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National Center for Rapid Technologies

February 17, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:20

Saddleback College (Mission Viejo, California) is the home of the National Center for Rapid Technologies (RapidTech), a four-year program funded by the National Science Foundation. NSF approved the Center in September 2007. RapidTech will assist industry and education with rapid technologies for prototyping, tooling, manufacturing, and reverse engineering. A major emphasis of RapidTech is the preparation of technicians for the world of work.

Many excellent colleges are active in rapid technologies across the country, so why did NSF select Saddleback for the Center? Saddleback’s Advanced Technology Center is at the forefront of offering hands-on experiences in additive fabrication (AF) technologies. The Center currently operates large-format stereolithography from Sony, two 3D printers from Z Corp., a Dimension machine from Stratasys, two 3D printers from 3D Systems, a laser cutting system, a CNC router, a vacuum forming machine, three laser scanners, and several CAD systems. What’s more, Saddleback is planning to acquire additional equipment.

For several years, Saddleback has offered weeklong National Teacher Training Workshops for colleges across the U.S. Over the past few years, 50-60 instructors and administrators have attended each year. This important activity has led to the adoption of AF technology by more than 80 institutions of higher education into their instructional programs.

Saddleback College also works extensively with private industry. It processes 2–3 industrial projects per week (an estimated 120 annually), which provide financial support to the institution. The projects involve new product development and prototyping across many industries, including consumer products, aerospace, motor vehicles, medical, architecture, and entertainment. After introducing new methods and technologies to companies, Saddleback refers them to those who offer commercial services, thus reducing the likelihood of competing with service providers.

Indeed, Saddleback is a community college that stands out. Having attended the first RapidTech Industry Advisory Board meeting last month and last week’s NSF National Visiting Committee meeting, both at Saddleback College, I can say without reservation that the Center is on track. I found that these two volunteer groups from industry and education have offered RapidTech nothing but support and excitement. Stay tuned because I expect that you’ll be hearing more about Saddleback College and RapidTech in the future.

Biggest Advancement of the Year

February 3, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education — Terry Wohlers @ 16:01

Meghan Connolly, editor of Time-Compression Technologies magazine, recently asked, “What has been the biggest gain, improvement, or advancement over the past year for RP/RM?” The following was my response.

Many interesting advances have occurred. However, the one that stands out the most is the increased popularity of additive fabrication (AF) technology at schools. Almost weekly, I come across an article, news piece, or blog on how a school is putting the technology to work. And, it’s not only colleges and universities. High schools are finding ways to purchase systems and this is exciting to see. Just recently, I visited a high school here in Fort Collins, Colorado and the CAD instructor said he is considering the purchase of an AF system.

This educational activity is critically important to the future of the industry because graduates are entering the workforce with knowledge of what these systems have to offer. These graduates are our future customers, employees, and decision makers. Although it’s difficult to quantify, the multiplier effect from education is undoubtedly increasing awareness of AF for modeling, prototyping, and pattern-making applications. I hope that instructors and lab managers are also introducing students to the use of AF technology for custom and replacement part manufacturing, short-run production, and series production. A growing number of corporate users are applying it to the actual manufacture of end-use parts, so our schools are in a position to support this important trend.