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3D Printing: A Change Agent for Manufacturing

Colleen Wivell
By Colleen Wivell Director, Medical Sales–North America, Materialise, SME Member Since 2001

It’s not often you get the opportunity to witness rapid, life-impacting change, but for those of us who have been in the 3D printing industry over the last few decades, we have witnessed just that. In the last 20-plus years, 3D printing has changed the definition of manufacturing from merely “one-size-fits-all” to “customized” production and from “high-volume” to “high-complexity/low-volume”—a startling paradigm shift that has enabled many new applications for the manufacturing industry.

I was fortunate to join the 3D printing industry in its infancy, through an innovative Belgian company called Materialise. Back then, 3D printing was referred to as rapid prototyping, and I had to explain what it meant to most people I met. I would tell them that “3D printing is the process of building a part or assembly by adding layer after layer of a chosen material until it’s completed. Unlike traditional manufacturing, very little human intervention is required during the actual manufacturing process. Highly complex, organic shapes can be formed, and even assemblies can be made in one go.” People were always intrigued, but often the curiosity stopped there.

Today, 3D printing has made it to the mainstream in the media, and I rarely meet people who have not heard of it, but there is still a vibe that it’s just hype or futuristic. If you look to healthcare alone, the progress is inspiring. For example, when I walk into our production facility, I see so many examples of 3D printing hard at work: I see a model of a child’s skull being shipped together with surgical cutting guides to assist the surgeon in driving better outcomes and restoring the lives of a whole family. I know that the knee guides and bone models that ship from our production facility will ultimately aid in a surgery that can help someone get back to chasing their grandkids. In Europe, when I see a 3D-printed custom hip implant that will allow a patient to go from wheel chair to walking shoes, it brings me joy. I know that customized manufacturing/3D printing is really changing people’s lives in a way that traditional manufacturing never could. Our biomedical engineers work on these cases everyday with surgeons and medical teams around the globe, all in the interest of making for a better and healthier world.

Beyond the work at Materialise, I’m truly inspired by the innovation going on at so many of our customers’ locations. As the backbone of the 3D printing industry, Materialise enables thousands of manufacturers around the world to make their own paradigm-changing contributions to their industry. Their innovations can change the face of their industry, like how GE is revolutionizing the aerospace industry with the LEAP fuel nozzle for its jet engines. Through 3D printing, it can save millions of dollars by reducing 20 parts to 1. This innovation makes the end part five times stronger and 25% lighter—amazing. Another great example is how the University of Michigan is saving lives by developing a patient-specific splint, which goes on the outside of a baby’s airway to allow them to breathe again. This 3D-printed device bio-resorbs as the child’s condition resolves—simple, yet incredible.

I’ve heard people call 3D printing the future of manufacturing, but what they don’t realize is that future is happening now. It’s happening in my office and around the globe. From top companies like GE and J&J to major hospitals (Mayo Clinic) and top universities (Wake Forest) down to brand new startups and small colleges, people are innovating their products and services in countless ways, and you can too.

The best place to get answers and see this life-changing manufacturing technique in action is at RAPID + TCT (May 8-11 in Pittsburgh). There, you can join thousands of people seeking to change lives through this innovative technology. If you are new to the industry, a great way to gain exposure is to attend the newcomers networking reception at RAPID + TCT on Monday, May 8 from 5 to 6 pm. This year, I’m serving as the chair of SME’s Additive Manufacturing Community; our entire group will be present at this event.

The Additive Manufacturing Community advisors have over 100 years of combined experience in the 3D printing industry. We are a diverse group with backgrounds in medical, aerospace, automotive and academia, spanning techniques from plastic to metal to even hybrid technologies. We all live and breathe this technology on a daily basis, and it’s our passion to bring it to the next level. As leaders, we can share with all of you our experience and vision and help guide you toward what 3D printing can do for you. Join us to start your journey!

Hope to see you there.

First Timers Meet and Greet Reception

Whether you are new to the additive manufacturing industry or a veteran—if it’s your first time at RAPID + TCT (May 8–11 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh), you’ll want to make sure you attend the First Timers Meet and Greet Reception. The reception will also be a great opportunity to meet some of the event and industry veterans. RAPID + TCT event advisors and members from SME’s Additive Manufacturing Community will also be in attendance to share their knowledge and help you plan your time at RAPID + TCT!

The First Timers Meet and Greet Reception will be held Monday, May 8 from 5 to 6 pm in the South Terrace/Green Roof (3rd floor). Registration is complimentary for those attending RAPID + TCT for the first time. Visit to register.

Composites Manufacturing Leaders Recognized at AeroDef 2017

SME, along with its Composites Manufacturing Tech Group, recognized an industry leader and a prominent composites manufacturing company with the 2017 Composites Manufacturing Awards. Dimitrije Milovich, president and CEO of Radius Engineering, was the recipient of the 2017 J.H. “Jud” Hall Composites Manufacturing Award for his overall leadership and the success of his co-founded company, Radius Engineering. Radius was also recognized with the 2017 Excellence in Composites Manufacturing Award. Under Milovich’s guidance, Radius Engineering supplies net-shape manufacturing technology and equipment contributing to improvements in design, quality and reduced manufacturing costs for numerous manufacturing companies throughout the aerospace composites industry. Honorees received their awards during SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing event on March 8 in Fort Worth, TX.

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