For Island manufacturers, a rapid-prototyping boost

Full reverse: Technician Guangyu He gives the MTRC's Artec Reverse Engineering scanner a whirl.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Albany will offer rapid prototyping services to Long Island manufacturers through the state’s regional Manufacturing Extension Partnership center.

Stocked with 3D printers, laser-etchers and other frontline maker tech, the new User Facility Center – part of Stony Brook University’s Manufacturing and Technology Research Consortium,  tucked inside SBU’s Center of Excellence for Wireless and Information Technology – aims to carry early-stage innovations “from idea to [computer-assisted design] to printing,” according to MTRC Program Manager Cynthia Colon.

“The goal is to create a rapid-prototyping facility,” Colon told Innovate LI. “This is all about our mission, to give these companies that step up to the next level – to go from an idea to an actual, tangible prototype, and to speed up the manufacturing process.”

To that end, the User Facility Center stocks a quarter-million dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art tech, including a resin-based, FDA-biocompatible Objet 30 Prime 3D printer (among several resin- and liquid polymer-based 3D printers); an Affinia EinScan-SP 3D scanner, ideal for reverse-engineering; and a broad-spectrum Epilog Fusion M2‐32, packing a 60-watt laser for all your laser-engraving and fume-extracting needs.

Users can also access the MAXIEM 1515 jet-machining center, a hunk of cutting-edge ingenuity that water-jets precise machine parts into existence, located in SBU’s nearby Heavy Engineering building.

Cynthia Colon: So prototypical.

Inexperienced users will get help with the jet-machining center and other next-level equipment from student technicians, who will be on call to help visitors operate the radical tools, Colon noted.

“These are graduate students,” she added. “And if a company needs anything beyond what the graduate students can do, we’ll pull in one of our expert professors.”

Together, the tools and talent pack more prototyping punch than most companies can afford to stock on their own – particularly early-stage companies banking on an innovative dream.

“Anybody can go buy a $5,000 desktop 3D printer – we have two of those,” Colon said. “We also have a $60,000 resin-based 3D printer and a $20,000 reverse-engineering scanner.

“And a company can also buy a printer but not have the specific skills to use it,” she added. “Such as, knowing what kind of resin does what.”

The exact tech lineup was set based on the specific requirements of regional manufacturers – “We started taking notes as to what companies’ real needs were,” Colon noted – and because of that covers a broad range of prototype-manufacturing and business-development stages, from the drawing board to the edge of commercialization.

“We expect every company to come into the User Facility Center at a different stage,” Colon said. “They may have an idea, or they have a prototype that needs engraving or special cutting, or maybe they need help with a business plan or a connection to the Small Business Development Center.

“Maybe they need to test the prototype, so we’ll connect them with other internal or external program partners,” she added. “When they come in, we’ll take a good look and see what the next step is.”

The business-development benefits are plentiful and obvious – and best of all, at least for the Long Island innovation economy, is the User Facility Center’s regional nature: The facility is limited to companies based in Nassau or Suffolk counties, who won’t have to pay an hourly rate or other fees, just cover the cost of consumable materials and the technicians time.

The $250,000 center is fully funded by the Empire State Development Corp.’s MEP program and will be a good friend to regional innovators needing a boost to get over the commercialization line, according to Colon.

“This has been some time coming,” she noted. “Interviewing companies, understanding their exact needs, putting everything together.

“We’re very excited to reach out to all those companies that assisted us in gathering the information,” Colon added. “And to start helping the companies already reaching out to us.”