To explore how technology can make business more competitive, companies in and outside of New York state are looking to RIT’s 3,300-square-foot, $3 million Digital Manufacturing and Product Realization Lab on the fourth floor of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS), which opened last year.
The lab contains software and equipment used to design and simulate electromechanical devices, build prototypes, and conduct product testing and inspection. Woerner Industries, a 100-year-old manufacturer in Rochester, found that the equipment and expertise of GIS staff provided them with a competitive edge. Woerner, which manufactures woodwork, furniture, and other items for church interiors, wanted to bid on a high-profile renovation project at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, but needed to find a cost-effective way of replicating the original hand-carved decorative woodwork required for the job.
The firm brought a sample of a hand-carved pillar to the Digital Manufacturing and Product Realization Lab. The lab’s 3D laser scanners created a digital reproduction of the pillar using special design software. The data was then converted into a computer-aided design (CAD) model that could be used on Woerner’s own computer-controlled machine tools. The CAD model was so precise that it accurately captured the complex contours of the carvings. Working in the lab alongside its staff enabled Woerner to submit a competitive bid and explore additional business opportunities.
GIS is a member of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) led by UI Labs in Chicago, and is working with companies and universities from across the United States. DMDII is focused on research to expand the utilization of digital data in integrated design and manufacturing, said Michael Thurston, RIT research professor and director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Sustainable Manufacturing. “It is good to see the investments that are being made in manufacturing research,” said Thurston. “The companies involved and the Department of Defense see digital manufacturing as a key to reducing development time and cost, and improving U.S. competitiveness.”
The lab also provides access to 3D-printing technologies in plastic and metal, including the unique Optomec LENS technology—a high-power laser used to fuse powdered metals into fully dense, three-dimensional structures. “We work with companies of all sizes to generate and evaluate ideas on how these new technologies apply to their products,” Thurston said. “Our goal is to help New York state-based companies look at how they can apply these technologies to become more competitive.”
For example, traditional tooling processes often can take several weeks to produce prototype parts. The wait time can lead to increased costs and development time, especially if multiple design modifications are required. With simulation-based design, it improves the likelihood that designs are right the first time. Rapid prototyping (including 3D printing) allows designs and design modifications to be fabricated and tested much more quickly, accelerating product development cycles and cutting costs, Thurston said.