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.

TechHub: PPG in on Autonomous Vehicles, Walmart’s Robots & Oil News

PPG Partnering with University of Michigan for Autonomous Vehicle Research

PPG and the University of Michigan are partnering up to test coatings for autonomous vehicles, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The company will work with Mcity, a public-private partnership that operates a test facility for autonomous vehicles, connected-vehicle systems and related technology.

PPG is developing coatings to improve functionality and enable broad deployment of autonomous vehicles. Examples are an exterior that enhances vehicle visibility to radar and light detection and ranging, and easy-to-clean coatings to help prevent obstruction of sensors.

“Specialized coatings will play an integral role in the development of safe and reliable driverless vehicles,” said Gary Danowski, PPG vice president of automotive OEM coatings, in a statement. “We are enthusiastic about this partnership and are always actively seeking additional R&D partners as we continue to explore new possibilities in emerging vehicle technologies.”

The research will be conducted at Mcity’s test facility — a 32-acre site at the University of Michigan’s north campus that consists of roads and traffic infrastructure, intersections, sidewalks, fire hydrants and simulated buildings with obstacles like construction barriers and pedestrian crash dummies.

Walmart Tests Automation to Scan Shelves, Free up Time

Robots are no longer a rare thing to see in factories — Amazon alone uses more than 45,000 — but now they’re moving into stores, too. Walmart has recently deployed shelf-scanning bots in more than 50 stores across the U.S., using them to check things like inventory, prices and misplaced items according to the Verge.

The robots won’t cost Walmart employees any jobs, and it saves them time from carrying out tasks that are predictable, repeatable and manual.

The bots are produced by California and Pittsburgh-based Bossa Nova Robotics, and are about two-feet tall with an extendable tower containing lights and sensors for scanning shelves.

In addition to saving workers time, the data the robots collect will help Walmart improve efficiencies in stores nationwide.

“If you think about trying to go through a facility with all these different [items] and figure out if your prices are accurate, it can be very time-consuming,” John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “From our perspective, when you’re doing things like this you’re trying to improve your service to your customers and trying to make things simpler and easier for your associates at the same time.”

U.S. Oil Industry Ramping Up Production

A large upswing in U.S. shale production is pushing the oil output towards 10 million barrels daily, with projections to increase to 11 million by 2019 — a level which would rival Russia, the world’s current top oil producer.

The impacts have been astronomical, cutting the nation’s oil imports by a fifth over a decade, providing high-paying jobs in rural communities and lowering consumer prices for domestic gas by 37-percent from a 2008 peak, according to Reuters.

“It has had incredibly positive impacts for the U.S. economy, for the workforce and even our reduced carbon footprint” as shale natural gas has displaced coal at power plants, said John England, head of consultancy Deloitte’s U.S. energy and resources practice.

The next phase of shale output growth depends on implementing advancing technology to enable squeezing more oil from each well.

Companies are putting sensors on drill bits to more precisely access oil deposits, using artificial intelligence and remote operators to get the most out of the equipment and trained engineers.

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