Justin Coutu is president of North Kingstown’s R&D Technologies, which provides 3-D printing consulting services and is the New England reseller of the full Stratasys Ltd. line of 3-D printers. The company is twice-recognized by Providence Business News as one of the fastest-growing companies in Rhode Island.
PBN: What is a popular use of 3-D technology among your customers right now?
COUTU: It serves many purposes within a design and manufacturing process. The applications are very specific for each industry and company – from aerospace to medical research to medical devices to consumer goods. Companies use the technology for concept modeling, form, fit, functionality, as well as jigs, fixtures and multiple tooling applications. 3-D printing plays a big role determining flaws in the design process of a product; multiple iterations of a design are built and tested on 3-D printers prior to a company investing resources on models and machining.
PBN: It seems as if there are so many stories of cool uses of the technology. You had one on your company blog about the NFL putting 3-D functionality to good use.
COUTU: I can only mention that with the use of Stratasys additive manufacturing, the carbon fiber cleat was built, tested, modified many times with a very limited window to have ready for a Super Bowl promotion. This would not have been possible had it not been for the speed, accuracies, low material costs and intuitive software of Stratasys additive manufacturing technology.
PBN: What are some of the challenges that exist around 3-D technology today?
COUTU: Many companies do not see the major benefits of investing in additive manufacturing. Years ago, the industry was known more as SLA, or stereolithography, which was an expensive, in-depth way of 3-D printing models. The industry is now at a bit of a crossroads, where the hobby-level machines have flooded the market. These machines were not supported properly, had major reliability issues and built mediocre parts. Being in this field for 10 years, I see that companies are afraid to make a bad investment and don’t have the proper guidance as to what technology and machine is best-suited for their specific needs and applications.
PBN: What are some innovative prototypes being made or conceptual models using 3-D printing?
COUTU: Being part of a global network, we have the benefit of seeing so many different applications, ranging from defense, aerospace, medical research, medical device, consumer goods, consumer electronics, automotive, architectural, service bureaus and job shops. Due to nondisclosure agreements I have in place with my customers, I cannot mention specifically what these customers are building on their machines. I can say that they are using 3-D printing as a pivotal part of their design and manufacturing processes to get better products out to market more efficiently, with less errors, less waste, with less material used and reduced labor costs.
PBN: We understand that R&D has a robust internship program. Can you tell us about that, and why you created it?
COUTU: Some 10 years ago, many universities, technical colleges and high schools were starting to become more involved with 3-D printing. I started our internship program to help educate students in this exciting, growing industry. Once I was able to make the right contacts at these schools, I was able to better educate on the major benefits of investing in additive manufacturing/3-D printing.
In order to boost enrollment, you must invest in the curriculum of the engineering programs for the students. The internship program gave me a great pool of highly educated engineering students to consider for positions at R&D Technologies. I believe all local companies should try to offer that opportunity to our local schools by simply reaching out. Students graduating with a background in 3-D printing get an edge in a highly competitive tech industry … I am happy to help my former interns land those tough jobs.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.