Additive manufacturing cluster hopes to boost Northeast Ohio

Crains Newsmakers of the year 2017

News you need to know for Sunday, February 04

Additive manufacturing cluster hopes to boost Northeast Ohios profile

Pat Grospiron is partner, network management, at JumpStart Inc.

If youve never seen additive manufacturing (aka 3-D printing) in action, think of it as the exact opposite of a traditional lathe or CNC machine. Instead of cutting away at a large block of material until it reaches a desired shape, a 3-D printer takes raw material usually in pellet or powder form and uses it to build a shape from the ground up.

At the consumer-level, most 3-D printers are still small machines churning out plastic trinkets. However, more advanced machines are becoming more affordable for tinkerers every day. Today, you can even find one at theAkron-Summit County Public Library.

At the industrial-level, things are really heating up, led by the aerospace, medical and automotive industries never-ending quest for lighter, cheaper parts that can be manufactured more rapidly. And Northeast Ohio is well-positioned to take advantage of the technical advancements happening in this field.

Its important to note that these same driver industries for additive manufacturing are legacy strengths for Northeast Ohio, said Youngstown Business Incubator CEO Barb Ewing. That gives us an important economic base to build upon.

Ewing and many other regional economic-development leaders are currently working to establish aninnovation clusterfor additive manufacturing in Northeast Ohio, the goal of which is to turn our region into the epicenter for additive manufacturing in the United States.

Right now, a young Akron-based company calledAdditive Engineering Solutions(AES) is right in the middle of this action. Founded by two ambitious millennials, Andrew Bader and Austin Schmidt, AES already has landed major clients such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and General Electric.

The companys maincompetitive advantageis their Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, a 3-D printer so large it can print parts the size of a small car. There are only 13 of these machines on the planet, and 12 of them are installed in either a research facility or a large OEM manufacturer. Lucky No. 13 lives in AESs custom-renovated Akron facility.

Considering that there are currently only 35 or so people in the country who know how to operate a BAAM machine, AES clearly has the first-mover advantage. But like all new innovations, it takes time for the world to catch up. Many potential customers still arent aware that its even possible to 3-D print such large parts, let alone print them in Northeast Ohio.

Its a new method, Schmidt said. Customers are still settling into the mindset where they consider it as a viable option. And we also have to prove that we can scale, that we can make multiple high-quality parts and that the manufacturing process is reliable.

Thats where having an innovation cluster could come in handy.

Ewing said the cluster is about making connections among companies to help open up new markets, develop new products, solve technical problems, transition technology, develop a workforce and even address other industry needs, such as regulatory reform. Specific activities include everything from business attraction and establishing Seeker/Solver programs, to technical seminars and networking events.

And the results thus far are impressive. In just a year, cluster meetings already are attracting national attention, with major industry players like the Trumpf Group and Stratasys as speakers.

While the cluster includes large anchor clients in the region such as Parker Hannifin and well-established service providers such as The Technology House and Rapid Prototyping+Manufacturing, its also a feeding ground for small startups, from material companies such asFila-MintandTriptech Plastics; to machine manufacturers such asJuggerbot 3D3D Printer WorksandHot End Works; to printed part manufacturers such asFreshmade 3DPrinting 3D Partsand; of course, Akrons own Additive Engineering Solutions.

For more information on the cluster, go .

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