Plentiful polymer and thousands of businesses drive innovation across northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania
M. Holland Market Manger Todd Waddle is selling more and more polymer for additive manufacturing applications, where three-dimensional objects are created from a digital model by building layer upon layer of material.
Waddle is based in Cleveland, in a part of the country that’s home to thousands of companies in additive manufacturing, prototyping and production. Spurred by a rich concentration of plastics, chemical, rubber and technology companies, along with ready access to polymer solutions, a new additive manufacturing technology belt has arisen across northeastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Some of this is due to critical mass: Ohio ranks first nationally for the number of polymer manufacturers and number three for polymer industry employment, and the majority of those companies are in the Akron-Cleveland area. Some of it is due to education: organizations are doing a great job educating the markets that need the technology, creating demand rather than pushing new technology tools. While the region’s history as the rubber capital of the world accounts for the industry concentration, polymers should be an area of vibrant growth into the future given the proximity to the oil and natural gas-producing Utica Shale deposit, which will be a source of low-cost polymer feedstocks.
Waddle pointed out some of the biggest factors driving additive manufacturing and 3D printing in this part of the country:
- America Makes is the national additive manufacturing accelerator and incubator that opened in 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio, strategically located between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. America Makes is a public-private partnership with member organizations from industry, academia, government, non-government agencies, and workforce and economic development resources. The organization works to advance and innovate additive manufacturing technology research, discovery and innovation nationwide.
- Team NEO is the economic development organization for Northeast Ohio. Several years ago, it conducted an audit of polymer and chemical-related companies in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia concentrated near the Utica Shale deposit. As of early 2015, the three-state region had nearly 1,150 plastics manufacturers, 1,800 rubber makers and converters, about 6,370 chemical makers, and more than 8,000 plastic converters. Team NEO focuses on jobs creation and business attraction and retention in northeast Ohio.
- Akron is the self-proclaimed polymer capitol of the world, having undergone a decades-long evolution from thermoset rubber to the broader realm of all polymers. There’s even a new Akron investment firm raising capital to fund polymer start-ups in northeast Ohio.
- Colleges and universities in the region are offering degrees and graduate programs in areas like polymer science and additive manufacturing to meet the demand for skilled professionals, including the University of Akron, Penn State Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Akron is also home to the National Polymer Innovation Center and the Goodyear Polymer Center.
- In April 2016, GE established CATA, the Center for Additive Technology Advancement, located just outside Pittsburgh. CATA is a manufacturing facility charged with driving additive manufacturing innovation and implementation across the company. GE has stated it intends to sell 10,000 3D printing machines and expand additive manufacturing into a $10 billion business for itself in 10 years.
- Even the industry news outlet 3DPrint.com chooses to be headquartered in Cleveland.
3D printing isn’t just creating complex parts for jet airliners or medical devices, Waddle notes. Imagine a 3D printer on a truck that comes to your home or office to produce a needed part. Imagine a future where consumer products are manufactured digitally, on demand, by local craftsmen using desktop computers, eliminating long lead times, minimum orders and overseas transport. One of the big disrupters in this space is 3D Hubs, which is working to bring digital manufacturing to every market.
M. Holland supplies resins used in additive manufacturing including:
- Acrylonitile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), the basis of filament that is one of the most widely used materials in 3D printing
- Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate (ASA), which has exceptional strength and durability
M. Holland supplies resins used in additive manufacturing technologies including:
- Stereolithography, used to create models, prototypes and production parts layer by layer using photopolymerization.
- Selective laser sintering, or SLS, that uses a laser to bond powdered material (typically a nylon/polyamide mix) to create a solid structure.
- FDM (fused deposit modeling) used in modeling, prototyping and full production. 3D printers that use FDM technology build parts layer upon layer from the bottom up by heating and extruding thermoplastic filament.
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