BTAC using 3D Printing to Manufacture Parts for Industry

The Sarnia Observer (June 16, 2014) -- In a sparse office at the Western University Research Park there's a hum as scorching hot plastic is squeezed into the shape of custom cardholders.

On a nearby table rest different plastic vents, filters and other industrial-looking parts, all built by the Bluewater Technology Access Centre's (BTAC) 3D printer.

Since March the agency that helps partner Lambton College with industries for research and development projects has been testing the $30,000 fused deposition modeling machine's capabilities.

It uses plastic coils melted to near 300 F and squeezed through a nozzle to build virtually anything, layer by layer, from a digital blueprint.

The technology has been around for decades, but is starting to take hold in Sarnia-Lambton's industrial sector, said Maike Luiken, BTAC's director.

A couple of manufacturing associations in Ontario made a very strong statement a couple of years ago, saying that if we didn't look at 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as one part of our toolbox, then Canada would fall behind, she said.
BTAC is planning to not only bolster local industries, but also build relationships and opportunities with college students by producing custom production-grade parts.

It gives students exposure to different companies, and provides companies with access to college resources, Luiken said.

Three companies have already signed on two from Chemical Valley to have prototypes made up, she said. Several others are interested.

But BTAC is buying another, more powerful 3D printer within three months that can use materials other than just plastic, and will be able to make functional parts for industry, she said. Plans are to also acquire a 3D scanner.

3D printing can be used for custom auto parts, building custom replacement teeth, or even scale replicas of a patient's body so surgeons can practice difficult operations before the real thing.

It's faster typically a matter of hours and often cheaper, to produce parts that are custom or difficult-to-find replacement's Luiken said, adding the technology could one day change how much businesses rely on warehousing.

If we can produce something on order and have it shipped in two days, then we don't need to have parts in a warehouse, she said.

The centre, formed last September, receives $350,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada per year for technology projects that foster collaboration with the college, like 3D printing.

It also receives extra funding from Lambton College and other companies, Luiken said. BTAC is hosting a pair of demonstrations June 18 at its research park locale, from 9-11 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.

We'd like to take the myth out of additive manufacturing and show the true possibilities, Luiken said.

- Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer