Small New York School Leads in 3D Printing

Student 3Dprinting in MakerBot Lab

The State University of New York at New Paltz, or SUNY New Paltz, is a small state school about 100 miles north of New York City, and it’s well on its way to becoming a national leader in 3D printing and education.

What began as a brainstorming session between a couple of deans on how to interconnect arts and science through 3D printing is now a widely publicized initiative with nearly $12 million in public and private funding.

It’s a collaborative endeavor that extends beyond the academic community into the entire Hudson Valley, as the school, state officials, and private businesses join together to foster new economic growth for the area.

Aaron Lown, a long-time user of 3D printing, is a local inventor taking advantage of the school’s offerings. He recently sold his BuiltNY.com business to his partners and is using the 3D printing to help him build his next venture.

“I want to use materials from businesses in the area, so I found a glass factory nearby and design glass vessels for home décor with New Paltz’s 3D printing,” Lown says. “I resolved all the manufacturing issues in the prototype stage with the 3D printingand now we’re in the tooling stage.”

Lown adds that seeing his prototypes in a 3D-printed piece is like opening up a present. “As a designer, it’s very gratifying, and as a business person, it’s a very efficient process.”

The largest chunk of money, $10 million, which is part of New York State’s NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant program, will help establish an Engineering Innovation Hub at the college.

The hub will house state-of-the-art engineering equipment and support the work of companies partnering with SUNY New Paltz through the 3D printing program.

This endeavor alone is expected 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 region. It will also be home to a mechanical engineering program that has recently been authorized by the New York State Education Department.

The influx of funds into the 3D printing initiative has also led to a number of additional projects including the creation of a Digital Design and Fabrication (DDF) certificate program at the university, and a partnership between the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center and 3D Systems to help build a regional hub for 3D printing.

A newly built MakerBot Innovation Center houses 30 MakerBot desktop 3D printers for use by students and local businesses. Individuals can email designs to the center, where art and engineering interns man the printers, and have them come to life in 3D for a nominal fee.

“We’ve touched a nerve in this area, because without even advertising we quickly had 40 clients that wanted to use our services for their business or their inventions,” says Daniel Freedman, dean of SUNY New Paltz School of Science and Engineering and director of the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center.

The 3D printing program has led to some interesting projects for the school. “We printed a prosthetic hand for a young boy for about $20a task that couldn’t be done five years ago,” Freedman says.

The school has also printed a prosthetic limb for a sheep at a near-by animal sanctuary, and a 12-foot jump post at a horse show in the shape of a horse tranquilizer syringe.

“We’ve also produced a part for an electrical contractor who was at his wit’s end because the part couldn’t be sourced,” Freedman explains. “Traditional methods would have required three days and a minimum of 20 pieces at who knows what cost. We did it in about an hour for $10.”

Freedman believes that 3D printing is not a technology fad, but something as fundamentally important as PCs were in their heyday. “3D printing is really transformational,” he says. “It gives people more freedom to design and fabricate in a way that would not have been possible five years ago.”

“This is going to open up lots of possibilities,” Freedman continues. “Especially in manufacturing, where it will become much easier to make one-of-a-kind objects.”

Photo courtesy of The State University of New York at New Paltz

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