Fifty years ago or so, it was not uncommon for international visitors to come to the Mahoning Valley, where they would visit Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co.’s laboratory or a U.S. Steel Corp. mill or the tiny campus of Youngstown University to marvel at the latest developments in steel technology.
Just 50 days ago, only a handful of people in Youngstown knew that Youngstown was on the cusp of entering a new phase as a mecca for the latest form of manufacturing, 3D printing. And even when the announcement came in mid-August that the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute would be headquartered here, there were probably more skeptics than believers.
But even the most hardened skeptics are being converted.
Last Thursday a ribbon cutting was held at 236 W. Boardman St. just a few weeks after workers began converting an old warehouse into a home for the newest of technologies.
The idea of printing an object in super-thin layers of metals, plastics and resins sounded improbable, if not impossible, to anyone who hadn’t been paying attention to the evolution of additive manufacturing from science fiction to scientific reality.
But on the pages of The Vindicator, on Vindy.com and on every television station in town people could see three dimensional objects that had been produced by 3D printers.
There were stories of how 3D already is changing the way things are being made — even the way medicine is being practiced. Today doctors can use 3D printing to create an exact replica of a patient’s skull before performing a delicate brain operation. Tomorrow a 3D printer will be able to create a customized joint right in the operating room during hip replacement surgery. And the day after tomorrow, there is the possibility that printers will create soft organs using biological building blocks that will eliminate the threat of rejection of donor tissue by the host.
Hundreds of people and institutions have played a role in helping Youngstown land the innovation institute.
Not long after the initial announcement, Vindicator editors had the opportunity to sit down with three of the key movers: Jim Cossler, who likes to describe himself as chief evangelist for the Youngstown Business Incubator; Michael Garvey, president of M7 Technologies in Youngstown, and Dr. Martin Abraham, dean of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Youngstown State University.
A learning experience
They talked about the relatively short history of the technology, the cooperative efforts of 60 private companies, nonprofit and education organizations and government funding that made the institute possible. And they talked about the enormous potential of additive manufacturing to this region and to the United States.
To recite just a few salient points among many, Cossler noted that the business incubator wouldn’t be getting the $70 million prize that everyone was talking about; it was taking on the task of readying the building.
Abraham explained that there are places where additive manufacturing was already being done, but the Youngstown institute would be taking it to the next level. It will be working with a three-year grant, and he predicted the institute would be demonstrating new 3D technologies within two or three years.
Youngstown makes sense because of its position between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, a geographic area that U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles has been touting as the technology corridor.
And Garvey talked about the inevitable emergence of additive manufacturing in industry, medicine and defense. “It’s gonna happen: Why not in Youngstown?” he said.
Thursday’s opening made it clear that there is no reason for it not to happen in Youngstown. It’s already happening.