Len Boselovic’s Heard off the Street: Clemente Bridge souvenirs show off 3-D printing
October 31, 2016 12:00 AM
Michelle Edwards, applications engineering manager for Faro Technologies, uses a laser to collect data about the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
One of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges is being used to generate excitement about 3-D printing, a technology that is revolutionizing the way things are manufactured.
Personnel from Faro Technologies, a Lake Mary, Fla., company that makes computer-aided measuring and imaging equipment, are digitally scanning the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Faro’s scanners will direct lasers at the bridge from about two dozen angles, capturing data about the bridge’s dimensions and shape.
The data will be combined to form a digital model of the bridge that can be downloaded to 3-D printers, which can then build replicas.
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is using the project to promote an annual conference that showcases the latest in 3-D printing technology. The event, to be held in May at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, is expected to draw about 300 exhibitors and 6,500 attendees, according to Maria Conrado, SME’s event coordinator.
The digital model of the bridge developed by Faro and Direct Dimensions, a Baltimore company that will process the data from Faro’s scans, will be given to exhibitors before the conference. Ms. Conrado said they will print their own replicas of the bridge in whatever size, material and color they want. 3-D printers use a variety of materials, including metals, plastic, ceramics and carbide, she said.
The digital file also will be broken down so that a replica of the bridge can be built by combining six interlocking pieces. Each exhibitor will 3-D print one of those pieces to distribute to attendees, who can then assemble their own version of the bridge.
Making souvenirs of Pittsburgh may alert the masses to the potential of 3-D printing. But the the ability to print customized, complex parts from a variety of materials has far more important applications — like printing jaws and artificial organs, fuel nozzles for jet engines, and prototypes that help companies design new parts faster and cheaper.
NASA is experimenting with sending digital files from earth to a 3-D printer on board the International Space Station. Being able to print a tool needed for repairs on board the space vehicle would be a lot easier than sending someone back to Earth for one.
3-D printing enables companies to make complex products without bending, molding, welding, grinding and assembling various components. A digital image of the product is sliced into hundreds or thousands of layers the width of a human hair. The image is sent to a printer similar to a laser-jet printer that sprays layers of metals or other materials into a box, binding them together with a laser, a liquid glue or other means.
The technology “is quickly changing the way we manufacture everything,” said Sandra DeVincent Wolf, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University’s NextManufacturing Center.
Ms. Wolf was one of several speakers at a Wednesday press event explaining the Clemente Bridge scan and 3-D technology. Another speaker, Faro’s Michelle Edwards, said that in addition to industrial applications, her company’s scanners have been used in historical preservation as well as investigation of crime and accident scenes.
Ms. Edwards, Faro’s applications engineering manager, said the company has scanned castles in Europe as well as covered bridges in New England. When one of the bridges was washed out by a storm, the town was able to faithfully reproduce a new one based on a digital file made by scanners.
Law enforcement officials at the local, state and national level use 3-D scans to preserve crime scenes, allowing them to analyze things like the line of sight a bullet traveled or blood spatters long after they have left the scene of the crime, she said.
3-D printing’s promise is drawing significant brainpower and funding to the technology, and the Pittsburgh region is at the forefront.
CMU, the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University are teaming up with companies to develop 3-D technology in the laboratory and take it to market. General Electric recently opened a $39 million advanced manufacturing research center in Findlay. Alcoa is investing $60 million in a 3-D printing unit at its technical center in Upper Burrell. The ExOne Co., a 3-D printing company whose customers include Ford Motor and Caterpillar, is based in North Huntingdon. And America Makes, one of the advanced manufacturing research centers launched by the Obama administration, is based in Youngstown, Ohio.
Len Boselovic: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1941.
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