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SCC at work: SCC trains local employees in 3D printing to advance careers, position for future opportunities

3 employees developing a custom part in 3d printing lab
L-R Rhonda Crawford, Micah Wooldridge and Winston Crawford designing the custom steering wheel center for the PUG utility vehicle.
jenkins and wooldridge
L-R Bryan Jenkins and Michael Wooldridge printing a custom design on 3D technology.
joe crawford in 3D printing lab

Joe Crawford (green shirt) looks on as his employees are learning 3D printing technology.

A Somerset company is training its entire team on how to use additive manufacturing (3D printing) in order to stand out from the competition and position itself for future manufacturing opportunities.

Frog Pond Manufacturing, owned by Joe Crawford of Somerset, currently makes the Frog Pond PUG, a utility vehicle designed exclusively for heavy duty and off road use. When Crawford learned about the additive manufacturing opportunities at SCC, he decided to enlist the help of Eric Wooldridge, a licensed mechanical engineer and coordinator of SCC’s additive manufacturing/3D printing program, and his team, to design part of the PUG's steering wheel.

Crawford decided to train his team because of the extreme cost savings he could get by printing out custom parts, he said.  "The center cap of the steering wheel was custom designed by SCC as an example of the power of 3D printing," said Crawford. "I could not buy that part anywhere and I can now immediately have it at my fingertips. It can save me a ton of money, I can have an immediate return on my investment, a much quicker turnaround time for production and I have control over my product.”

The more Crawford learned about additive manufacturing, though, the more interested he became in the future of the technology.  Now, Crawford is working with SCC to train his entire family and team of employees to implement additive manufacturing not only on the PUG utility vehicle, but also to position Frog Pong Manufacturing to be ready to take on future manufacturing opportunities that involve printing.  "Joe wanted his team to be in on the ground floor of this technology change, and be positioned for its integration in every industry from manufacturing to biomedical," said Wooldridge.

Is additive manufacturing going to change Kentucky's workforce?

Like Crawford, many companies who are slowly beginning to implement additive manufacturing into the scope of their projects soon realize the drastic impact 3D printing technology will have on manufacturing across the globe.

According to Wooldridge, many people think Kentucky's biggest export is automotive manufacturing; however, the states cabinet for economic development reports that of Kentucky's $29.2 billion in exports, nearly half of that ($10.9 billion) is actually in aerospace, compared to $5.5 billion in automotive.

"What's significant about our exports is that aerospace manufacturing is changing, and it's happening faster than experts predicted," said Wooldridge.

In fact, Airbus, Boeing, Honeywell, the US Airforce, GE and others, are already taking significant steps to transition toward additive manufacturing by designing and printing numerous aerospace parts that are extremely complex. For example, GE recently invested $2 billion dollars in metal printing applications, and we are already seeing the results in the new Blackhawk helicopter engine design, said Wooldridge. The result? An engine that has a reported 161% increase in range, he said.

Another example, Wooldridge said, is Honeywell's contract with Sintavia to provide additive manufactured parts for airline, general aviation, spacecraft, and defense application. In response, Sintavia just financed a new $15 million additive manufacturing facility in Florida.

Why should Kentucky care?

According to Wooldridge, the changes on the horizon could either spell success or disaster for Kentucky.

"What is at stake here are jobs, production contracts, potential for new manufacturing facility developments," said Wooldridge. "For example, GE has stated that their printed Advanced turboprop engine (ATP) has a 20 percent lower mission fuel burn, a five percent weight reduction and reduced an assembly of 855 separate parts down to 12 that were 3D printed in metal."

To put it more plainly, vendor subcontracts for those conventional 855 parts used in that engine prior to 3D printing have been lost or changed. The transition is saving GE money, increasing efficiency, saving time and bringing a better product to market, says Wooldridge, but also resulted in those conventional subcontractors losing significant income.

And it's not just aerospace companies that are changing. Cars, hearing aids, space programs, cities, construction, surgeons, dentists, shipbuilders, agriculture, the military and even shoe companies are jumping on the bandwagon and seeing what additive manufacturing can do for them.

"These changes make sense," Wooldridge said. "Companies can create a more complex, more customizable product for less time and money. And they can constantly innovate their products because they are no longer limited by retooling requirements. The flipside, though, is that jobs have already been changed or lost and the same can happen in Kentucky if our workforce is not prepared."

What can be done?

According to Gartner, a technology research firm, 75 percent of aircraft will use 3D printed parts, 25 percent of surgeons will practice on 3D printed models before surgery and 20 percent of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will use 3D printing to create custom products by 2021, Wooldridge said.  Programs such as SCC's additive manufacturing/3D printing initiative can help manufacturers, like Frog Pond Manufacturing, stay on top of the trend and be ready to strike when as new opportunities present themselves.

"Our mission is to create a strong, capable workforce," Wooldridge said of the community college. "Our number one goal is to educate people not only about the opportunities that already exist with this technology, but also train them how to capitalize on it for their own business or future opportunities.  We must get people trained who can walk in to a manufacturer and say, 'I can do that.' Having basic knowledge about additive manufacturing may not only help Kentucky keep jobs, but a trained workforce also has the power to bring completely new job opportunities here."

SCC currently offers a certificate in additive manufacturing/3D printing, but also offers additional training through the college's Workforce Solutions program. Those additional classes are what Crawford and his team took advantage of to learn more about the technology, even building their own printer to use at Frog Pond Manufacturing.

To find out more about SCC's additive manufacturing/3D printing program, contact Wooldridge at eric.wooldridge@kctcs.edu or visit the them on Facebook.