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SPECIAL REPORT: Manufacturing the Future

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3D printing is more than just printing out plastic models. Large corporations involved in aerospace engineering use 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, when it comes to creating parts.  

“All the aerospace companies now are looking for ways to minimize weight. It reduces their efficiency obviously and with the wave of 3D printers, they’re able to do some operations that may have taken 47 separate operations and then maybe even come back after that and do some micro welding. But with this, you can 3D print the part all in one part,” said GCSC Engineering Technology Professor, Alan Jeffries.

It’s not just aerospace companies getting involved with this technology, but also one state college located right in the heart of Panama City. 

“It’s really amazing. It’s allowing us to design things that we never could manufacture before using materials that we could never use before. So I think it’s going to be a wave of the future,” said Jeffries. 

Jeffries has been an engineering technology professor at Gulf Coast State College for a few years now. Not only does he instruct courses that use 3D printing technology but he also oversees the pre-employment training program in their college. The program works hand and hand with GKN. 

“It’s 40 hours and they get hands-on with composite lay-up, and some fabrication and assembly. For our program, part of that digital manufacturing… we’re actually implementing a composite lay-up into that program as well,” said Jeffries. 

Students have joined the program simply out of curiosity and have ended up loving the work they do. 

“I decided to try a few classes out and this is like the most fun I’ve ever had,” said GCSC Digital Manufacturing Student, Taylor Schwitz. 

Jeffries encourages anyone interested in learning about additive manufacturing to look into the program. 

“They can go through our program and they may not have had the background with manufacturing, but now they’ll get that,” he said.

Jeffries went on to say that although it is a lengthy process, 3D printing is efficient and can be done using various materials. “You can put the different materials in for whatever application you’re looking for whether it be some type of plastic, nylon, you can even do carbon fiber filament,” he said. 

One of the biggest benefits of additive manufacturing is the reduced waste. “Traditional methods are machining. You would use metal, different types of metal and you’d start off with a block of it and machine away the material of it and end up with your part,” said Jeffries. 

“Aerospace industry continues to grow at a significant rate. The global economy is dictating added need for travel inside the US but as equally important, internationally. As more business partnerships are leverage world wide the demand for travel will continue to grow and develop. Increased demand will lead to the need of reduced costs in development, manufacturing and the sustainment of the air fleet. Less weight and size leads to lower fuel costs, a primary driver in ticket prices you and I pay as consumers. Higher levels of reliability, increased safety, ease of repair are all significant considerations driving composite needs in aerospace.   Composite manufacturing requires less lead time, fewer expensive tools, reduced waste of metals and most importantly a faster time to market than past aircraft designs,” said Preston Mathis with GKN Aerospace. 

The pre-employment training program would help students in the program get recruited for large aerospace companies. 

“There’s always going to be a demand. Other companies are looking to come into the area so we foresee this as a big opportunity for Bay County,” said Jeffries. 

Aerospace companies like ACMT, who specialize in creating these parts through additive manufacturing, have created a center in Lynn Haven because of the program at Gulf Coast State College. 

“We look forward to the vision and working together going forward,” said President and Founder of ATMC South LLC, Michael Polo.

Students in the program agree that the program is unlike any other. “There’s a lot of opportunities here in regards to advanced manufacturing, engineering technology, even just engineering itself,” said Landon McCoy, GCSC Engineering Student.

“Composite manufacturing has been around for many years. Most notable in the automotive industry, model making, etc. Today’s need for increased safety, lower cost, and high quality / reliability with improved time to market cannot be ignored and composite manufacturing in the aerospace industry, will not new, will only grow and further develop. The need for highly skilled bonding, layup, and assembly technicians will grow. Such talent lead to better than average paying jobs. Technical disciplines of engineering supported by advanced mathematics, writing, reading, etc. lead to a stronger society and a stronger work force. It is a global economy and the importance to develop educational programs to support the growing need is only common sense and the right thing to do,” said Mathis. 

In fact, this program makes some students look forward to coming to class. “My favorite room honestly is the additive manufacturing room because you have just 3D printer after 3D printer, after 3D printer. It’s just amazing. I wasn’t expecting them to have so much,” McCoy said. 

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