Don't call it 3-D printing: It's Additive Manufacturing
By Jennifer Hetrick - Reading Eagle Correspondent
Tuesday January 12, 2016
Joseph Sinclair is the 21-year-old behind a successful 3-D printing and prototyping startup in State College.
But he first delved into this field while a student at Penn State Berks.
Sinclair is from Cumru Township and began his college career in Berks County in 2012 with an accelerated course load.
A job fair on campus led to him learning about 3-D printing from vendors, and that sparked his interest in what would eventually be his career.
Sinclair explained that while consumers know his work as 3-D printing, those in this industry would never use this term. They refer to it, instead, as additive manufacturing.
In his fall semester of 2013, while still in Berks County, Sinclair started Joe's Rapid Prototyping as a hobby before officially opening Solid Dynamics LLC in College Township, Centre County, in early 2014.
He finished his double major with bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering in spring 2015 on Penn State's main campus.
Sinclair also has several patents pending for 3-D printers that will make the printing process more efficient than current models on the market.
Even though patents on the first forms of additive manufacturing from the 1980s began to expire in the 2000s, there has been increasing and widespread adoption and innovation of the technology.
Explaining how the old days went takes a lot longer than how Sinclair's team practices efficiency and speed with ease today.
"If it was 1990, and I had a product that I wanted to prototype," Sinclair said, "I would have somebody draft up 2-D drawings for me. If they were really advanced at the time, they would be able to have access to 3-D drawings, but it's not very likely. So it'd most likely be 2-D drawings. It would take months to do, to work back and forth with a person to get the right dimensions.
"Then you would ship those 2-D drawings to a middleman, who would find the best casting or injection-molding company to produce your components," he said. "You would then have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, on top of the thousands of dollars you would have paid initially, to get the 2-D drawings done."
There's no long story short in the old process.
"They would then cast an x amount of prototypes for you," Sinclair said, "and that would cost an additional couple thousand dollars. It would take anywhere from about a year to a year-and-a-half for all of this work, and $20,000 to $30,000 on a very small component. Then you would do multiple iterations of that, so now we're talking a couple more years. Then you would have your final prototype done, which you would then produce thousands of and sell commercially."
Sinclair's employees usually work side by side with clients, or remotely if necessary, to do this same work of designing and fabricating projects within a few weeks or less, across several iterations of designs.
"We have the machines literally right next to the computers that design your component, and we know how to run those machines, so we can have your component done overnight after you give us the go-ahead to build it," Sinclair said. "It's taken down what would have been years in the late 1990s and early 2000s to what is now less than a month to fabricate prototypes."
And speed blended with efficiency and accuracy is nearly its own commodity.
"Our largest build volume is 10 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches, which is fairly large for this industry when it comes to polymer machines," Sinclair said.
Sinclair also works full time remotely for Imperial Machine & Tool Co. in Blairstown Township, Warren County, N.J., as its head engineer for hybrid processes, in addition to running his own business in Pennsylvania.
John Shelp is the chief technology officer of Imperial Machine & Tool and has worked on several projects with Sinclair.
"We've had some military jobs with him," Shelp said about Sinclair's business.
Shelp noted that a lot of small, complex parts that often are thin-walled and very lightweight are what Sinclair has made for Imperial Machine & Tool.
"Some of them have cooling channels inside," he said.
A Great Asset
Shelp said Sinclair's knowledge and technological understanding has been a great asset, given that many of those in the manufacturing industry are trained in subtractive approaches.
While most of Sinclair's work is polymer-based, Shelp said he consults with Sinclair on metal additive manufacturing projects as well.
Sinclair also works with Novasentis Inc., which has an office in his same building and California.
"Novasentis Inc. manufactures electromechanical polymer actuators," said Rick Ducharme, vice president of engineering. "These are very thin, like a sheet of paper, pieces of plastic that can bend, vibrate and create sounds. We use these actuators in wearable electronic devices, such as fitness watchbands, to provide meaningful notifications.
"For example, instead of only feeling a buzz that is the same whether you are receiving a phone call, text message or reached an exercise goal, we can provide different tactile signals and patterns around the wrist that convey the content of the notification."
Ducharme noted that he often has components produced by Sinclair's team within a few days or up to a week.
"We collaborate with the major consumer electronics companies that work at a tremendous pace," Ducharme said. "Having a team like Solid Dynamics LLC not only located close, but also able to turn around iterations of parts within a day, gives us a huge advantage in designing, prototyping and optimizing our parts and references for customers.
"You can imagine the value of showing up at a Samsung, or an Apple meeting with a product that looks and feels like theirs but has added functionality from your component. It eliminates a ton of their integration questions and allows them to focus on the user experience. More importantly, it allows us to be designed into products much faster than we could using traditional prototyping efforts. And for a startup, that is key."
Contact Jennifer Hetrick: firstname.lastname@example.org.