3-D printing: market hype or the ‘next big thing’?

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

There’s something unusual about the doorstops at R&D Technologies Inc.’s new Quonset Business Park offices in North Kingstown. More

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3-D printing: market hype or the ‘next big thing’?

COMING ALIVE: Andy Coutu, president of R&D Technologies, and Gemma Downey inspect a 3-D-printed car seat.

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 11/18/13

There’s something unusual about the doorstops at R&D Technologies Inc.’s new Quonset Business Park offices in North Kingstown.

Instead of getting them at a big-box store or clicking on the website of an online office supplier, company employees drew them up on a computer, walked down the hall and printed them.

Rhode Island’s only retailer of 3-D printers, R&D Technologies believes that in the not-too-distant future, most companies and many individuals will make a wide array of products themselves, many more complicated than doorstops, now made in factories and sold in stores.

Like the Internet or robotics, 3-D printing entrepreneurs say the technology has the potential to cause an “industrial revolution” capable of reshaping traditional manufacturing and retailing.

“I have said in 20 years everyone will have one of these in their home,” said Andy Coutu, CEO of R&D Technologies. “You break a spoon and make another one; a switch breaks on a washing machine, you will download a plan for it from Maytag and print it.”

As advances in 3-D printing accelerate, a growing number of Rhode Island designers, academics and business leaders want to make sure the state is driving this disruptive technology instead of reacting to it.

At organizations such as Betaspring and AS220, groups of designers, tinkerers and entrepreneurs are getting together to work on products, inventions and opportunities to take advantage of 3-D printing.

And early next month Bryant University’s Chafee Center for International Business is hosting a conference called “3-D Printing: Creating a Maker Culture in Rhode Island.” The event will feature not only 3-D printing experts, but executives from some of the leading companies in the state, including GTECH S.p.A., Ximedica LLC and Astro-Med Inc.

“Still right now only about 1 percent of manufacturers are using it, but growth is expected to be exponential in the next several years,” said Ray Fogarty, director of the Chafee Center. “We are trying to keep looking at global and national developments to learn from what they are doing that can make our manufacturing more progressive.”

Although many people may not have heard about it until recently, 3-D Printing has been around since the 1980s and is used by a wide range of industries, including manufacturers and architects, mostly for prototyping and modeling.

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