CIMP-3D: Revolutionizing Industry with Additive Manufacturing

September 14, 2020

This fall, industry practitioners from more than 60 companies – doctors and teachers, gas & oil and aerospace engineers – will be learning how to use 3D printing to revolutionize their professions.

The first of its kind in the world, Penn State’s Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design program educates the next generation’s workforce and also equips the current workforce to use additive manufacturing effectively in their respective industry.

Additive manufacturing (AM), familiar to most of us in the form of 3D printing, is a new and rapidly evolving technology that has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing by providing on-demand production, decreasing material and manufacturing costs, allowing highly flexible designs for production and producing features and material combinations that are not currently feasible.

Learning factory tests AM for industry and government

It’s fitting that this groundbreaking program would premiere at Penn State. The university, along with partner 3D Systems, operates the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D), a world-class resource for advancing and deploying additive manufacturing technology.

Created in 2012 in partnership with Applied Research Laboratories (ARL) in a launch funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the center operates as a demonstration facility for additive manufacturing demonstration (AMDF) as well as Metals Node of America Makes, formerly the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII).

It’s a learning factory – a place where academia, industry and government collaborate to explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing, and then help industries use AM to innovate their manufacturing.

“We heard you’ve been doing cool stuff”

“When the companies call us,” says Tim Simpson, director, Additive Manufacturing & Design Graduate Program, and co-director, Penn State CIMP-3D, “the Lockheeds, the Boeings, the Space Xs … when those companies call us out of the blue and say ‘Hey, we heard you’ve been doing cool stuff. Can we talk?’ That keeps me charged for the whole day, the whole week.”

The projects going on at CIMP-3D have been the epitome of cool stuff. Pan Computing, an AM simulating tool developed at CIMP-3D, was sold to global software company Autodesk in 2016. Joe Sinclair, one of the first graduates of the Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design program, created “the world’s easiest 3D printer,” Mantis 3D-Printer. Vortic Watches – a small batch, custom watch manufacturing and vintage restoration company that refurbishes pocket watches and 3D prints bands to turn them into wrist watches – was born at CIMP-3D. Xact Metal, an Innovation Park-based creator of 3D metal printers that fuses price and performance, was the brainchild of Matt Woods, a Penn State AM student who studied at CIMP-3D.

Over half a dozen patents have been filed within the past eight years thanks to CIMP-3D. CIMP-3D has helped an astronaut print a wrench on his 3D printer in space, and talked with execs at Estee Lauder about creating a custom beauty experience for customers. Just last week, ARL filed another patent for new sensing tech based on research gathered at the CIMP-3D lab.

One Purpose: Advancing and Deploying AM in Industry

CIMP-3D sees between $6 and $8 million per year in research and development, mostly from DoD and Navy research projects and grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It also handles industrial contracts that range from big to very small. “These small industry contracts tend to have a lot less zeros at the end of them than the government contracts,” says Simpson, “but we find a way to engage with them.” As CIMP-3D works with these small and emerging AM companies, it also works to mentor and advise them, helping them chase federal dollars, pursuing Small Business Technology Transfers (STTRs) to further fund their work.

CIMP-3D also does collaborative work with partner 3D Systems, the company responsible for commercializing 3D printing in 1988. “They were the pioneers in 3D, and now we are collaborating with them,” Simpson says, “and helping validate some of their sensors and systems.”

But no matter who it’s training or collaborating with, CIMP-3D has one purpose: to advance and deploy AM technology in industry. Because doing that, Simpson says, is the ‘killer app.’

Economy of One

“The future of manufacturing is in a world where we can customize and personalize things on demand for each user,” Simpson says.

Picture it. Instead of an auto parts store full of dusty boxes with parts for old models of cars, you can go online and order your part on demand. Instead of economies of scale, it’s an economy of one.

“The applications are limitless,” Simpson says. “It’s printing a metal tooth after losing a molar. It’s customized soles for athletic shoes. It’s glasses frames designed to exactly fit your face. The models for innovation are changing. We are seeing the public co-develop products based on what they want. It’s changing manufacturing and how we design what we design.”

Beyond the master’s degree, CIMP-3D offers a certificate, along with webinars and on-demand remote workshops for industry practitioners. It works with companies looking for AM design solutions and pairs them with undergrads working on AM senior design projects.

For more information on how CIMP-3D can help you and your industry, whether through the degree program, certification, on-demand workshops or senior AM projects, you can email cimp3d@psu.edu.

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