Bluewater Technology Access Centre Holds Open House

The Sarnia Observer (February 19, 2015) -- The doors were open Thursday at a new college laboratory working with local companies to develop and test 3D-printed prototypes for manufacturing.

Lambton College's Bluewater Technology Access Centre (BTAC) was hosting an open house at its Additive Manufacturing Laboratory, showing off its space at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.

The space is a classroom for five engineering and business students who work with facilitators and the lab's two 3D printers, 3D scanner, and precision measurement devices to help companies develop prototypes faster and cheaper than through mold-making, said Maike Luiken, the centre's director.

Technically, we are in the process of having three prototypes right now in the works, she said.

Details are pending because patents are in the works for at least two, she said, adding that, in vague terms, they're parts for residential construction, and a synthetic alternative to an existing metal product.

More information could be released soon, she said.

The additive manufacturing lab, in use since last March, just received its crown jewel a $250,000 selective laser sintering (SLS) printer in December, she said.

The technology, which uses a high-power laser to craft complex, functional parts out of plastic powder sometimes with glass and aluminum additives has launched BTAC into full production and development mode, said Luiken.

Another fused deposition modeling printer the lab was using earlier last year can't create the same robust structures, she said.

This, you can drop it on the floor it won't break, she said, holding a gear-like SLS-printed piece.

You can stomp on those, she said.

Altogether, Luiken estimated $350,000 has been invested in the equipment, paid for in part from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grants.

Helping industries develop part and production concepts isn't a money-making venture, said college president Judith Morris, who was also touring the lab Thursday.

We're an educational institution and it is all about our students, she said. This lab is of particular interest because of the innovation that will allow these students to be real drivers in innovation when they get out into the work world.

The environment also helps connect students with prospective employers, she said.

One of those students, Elvis Omonua, is in the midst of his chemical production and power engineering technology program at Lambton, building onto his electrical and electronics engineering degree from Nigeria.

He said he works on modelling, drawing parts with computer-aided design (CAD) software, and putting the finishing touches on printed parts.

It's been a good experience, he said.

BTAC also plans to use measuring technology, including a robotic arm and a laser line probe, to reverse-engineer parts where the information needed to print may be incomplete.

To date, BTAC has worked on seven prototypes, Luike said.

- Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer