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April 4, 2014

3D printing demo to be part of RoboBOTS sideshows

MEADVILLE — Additive manufacturing is shaping up to be a major term in conjunction with this year’s RoboBOTS robot building competition, which will feature a three-dimensional printing demonstration courtesy of Prism Engineering of Pittsburgh.

The term describes the production of solid, three-dimensional objects in layers from the bottom up, making parts or models out of plastic or other materials.

Prism representatives said they’ve attended the RoboBOTS competition for a number of years and interest regarding the evolution of 3D printing continues to grow with its significance in local industry.

“We started doing these events over the past five or six years to educate more and more kids about 3D software and (computer-aided design),” said Dan Wilkes, Prism Engineering regional manager. “Our booth this year will be a little different with the printer there, but we’ll also talk to more industry people and educate adults as well.”

The concept and practice of 3D printing isn’t new, but the application of its technologies are constantly changing, becoming more efficient and popular over time, according to Wilkes.

“The main focus was always to build a prototype,” said Shawn Narey, 3D printer account executive for Prism Engineering. “Now it’s incorporated into everyday business, building something lighter, easier and more functional than what you have now.”

Manufacturers that once printed mere model parts or marketing tools have shifted 3D printer use into actual part production.

Companies can theoretically create just about anything from vehicle parts and mechanical components to fabrics and instruments, all with precision, time-efficiency and practical application.

“It’s a lot more practical,” Wilkes said. “I can take this and print it, make a part that saves thousands in production costs and can still be productive, rather than making high-end prototypes.”

Additive manufacturing makes shops of all sizes more effective, Narey echoed, making it a perfect fit for Crawford County, where it already has practical application with companies such as NuTec Tooling Systems and Kuhn Tool and Die of Meadville.

“It’s important and appealing,” said Brian Deane, president of NuTec and coordinator of the RoboBOTS competition for the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association. “It’s an emerging technology and we’re glad to have one at the event for kids and parents to see one if they haven’t and learn about it.”

Students are getting more exposure to these new technologies, further cementing their future application, according to Wilkes.

“Kids nowadays are used to the gaming world,” he said. “Learning new (technologies) is relatively easy for them, so for them to create 3D images to use or create items is realistically doable with virtually no heavy manufacturing.”

Keeping today’s youth aware of the latest manufacturing technologies inside the county and its school districts will positively impact local industry, he added.

“Kids coming out of high school can step into the manufacturing region at the top with rapid prototyping and 3D printing,” he said. “At the same time, they’re sort of educating adults with how easy it is.”

A Prism Engineering representative will be able to take questions at RoboBOTS with the aim of helping the public understand the countless possibilities born of different materials, processes and applications.

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

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