Feature Story: 3D Printing Is Shaping Up

America Makes, on West Boardman Street in Youngstown, OH, is the ‘once-shuttered furniture warehouse’ converted into a 3D printing hub, referred to by President Obama in his State of the Union address in 2013 and 2014.
America Makes, on West Boardman Street in Youngstown, OH, is the “once-shuttered furniture warehouse” converted into a 3D printing hub, referred to by President Obama in his State of the Union address in 2013 and 2014. (Photo: NCOMM.)

By Jenny Vickers
From the January/February 2015 issue

3D Printing (3DP) is one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S. today—blazing a pathway to help revitalize and revolutionize America’s manufacturing industry. The technology has been around for about 30 years, but advancements made in recent years are leading to profound changes in the way many things are designed, developed, produced, and supported.

3DP, also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), is the process where a single machine creates or “prints” a three-dimensional object by piling successive layers of material on top of each other.

The technology is now being widely used across various industries. In the auto and aviation industries, 3DP helps prototype all kinds of parts. In dentistry and jewelry, 3D printing is part of everyday production, especially for intricate, customized items. In health care, it’s used in hearing aids, dental applications, and personalized hip and knee replacements.

One of the key advantages of 3DP is that it helps to transform manufacturing flexibility—for example, by allowing companies to slash development time, eliminate tooling costs, and simplify production runs—while making it possible to create complex shapes and structures that weren’t feasible before. The economic implications of 3-D printing are significant: McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that it could have an impact of up to $550 billion a year by 2025.

“The primary advantage to 3DP is the ability to design and produce products that you couldn’t do any other way,” said Ralph Resnick, President & Executive Director of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing (NCDMM) and Founding Director of America Makes, a federal initiative to accelerate 3DP growth in the U.S. “For example, the medical sector where each body is different, the technology is helping to customize medical implants for a particular individual. This technology is having success in prosthetics for children where the prosthetic changes on a regular basis. As a child grows, with 3DP you can make prosthetics effectively at a very reasonable cost.”

Since the Obama Administration launched America Makes in 2012, five institutes have been opened each geared toward a particular field of manufacturing development: The Digital Manufacturing And Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, The Digital Manufacturing Design Institution in Chicago, The Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) in Detroit, the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute (Power America) at North Carolina State University, and the recently launched Institute for Composites at the University of Tennessee.

“The intent is to get these technical institutes working on taking research which is residing in laboratories, universities, and even people’s garages, and seeing how we can insert into mainstream manufacturing and get the technology commercialized,” said Resnick.

Thanks to pioneers such as Stratasys and 3D Systems, 3DP is now becoming a mainstream manufacturing technique. According to Hudson Valley 3D Printing (HV3D), the number of commercial 3D printing machines has grown by 6,500 percent in less than five years. Industry experts predict that the consumer market will be the main driver of sector growth with companies such as MakerBot (owned by Stratasys), selling affordable personal-use 3D printers, and Microsoft and Amazon both selling 3D printing equipment supplies.

“It really is an exciting and emerging technology,” said Michael Hripko, Deputy Director for Workforce and Educational Outreach for America Makes—National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). “Additive manufacturing is 30 years old, but it’s accelerating at such a phenomenal rate. When you see a technology that is growing at such a rate, you realize that you are in the midst of a real exciting time for sure.”

BF has uncovered several regions which are pioneering 3DP technology, emerging as true 3D printing tech hubs, while also discovering several areas where industry players have laid down roots, helping the industry to take shape around them.


Youngstown, OH is at the epicenter of a fast-growing 3D printing technology hub known at the Tech Belt, a region stretching from Northeast Ohio to Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia.

Founded in 2012 and housed at the Youngstown Business Incubator, America Makes is a pilot program of the Obama Administration to create a series of advanced manufacturing centers across the country to grow and strengthen America’s 3D printing industry. It is managed by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing (NCDMM) located in the Pittsburgh region.

The Youngstown center is made up of 120 members, including industry, government and academic institutions like Youngstown State University, all working toward the goal of accelerating the adoption of 3D printing technologies in the U.S.

“Our hope is that we can establish the Tech Belt into an additive manufacturing Silicon Valley,” said Resnick. “We are working to establish an additive manufacturing infrastructure within the Tech Belt that can advance the technology and develop the workforce and supply chain so that we can meet the demands that are coming down the road.”

The Youngstown institute works in collaboration to reduce the cost of 3D printing, connect small businesses with new opportunities, and train U.S. workers to master 3D printing technology.

Recent successes include launching The Senvol Database, the first and only searchable 3D printing database for additive manufacturing machines and materials; providing over 1,000 schools with access to 3D printers; training over 7,000 workers in the fundamentals of 3D printing; and conducting research that will help accelerate the speed of 3D printing in metals.

“We are in our third phase of putting together a national additive manufacturing roadmap which is driving our investment portfolio,” said Resnick. “We have had two calls for applied research and development projects based on that roadmap. We are now managing over 40 projects that close to 85 organizations are participating in with a funding portfolio of close to $70 million of both public and private support,” said Resnick.

One such project in the Tech Belt is Case Western University in Cleveland, which has partnered with Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing (rp+m) to convert a laser hotwire welding technique into a 3D manufacturing process. This partnership has led to another exciting announcement. In June 2014, Case Western announced it is working with rp+m to build a new on-campus 3D printing and additive manufacturing R&D facility.

rp+m will move its R&D arm to the university where it will work with faculty researchers to develop new technologies in the growing AM market and assist students in entrepreneurship and with research opportunities with the technologies—with the specific aim of boosting economic development in the region. The company will install eight additive manufacturing platforms including bringing the first metal-printing machines to campus.

The Youngstown center is serving as a magnet for investment in the Tech Belt. Last November, General Electric (GE) announced a $32 million investment in a new 3D printing research facility in the region, citing the advantages of locating near America Makes, along with the region’s universities and skilled workforce, as a factor in its decision.

“GE’s decision to locate in the region was heavily impacted by the Tech Belt and America Makes,” said Resnick. “We feel that we are beginning to see some traction in starting to put together this additive manufacturing valley of influence.”

GE’s new facility will be located in Findlay Township near Pittsburgh, home to industry leaders such as ExOne, one of the top 3D equipment builders in the country, and threeRivers3D, one of the top producers of 3D scanners, along with top notch research academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Robert Morris University (RMU), which are all helping to further establish the Tech Belt as a 3D printing hub.

“Those research academic institutions are actively involved in our projects and initiatives and are doing extensive work in all aspects of additive manufacturing,” said Resnick.

For example, RMU used its expertise from its School of Engineering 3D printing component to partner with a local manufacturer, Schroeder Industries, to produce prototype filters that are sold for uses such as cleaning hydraulic fluids and diesel fuel. The next step is the 3D printing of the actual filter components.

“We’re really helping to make local manufacturers in the region aware of this technology,” said Michael Hripko, Deputy Director, Workforce and Educational Outreach, America Makes – NCDMM. “We’re having a significant influence throughout the region. We expect rapid and broad based national growth. We are very pleased that the infrastructure of this technology is in Youngstown, OH.”


Hudson Valley, NY is in the midst of redefining itself as the center for the next manufacturing revolution.

Launched in 2013, the Hudson Valley 3D Printing Initiative (HV3D) brings together a community of 3DP experts, private and public investors, academics and entrepreneurs to unleash the full potential of this technology for the benefit of the entire region.

At the heart of this initiative is the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, an established national leader in 3DP technology and education, and the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center (HVAMC) at SUNY New Paltz, which brings state-of-the-art 3D printing equipment to the region and a curriculum in Digital Design and Fabrication.

3D printing is being used by the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center to manufacture prosthetic limbs, and a new hand for a six-year-old boy who was born without one.
3D printing is being used by the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center to manufacture prosthetic limbs, and a new hand for a six-year-old boy who was born without one. (Photo: Hudson Valley, NY-HVED.)

Launched in May 2013, the HVAMC works with a large array of companies and inventors to develop and fabricate prototypes for next generation products. In July, students and faculty at the Center used 3D technology to fabricate a prosthetic limb for a local, six-year-old boy, Joseph Gilbert, who was born without a hand.

“Creating functional prosthetics for children is one of the best examples of how 3D design and printing can be used to build remarkable objects at a small fraction of the cost of standard fabrication methods,” said Daniel Freedman, Dean of School of Science and Engineering at SUNY New Paltz in a press release.

According to Freedman, the robohand cost $15 in materials to make. As Joseph grows, it will be inexpensive to print new versions of his hand.

In February 2014, SUNY New Paltz partnered with Brooklyn, N.Y.—based MakerBot, the leading manufacturer of desktop 3D printers, to open the nation’s first MakerBot Innovation Center at SUNY New Paltz.

“It’s an exciting moment in the world today,” MakerBot Founder Bre Pettis said at an event to celebrate the opening. “This is the first MakerBot Innovation Center to open here at SUNY New Paltz. The amount of innovation that’s going to become unlocked with this facility is going to be very powerful. I can’t wait to see what the students here at SUNY New Paltz do with this innovation center.”

The innovation center is devoted to 3DP technology with a goal to link the worlds of science and technology with the creativity of fine arts. Students, faculty and local industry have access to a next generation 3D printing hub which includes 30 MakerBot desktop 3D printers and scanners.

The center is enabling rapid prototyping, increasing product design cycles, and creating a forum for increased collaboration and innovation that will help train the next generation of engineers, industrial designers, and artists.

“By putting the MakerBot innovation center here at SUNY New Paltz, we’re giving the students and community two steps ahead of not just the state, not just the country, but the world,” said Pettis.

The Hudson Valley 3DP initiative is being supported by both regional and state funds. In December 2013, the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded the initiative $1 million and in September 2014 Governor Cuomo granted SUNY New Paltz $10 million to create an Engineering Innovation Hub.

The new hub will be an extension of the college’s work in digital design and fabrication. This will dramatically expand the college’s engineering program, 3D printing lab and create space for START-UP NY companies interested in exploiting the college’s expertise in digital design and fabrication.

The project promises to generate $75 million in new economic impact, create more than 195 full-time jobs, and graduate 300 much needed engineers over a 10-year period in the Mid-Hudson region alone.

“We’re grateful to Gov. Cuomo for his support of our efforts at SUNY New Paltz to educate more engineering students, support workforce development and enhance economic development in the Hudson Valley,” said SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian in a press release. “We’re excited about this opportunity to strengthen our role in SUNY’s mission to be an economic driver in New York.”


A new 3DP initiative and innovation lab is helping 3D Maryland take a big step forward in its efforts to turn the region into a hub for 3DP technology.

3D Maryland is statewide leadership initiative of the Howard County Economic Development Authority (EDA) that is raising awareness of the competitive advantages of 3D printing and digital manufacturing as well as facilitating engagement and implementation.

Last year, 3D Maryland opened a new 3D Maryland Innovation + Prototyping Lab, a new 1,800 square-foot lab, housed at Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in Columbia. The lab features 8-10 workstations with industry level computers and four 3D printers for prototyping.

Larry Twele, Chief Executive Officer of the HCEDA, said the new lab is game changing in the arena of manufacturing and is helping to raise awareness of this technology to companies in the county and across the state.

“Within our innovation center companies can come in and experiment, learn, and adopt new 3D printing technology and bring that into their business so they can become more efficient and grow into new markets,” said Twele.

The new center also is helping smaller companies, who aren’t involved in 3D manufacturing, to use the technology for rapid prototyping.

“We are able to turn prototypes out in a matter of days for companies that are in the product market,” said Twele. “Companies can quickly modify their products which save them frankly months of time versus having to get design specs changed and possibly have it manufactured out of the country. We were able to do it right here in our lab. This is much more cost effective.”

Twele said the innovation center is helping a wide range of industries from traditional manufacturing, IT, and mobile devices to biomedical, health, and technology. Some of the companies and organizations involved in 3D Maryland include Northrup Grumman, Black & Decker, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

“We believe this initiative presents a tremendous opportunity for us to help businesses and industries commercialize new products,” said Twele. “3D Maryland is here to fill gaps and turn Maryland into a hub for 3D printing and additive manufacturing.”

In August 2014, The Daily Record named 3D Maryland and 3D Maryland Executive Director Jan Baum as one of the 2014 Innovator of the Year winners. The award recognizes Maryland individuals and companies that have created a product, service, program or process that has had a positive effect on their business, industry or community.

“We are extremely proud of the work Jan is doing and the opportunities being created for businesses at the 3D Maryland Innovation + Prototyping Lab at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship,” said Twele. “One of goals was to create a connected ecosystem of professional users, manufacturers, and other stakeholders. This award is confirmation that we’re achieving our goal.”

In December 2014, Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), paid a visit to the new center, highlighting the Obama Administration’s work to promote entrepreneurship in innovation and economic development. Last year, the SBA awarded the center $50,000 to help entrepreneurs bring new technology to the marketplace.

Twele said that he hopes the new center will be named as one of the new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. “We are exploring and have applied to become one of the federal centers,” said Twele. “Right now we are waiting to hear.”

Although in its infancy, Howard County is ramping up to become a prime manufacturing hub for the production of low-priced personal 3D printers. Last year, Micro 3D Printer (M3D), opened a new 3D printer factory in Howard County. The 12,000 square foot facility will start with production of around 10,000 M3D printers per month, working its way up to a potential capacity of some 30,000 printers per month as projected demand increases.

“We have assets across the state that really contributes to that ecosystem that makes the 3D printing a very viable sector for us,” said Twele. “What we are most proud of is how it has raised awareness and the importance of manufacturing. It’s a bold step that is going to drive innovation and that helps drive company creation and drive jobs. We’re very proud of its impact so far and we’re looking to continue that.”


3DP giant Stratasys first laid down its roots in the Twin Cities over 30 years ago when it became one of the first companies in the world to develop the capacity to print objects. Today, Stratasys dominates the U.S. printing industry, accounting for 57 percent of total sales. The company recently combined RedEye, Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies to form Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, one of the largest advanced manufacturing service organizations, which has eight facilities across the United States including one in the Eden Prairie, MN.

The world’s first 3D printed castle was completed by Andrey Rudenko in 2014.
The world’s first 3D printed castle was completed by Andrey Rudenko in 2014. (Photo: 3Dprint.com.)

The location of Stratasys in the Twin Cities has helped it grow into what local officials envision as the Silicon Valley of 3D Printing. Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, told Twin Cities Business Magazine last year that officials have been talking with Stratasys about developing a 3-D innovation district near campus. He envisions the site as a hub for large 3-D printers that startups could use if they can’t afford the technology themselves.

The Twin Cities region is now home to dozens of 3D printing companies including ProtoLabs, maker of medical, aerospace, computer, consumer and industrial goods; Foreverence, a startup that produces custom-made cremation urns; Graphica Medica, maker of craniofacial prostheses models; GVL Poly, which makes equipment parts for the agricultural industry; Nexxt Technologies, which specializes in the resale, installation and maintenance of large commercial 3-D printing systems; and 3-D Castle owned by Andrey Rudenko who became the first person in the world to build a 12-foot concrete 3D printed castle. Rudenko is continuing to make history—he’s now planning to build the first-ever 3D printed two-story house.


Top jet engine and aircraft system manufacturer GE Aviation is venturing into the world of additive manufacturing, announcing several new projects that will enable it to use 3D digital designs to manufacture jet engine components.

GE Aviation, which is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, announced in September 2014 it is opening a new $11 million GE Aviation Additive Development Center in West Chester, located just outside of Cincinnati. The new center, which was awarded $2.5 million from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, will focus on using 3D digital designs to manufacture high-volume engine components. The center is expected to create 53 new jobs and help retain 87 employees.

GE Aviation is also investing $50 million to bring 3D printing to its 300,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Auburn, AL. The company plans on using high volume 3D printing to mass-produce components for its jet engines.

GE Aviation expects to begin production in 2015. The facility could have as many as 10 printing machines by the end of 2015, with the potential of eventually having more than 50 machines occupy a third of the facility. The 3-D printers will be used to produce a fuel nozzle that will be used on the LEAP engine being developed by GE Aviation joint venture CFM International. It marks the first time such a component will be manufactured with 3-D printing.

“We spent years proving out this technology for a critical component in the heart of the engine, the combustion chamber,” GE Aviation general manager for Additive Technologies Greg Morris said, in a recent news release. “Now we are well positioned to apply this technology to other components in the same harsh environment which could prove to be game changing for future engine programs and designs.”


The Memphis, TN region is capitalizing on its existing technology strengths and strong manufacturing climate to ramp up development of its 3D printing industry.

“The 3D printing industry in the Memphis region is growing due to our large concentration of orthopedic manufacturing and our unparalleled logistics infrastructure,” said Mark Herbison, senior vice president of economic development, Greater Memphis Chamber.

The region is home to over 800 manufacturing firms employing more than 44,000 people. In 2012, the Memphis area produced $8 billion in manufactured goods, a number that has climbed steadily over the last decade.

The folks at the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Tennessee worked with 3D-printing company NovaCopy to print a replica of Buttercup’s sister’s left foot. Using that copy, the sanctuary was able to mold a silicone foot for Buttercup that could fit perfectly.
The folks at the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Tennessee worked with 3D-printing company NovaCopy to print a replica of Buttercup’s sister’s left foot. Using that copy, the sanctuary was able to mold a silicone foot for Buttercup that could fit perfectly. (Photo: Smithsonianmag.com.)

But it wasn’t until recently that its 3D printing industry started to take shape. In 2013, NovaCopy, an award-winning provider of 3DP technology and copiers, announced it is expanding its operations at the Appling Farms Business Park in Memphis. The company invested $4.8 million in a new 33,000 square-foot production facility, creating 30 new jobs and $580,776 in new tax revenue.

The company received approval for a 4-year payment in lieu of taxes benefit from the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) of Memphis & Shelby County for the expansion.

USCutter, a top reseller of 3D printers and leading national distributor of equipment and supplies for the sign making and vehicle and garment customization industries, maintains one of its sales, service and distribution warehouses in Memphis.

Last year, the company announced that it has become the exclusive distributor for the Phoenix 3D Printer from developer Ez3D. The partnership provides USCutter with a best-in-class printer for the emerging home and small business market, and a superior “first 3D printer” offering for families and students.

Educational institutions in the region are helping to develop the next generation of high-tech workers through exposure to 3DP technology. The University of Memphis 3D Printer lab, for example, gives students the opportunity to attend workshops, schedule lab time, and print files.

In Germantown, a suburb of Memphis, schools have their own 3D printer and have already created digital designs, such 3D printed holiday ornaments, in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) classes.

Local businesses also have access to the technology. The UPS Store in Memphis, for example, offers 3D Print services where customers can print functional prototypes, construct manufacturing jigs and fixtures. They can also create custom accessories, and build architectural models. Companies can also take advantage of the “lab @ archer-malmo,” started by a marketing and communications agency in downtown Memphis, which includes gadgets like circuit boards and a 3D printer.

Innovation is further supported by a group of creative tech entrepreneurs called The Memphis Makers, which hold regular meet-ups on 3DP technology in a facility bristling with tools and technology ranging from a glass kiln to a sandblasting booth to cutting-edge