TEDx Speaker Series: Brett Conner The Additive Manufacturer

On Jan. 23, 2015, Brett Conner, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Youngstown State University will be presenting at TEDx Youngstown, along with a variety of other speakers.

The event runs in conjunction with the Technology, Entertainment and Design organization, a non-profit organization devoted to spreading innovative ideas, which is well known for their popular TED Talks, and it will be located in the Ford Theater of Bliss Hall.

The theme at the TEDx Youngstown event is “Breaking Boundaries,” and offers a diverse group of teachers, musicians and professionals who want to spark in-depth discussion and connections among students, faculty and anyone willing to listen in the community of Youngstown.

Conner takes on multiple occupations: dad, soccer coach, entrepreneur and full-time professor. On top of being a current, full-time professor, he is the father of three children and an entrepreneur at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

Conner grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he attended Blue Ridge Christian High School. Conner spent 15 years in government and industry before coming to YSU last August. He served as an officer in the United States Air Force for nine years, and spent five years at Alcoa — a lightweight metals technology engineering and manufacturing industry — as well as one year as a defense contractor.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. The funny thing is, in the course of my career, I’ve always had the opportunity to do some really cool things. I don’t think that it was really planned,” he said. “I feel blessed with the way that my life worked out. I was able to work with fighter jets, spacecrafts, rockets and big trucks and at an aluminum factory. That opportunity comes with education.”

Currently, he is working to bring additive manufacturing companies into the Youngstown region through the YBI. He said that he will be discussing additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, and customization during his talk at the upcoming event.

“I’m very interested in materials, and how 3-D printing ties the materials closer together to the final product. It’s a real departure from the typical way we make things. Whether it’s the clothes that you wear, the phone that you have, or whatever it is, they are all mass manufactured at a factory that’s far away. With 3-D printing, we can potentially bring that factory close to your city or neighborhood. Also, you get the opportunity to have more engagement as to how that product is going to be made,” Conner said.

Additive manufacturing, simply put, is the application of layers of materials to create 3-D objects. At its most basic form, the technology can be created to single material models, but it has also been used to create artificial organs and manufacturing parts. Conner said his motivation to pursue 3-D printing was that it is a unique way of manufacturing products compared to the common factory.

“What if you had the opportunity to customize what you want? Not just the color on it, but the shape and the functionality of the object. You can influence that. It’s a big change from how we’ve been doing business since the beginning of the industrial revolution,” he said.

Conner said that he was drawn to YSU through the opportunities for 3-D printing businesses in the area, specifically America Makes.

“What attracted me to YSU was our proximity to America Makes, a national additive manufacturing innovation institute here in Youngstown. When you hear about President Obama talking about setting up national manufacturing institutes to address some of the key challenges of manufacturing in the United States. I think there are a lot of good opportunities here at YSU, and it’s given us a chance to build our 3D printing program here,” he said.

Conner expressed his gratitude to speak at this event in January.

“I think TEDx is a great opportunity to share big ideas and hear about big ideas. It’s an honor to speak and it’s also going to be an honor to listen to others who will be speaking,” he said. “For me, what’s very interesting about TEDx is hearing people talk about the big ideas in so many different fields. It’s not just about technology; it’s about society, business and social responsibility.”

He encouraged his students and others not to worry about their career paths after graduation because there is always a chance to learn and grow with experience.

“It wasn’t until graduate school that I thought about going down the career path of teaching. I kind of encouraged my students by saying that you don’t really need to know at the moment of graduation what the rest of your life is going to have to look like,” Conner said. “You have the opportunity to learn, grow and find out. You’re always learning.”