TechHub: Future of 3D Printing, 3M Connected Roads & US Manufacturing

A 3D printer hard at work in GrayMatter's Center of Excellence.

The Future of 3D Printing

Decades of innovation have led to the industrial revolution, or industry 4.0. The heart of it all? 3D printing. From aerospace to automotive, healthcare to fashion, manufacturing will never be the same due to 3D printing technology.

The next phase is underway — further shaping custom manufacturing capabilities — due to a few reasons according to Forbes.

Innovations in Direct-Metal Printing

Direct-metal 3D printing is faster than ever, and more capable, with the number of metal alloys that can be 3D printed on the rise. It allows for high-performance, lightweight and complex designs that would otherwise be impossible in the manufacturing process.

This allows for complex and highly detailed products critical for aerospace, automotive and mechatronic industries at a fraction of the cost. GE is a major player in the direct-metal printing field, with predictions for its metal business to surpass $1 billion in annual revenue within a few years.

Innovations in Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laster sintering (SLS) is the ability to produce parts from a variety of nylon materials. An example of use is the F-18 fighter jet, which has been using SLS parts for air ducts, electronic covers and other components for decades.

However, recent advancements on technology that speeds up production of SLS parts will help bring it into the mainstream rather than confining it to hyper-specific applications for military, defense and aerospace applications.

Shaping the Future with these Innovations

Using these advancements with computing power in the cloud, IoT connectivity, big data and next-gen robotics, Industry 4.0 is fully utilized as an adaptive, self-optimizing factory fueled by additive manufacturing.

Learn more about Industry 4.0 and the digital transformation process with GrayMatter.

Gartner expects growth in photopolymer 3D printing systems over the next couple years to be about 75%. Industries like health care and personalized medical devices are using 3D printing to create hearing aids, dental fixtures, hip replacements, medical implants and surgical tools. Another trend is implementing 3D printers in schools and public libraries, teaching children to use the hardware and design software.

Once considered a novelty, 3D printing is turning into a tech giant, with its influence growing into nearly every industry.

3M Connected Roads Paving Way for Autonomous Vehicles

Countless tech and auto giants are getting in on autonomous vehicle research, with a new startup popping up every week dedicated to self-driving cars.

3M is joining the efforts — but on the smart city infrastructure side of it.

Check out what GrayMatter is up to with smart city intelligent infrastructure.

The company is creating a solution to make it easier for self-driving cars to see, instead of forcing autonomous cars to adapt to the current crumbling, patchwork roads in place.

Past attempts at connected smart roads have failed due to ideas of forcing municipalities to spend large sums of money on retrofitting roads with complicated tech like sensors, making it impractical.

3M’s Connected Roads project instead takes technology and materials that aren’t that different from current infrastructure, making them more cost effective, and use them to talk to autonomous cars, according to CNet’s auto and tech industry news publication Roadshow.

This is done through retooling lane markings and changing road signs, benefiting both autonomous vehicles and human drivers, allowing each to more quickly and easily identify and process information.

The new lane markings will be machine-readable, while adding the ability to reflect outside the visible spectrum, making it easier to see in inclement weather. 3M scientists are also developing these lane-markings to be more durable than what is currently available, reducing future costs.

The road signs will also be more reflective, specifically-designed with 3M smart codes, allowing self-driving cars to regularly update information on the road.

3M struck a deal with the Michigan Department of Transportation in May 2017 to adopt the first pilot program for the project — helping test the efficacy of these new road markings and signs along I-75 in Oakland County.

Michigan is the perfect case study due to its severe winter weather, which has been a challenge for self-driving cars.

Interested in getting on board with smart city intelligent infrastructure? Learn about what our team has done to unlock new levels of connectivity within schools, banks and more — bringing infrastructure into the information age.

Go to intelligent infrastructure

U.S. Manufacturing Primed for Another Growth Year

2017 was the year of U.S. manufacturing. The industry had its best year since 2011, with signs showing 2018 will continue the momentum according to Industry Week.

Trade is likely to continue to increase, with stronger global growth expectations and a weaker dollar helping manufacturing goods represent nearly half of all U.S. exports.

There are three positive signs for the manufacturing outlook in the domestic economy:

U.S. inventory is too low

Inventories have been trailing the growth in domestic demand. The economy has been expanding at 2.2% since the end of the recession, with inventories below the necessary level in 2017. To remedy, factories are likely to go into overdrive to boost inventories in coming quarters.

Recovery in business investment

The recovery in business investment should help lift the factory sector. One-tenth of total industrial production is business equipment. When labor markets are tight, companies seek alternative ways to meet demand. Business fixed investment is stronger when unemployment rate is low, which it is today. Stronger stock prices help ease lending standards on commercial and industrial loans, leading investment spending.

Housing market on the mend

Construction supplies and appliances represent 5% of industrial production. Housing demand is on the upswing, continuing to outrun supply and builder sentiment is elevated. Construction activity will continue to strengthen in 2018 — providing a tailwind for manufacturing.

Testing The IoT Waters: How GE Partner GrayMatter Created A Smart Drinking Fountain

Originally published in CRN

Solution provider GrayMatter is navigating the turbulent IoT waters, using its technical expertise and operational technology background to successfully deploy connected drinking fountains in public places like schools.

“We did a connected smart water fountain [with DC Water] – people think of that as a [classic] IoT application,” GrayMatter CEO James Gillespie told CRN. “That’s a good example because it combines a whole bunch of innovation.”

The Pittsburgh-based GE partner worked with the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority to create drinking fountains that monitor water quality and flow in real-time, which gives users more confidence in the water they are drinking while saving money spent on maintenance and testing.

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The smart drinking fountains, which will initially be installed in hospitals, daycare centers and schools, are equipped with sensors that use real-time data and analytics to monitor water quality and flow levels. The sensors then send that data to the cloud and back with alerts if water quality measurements begin to deteriorate.

The smart sensor drinking fountain, a co-innovation product by GrayMatter and DC Water.

Gillespie said the flow and water quality sensors give an accurate indicator of when the lead filter should be changed compared to traditional filters — like refrigerator filters — that measure flow only.

If water quality begins to deteriorate, alerts are sent by text or email to water managers, while a “change filter” message alerts maintenance so they don’t have to estimate when lead filters should be changed.

“It’s IoT and the value of the network, so when you have multiple drops on the network you can now get like a Google map picture of the water quality instead of the traffic with blue, yellow and red signifying how the water quality is in different points of consumption,” said Gillespie. “At the same time we’ve made the devices intelligent so they check their own quality, and they try to clean themselves and let someone know if they need help being cleaned. It’s kind of a confluence of all these things that weren’t possible coming together.”

The connected drinking fountains are also programmed to shut off at a set water quality level until maintenance staff make the necessary corrections.

Gillespie said in many IoT projects, the solution provider is beginning to look at its customers as not just an end-user, but co-innovators: “When we work with someone like Washington DC Water, we’re really a co-innovation partner with them. So if you asked them, they’d say they come to us when they’re looking to solve a problem they couldn’t solve before, and they come to us to find out the art of the possible,” he said.

An essential part of the solution GrayMatter brought to the table was not only its knowledge of sensors, data analytics and cloud-based solutions – but its market expertise around digital utilities.

The knowledge of water and wastewater issues – like collection systems, regulations, water quality and utility management – helped the company better understand the outcomes that DC Water wanted and needed.

Interested in learning more?

Check out our white paper on water innovations and read more on IoT in water, game-changing technologies and more customer success stories:

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