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Is 3D Technology the Next Major Industry for Edmonton?

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It’s no secret that energy is Alberta’s economy-driving industry, but as the dust settles on the latest recession and the energy industry begins to build itself back up, another industry is showing its economy-building potential in Edmonton: 3D technology.

 

“The applications are endless, explains Kevin McTavish, VP of manufacturing, Drader Manufacturing Industries, Ltd. “3D printing allows a design concept to be realized in a very short period of time. Companies can look at their idea in a solid form without committing capital into production molds and equipment. We have produced parts in dozens of different industries for many companies across the country. We use 3D technology to quickly assure our customers that a design is robust and worthy of the risk for product development and production. We use 3D printing in-house to create parts and components that are not readily available off the shelf, saving resources and time.”

“It really depends on the end goal of the product or part one is looking to make,” continues McTavish. “If you want to mass produce a part and use 3D tech to prove a concept, then several factors must be considered. If you want to create a ‘one-off,’ then design, print, and go. Either way, 3D tech is a fantastic tool to meet these goals. The technology is open source, so it can be very inexpensive to get started.”

It is innovative technology that enables manufacturing processes to operate more efficiently for companies, and that, McTavish explains, carries benefits, including “improved resource allocation, time and money savings in product development, and business diversification.”

“Whether you are outsourcing the technology or buying equipment for DIY, do your due diligence,” McTavish stresses. “You get what you pay for. You can use 3D technology at the local library for free, or you can approach a company, such as Drader, that has plastic part designers and engineers. The results will be drastically different.”

Bryce Borgel, principal and lead designer, Titan Innovative Designs, agrees that 3D technology has numerous benefits, but he is also noticing a big difference when it comes to the way 3D technologies are interacting with the design industry.

“The world of 3D is completely changing the way we can design, manufacture, and develop products,” Borgel explains. “A 3D object now holds so much information. As a designer, if you design a 3D product on your computer, you will reference that one object in a multitude of scenarios. A simple 3D object contains: physical dimensions, material specifications, shape, and profile. That information can be used for 3D printing and prototyping; 3D analysis (engineering and stress analysis, applying gravity and weight loads, and analyzing reactions); manufacturing purposes with machine shops, fabricators, sheet metal, etc.; and it can be used for marketing, applying finishes, colours, materials, reflections, backgrounds, and scenes (perfect parts)—all of this from a ‘simple’ 3D file that you spent some hours creating.”

Borgel observes, “In our current economy, 3D tech is helping companies diversify and pivot a lot easier, whether you find your niche in 3D scanning, printing, or design. This helps shape an ever-growing culture of people pushing the limits of the tech beyond its capabilities.”

“High school students are now doing what we could have only dreamed of 20 years ago,” he laughs.

“3D technology is already being used in a multitude of industries in Edmonton.

Fred Estlin is the general manager of Ivy Devices Inc., one Grande Prairie-based company that has benefited from the 3D technology offered by Titan Innovative Designs.

“We developed a product to reduce the risk of medical line entanglement in response to the 2001 death of a 10-month-old infant in an Edmonton hospital,” Estlin explains. “We have redesigned the product in conjunction with front line pediatric nurses to better accommodate today’s needs.”

“I contacted Bryce after a web search for 3D printing,” he continues. “I won the lotto on that one. Not only did I get 3D, but I also got a highly creative guy on the design side.”

The team-up was a successful one. Six prototypes later, Estlin was looking at a new product that could meet today’s demands—without blowing the budget.

“Six evolving prototypes done by 3D have saved us many, many thousands of dollars, and the months of trial and error that would have been involved if we had to build plastic injection molds to test the product,” Estlin says.

“For prototyping, you can’t beat 3D technologies, and the day is coming when waiting for parts to come will be a thing of the past”—and that will apply to numerous industries, Estlin predicts.

Kelly John Rose, CEO of Panda Rose Consulting Studios, Inc., agrees on the potential of 3D technology—but with one distinct difference: “The technology is not coming; it is here.”

“All we need is for people to take the time to invest and use it,” says Rose. “This will change how we all do business in the next 20 years.”

Rose explains, “3D technology, both virtual reality and 3D printing, will become society changing technologies as they mature. Whereas 2D technologies, like computer displays and the printing press, changed how we interacted with information, 3D technology changes how we will see and interact with the world.

“We can create complex worlds to immerse ourselves with no concern for cost or safety. With VR (virtual reality), I can experience my day in a café in Paris with a laptop. After work, I can sit down with a friend and defuse a virtual bomb for fun. I can train my staff on a dangerous task by having them practice first in a virtual world before real lives and assets are at risk.

“This is where the opportunities really lie. Right now, the Oculus and other VR stores are in their infancy, like the App Store was in 2008 and 2009. There are so many new users onboarding, and there is so much virgin territory in which companies can build new and useful apps—the companies that get it together now will have a ground floor position in a strong upcoming economy,” Rose predicts.

“With 3D printing it is similar,” he continues. “The tech is getting cheaper and cheaper, and the opportunity to provide services that simply did not exist before in history is opening full new markets. An oil well with a 3D printer can print any part it needs rather than having to pay for a hot shot delivery. A small 3D printing company in a more rural community can provide custom parts for the locals, saving them money and time on their projects.

“While 3D printing has been around since the 80s, until recently the machines were expensive, big, slow, and printed plastic only. Now, 3D printers are affordable, they print in a variety of materials, like wood, plastic, and metal; and they are getting faster every year. Everything from cookie cutters to jet engines are printed with 3D printers.

“Full manufacturing facilities are being set up worldwide, which print pretty much anything on demand. Even the space station has an active 3D printer they use to create the custom parts they need as they need them.”

Rose concludes, “Edmonton has a unique possibility to take strong advantage of this technology. We are a working, industrious city. We don’t want to work with new technology if it doesn’t push us forward; we want to work with it if it makes our jobs and lives easier. I believe that, with the proper training, we could become a hub for manufacturing around 3D printing, and a center for virtual reality development.

The benefits and opportunities are myriad. All it takes is some capital investment in the training and equipment, and the chutzpah to take advantage of them.”

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