the mustache and beard. So the app you can actually take a photo of your face and export it directly to the machine or email it to yourself.”

If you look past the Dr. Seuss-like designs and the plastic tchotchkes, proponents of this lab say we’re witnessing the beginnings of a manufacturing revolution.

Bre Pettis is MakerBot’s founder and CEO, his company aims to make 3D printers as accessible to everyone as the personal computer. In addition to donating the 25 3D printers that make up the lab, the company partnered with grant money through the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, Hudson River Ventures and electric company Central Hudson to make it a reality.

“A MakerBot 3D printer just doesn’t change the market place, it changes the way you think. When you have a MakerBot you think differently, instead of thinking, where are I gonna go buy this you think oh I can make that.”

While the university attempts to innovate with 3D technology other companies have embraced the technology to help advance their capability. Here at this building in Long Island City, 3D printing is helping give custom design jewelry company Quality Casting an edge.

Carl Morfino, owns a jewelry making company called Quality Casting where they have been using 3D printing technology since 2006.

“It’s much more cost effective to design something on the computer cause it’s easily modified and changed and our customers are very demanding and they never give you one design and say this is what I want can you do this. They say can you do this design that they give you and then they make half a dozen changes after.”

Picky as that may sound, it’s pretty standard for the high-end jewelry business. 3D printing has been around for over 30 years but affordable only to government contractors and big business. It’s only the past 10 years mid-sized companies like Quality Casting has been able to embrace the technology. Morfino says for them 3D printing has increased their productivity, not only in volume but their ability to customize, using lost wax casting.

Quality Casting’s head of their Computer Aided Design department, Ed Yosevitz explains the process.

“In this case, this is the final product of the print that comes out of the machine and each one of these is a file that has been sent through email, downloaded to the machine and printed out.”

Machines like the ones MakerBot produces, print largely in a thick plastic filament called PLA and produce noticeable layers of lines. That’s not detailed enough for what Quality Casting needs for its jewelry.

When a customer sends a design, the files are uploaded to a computer, checked and sent to the printed, 2 types of wax are used to build the model. The white wax supports the model and gets dissolved away leaving the blue wax. It is then put into a plaster mold where the blue wax is heated and disintegrates. Once the plaster has cooled, molten precious metals are poured into the mold creating the exact piece specified by the customer.

But despite the fact they’re using some high-end techniques for jewelry casting, Carl Morfino says 3D technology isn’t just for professionals.

“Now you have people taking CAD courses developing a pendant, earrings, a bracelet that they’ve made themselves and their casting these parts in brass and silver and soon to be gold. And they can now show their friends, ‘Look what I made! I’m a designer and there’s certain companies that are catering to these people.”

Back in the MakerBot Lab at SUNY New Paltz, Professor Freedman is also hoping the printres will help shape the manufacturing revolution.

“I’m not exactly sure what the business would look like but the possibilities are pretty broad and it can be all the way from making custom or semi-custom or simple things like cell phone cases or all the way up to doing semi-custom builds for the electronics industry.”

Students currently enrolled in SUNY’s 3D print courses will earn a certificate of completion. Freedman hopes to elevate that to a full blown minor and one day a major.