Somerset Community College is offering regional businesses a chance to use 3D printing at no cost. The college has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture intended to spur economic development in rural areas.
Eric Wooldridge is a Somerset Community College professor of ‘additive manufacturing,’ often called 3D printing. He said the process uses a variety of materials including ABS, a type of plastic.
“Additive manufacturing is the process of taking material, whether it be metal, titanium, stainless steel, polymers, ABS or nylon and actually adding it one layer at a time, as if you used a glue gun and just kept making a circle, you would build a cylinder. That’s how additive works.”
Wooldridge said businesses often hesitate to add a new process due to the expense or potential slow down of production. But he said the opportunity to try 3D printing can introduce business owners to the long-term value.
“One of the primary advantages with additive is that you can create extremely complex shapes with no extra effort. In fact, it can make a simple cylinder or the most organic looking tree or sculpture that you can imagine with the same amount of effort.”
Businesses can collaborate with the community college – at no cost – to develop a prototype.
One company that has been working with Somerset Community College to design a product is Hearthside Food Solutions in London, Kentucky. Hearthside provides crackers, cookies and an extensive variety of other baked goods for many national and international food companies.
The company collaborated with Somerset Community College to design and produce a customized “transitional funnel” used between the high-speed weighing and bagging of baked goods.
The USDA grant offers companies a ’risk-free’ opportunity to consider and try those kinds of innovative solutions using 3D printing, which can save time and money in the long-term because of the efficiency producing the new products. Those innovations can give regional companies a competitive edge in the national and global markets.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, can be used for an unlimited range of products, from a part for a manufacturing line to a three-dimensional model of the spine to help doctors prepare for surgery.