By Brianna Gleghorn
Youngstown has been a hub for additive manufacturing with valuable resources from America Makes and Youngstown State University’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing.
America Makes is a national institute that focuses on “advancing 3D printing additive manufacturing for the country.”
The Youngstown-based company is a public-private partnership organization with members from all over the United States, including YSU.
John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes, said the centralization of this type of manufacturing is vital for the growing area.
“We’ve funded a tremendous amount of research in the technology over the years,” Wilczynski said. “Youngstown is absolutely being recognized as a place of not just where that started, because it’s happening all over, but where there’s a concentration of activity.”
Wilczynski said he doesn’t see the advancement of 3D printing slowing down anytime soon.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow,” he said. “There’s no end in sight. There’s so much application space for the technology, anything from printing components or basic things like teeth.”
According to Wilczynski, YSU has been a part of America Makes from its start in 2012.
“They’ve been engaged with us from the very beginning,” he said. “They were a big part of the proposal team when we first initially responded to the initial request for proposal for the institute. So they’ve been involved from literally day one and even prior to us existing.”
Brett Connor, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center and associate professor of mechanical engineering, said YSU is one of three universities to have a center representing all seven technology categories.
“We have the opportunity to educate students to understand additive manufacturing, how it works and how to design products using it,” Connor said. “That gives us a ready workforce for companies to use as manufacturing or that existing companies or companies that can be brought into the region.”
While other universities have several technology categories represented in their facilities, the Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing at YSU has all seven categories of manufacturing represented, along with 3D printing in metals, plastics and ceramics.
“We have the opportunity to do cutting-edge research that is world class, that becomes published, and the opportunity to obtain external research funding to help sustain the center,” Connor said.
Connor said the changes happening in the manufacturing field, also known as “industry 4.0,” are starting a revolution as opposed to the prior way.
“Take additive manufacturing, and you have the ability to produce objects quickly without the need for tooling,” Connor said. “Things that could be much lighter weight, which could save on fuel, for example, could be much more efficient from an energy standpoint.”
According to Connor, the capabilities of the center allow it to work with partners in the area and produce new technologies and products.
Darrell Wallace, associate professor in the department of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering at YSU, said although this type of manufacturing is not new, it carves a new path for the industry.
“Additive manufacturing is not a new manufacturing process,” Wallace said. “It’s actually a whole bunch of new processes, so it doubled the number of processes that we have available to us.”
According to Wallace, additive manufacturing not only changes how parts are designed but also lowers the limits of how an object is designed.
“Now [we] have a lot more flexibility in design, which means that we can create things that we couldn’t create before,” Wallace said. “That lets us either create parts that are more capable or that are less expensive in terms of being able to consolidate a bunch of parts into one.”
In Wallace’s opinion, additive manufacturing helps to advance innovation quickly and can compete more effectively locally against offshore suppliers.
“It’s helping accelerate manufacturing innovation, it lets new companies bring products to market more quickly, more effectively and more competitively,” he said. “Ideally, the speed and the turnaround of 3D printing makes it better suited for sourcing things locally rather than overseas.”