By Jared Hunt
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – 3-D technology isn’t just for movie theatres and comic books anymore. In fact, it may very well reshape the landscape for American manufacturing.
It’s all thanks to advances in 3-D printing, also called additive manufacturing, which has seen tremendous growth in the last few years.
“It’s a quiet revolution,” said Marty Spears, spokesman for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.
3-D printers turn digital designs into three-dimensional models. Printers can be fed a variety of substances – usually plastics or metal – to build the products layer by layer until they are complete.
RCBI has three such printers at locations in South Charleston and Huntington.
The largest printer in South Charleston, which is about the size of a minivan, uses spools of thin plastic wire to build 3-D models.
“It works much like a hot glue gun,” said Chris Figgatt, manufacturing specialist and technical trainer at RCBI.
“It heats (the plastic wire) up and then it just squirts it out at a layer that’s about as thick as a human hair. And then it just goes back and forth adding material, stacking it layer upon layer until you have a finished part out of it.”
Figgatt said the technology has been around for about 20 years, but developments over the last five to seven years have caused the industry to explode.
“It’s an emerging industry, and it’s really incredible what it can be used for,” he said.
NASA has recently considered using 3-D printers to build everything from spare parts for space stations to lunar bases during space missions.1 2 next >>