Building El Paso’s Economy Around 3-D Printing Technology
Ryan Wicker, Ph.D. | May 18, 2015 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Originally published in the El Paso Times May 17, 2015
Ryan Wicker, Ph.D.
Three-dimensional printing has been the topic of growing media coverage over the past several years, and a common theme is that 3-D printing will bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and help bolster our national economy.
How real is the potential of 3-D printing to change the way future products are designed and manufactured?
The truth is there is much left to do before 3-D printing has an impact on our daily lives, but what should excite El Pasoans is that UTEP is at the forefront of this work.
The potential of 3-D printing is real, the opportunities are limitless, and the time is now for us to believe in using these technologies to transform our region for the better.
Known in the technical world as additive manufacturing, 3-D printing represents a group of technologies that prints three-dimensional shapes from computer files using a layer-by-layer building process.
Industry is using these machines to print jet engine components and medical implants and virtually everything in between.
UTEP has been a leading force in the global 3-D printing revolution since 2000 when, envisioning 3-D printing's huge potential, we made a strategic investment in 3-D printing technologies to assist local manufacturers in prototyping parts prior to investing in the costly tools required for production.
The purchase of a single 3-D printing machine has developed into a world-leading research center today, the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation, where 50 of these machines ranging in cost from $1,000 to $1 million are being used on innovative research involving more than 50 active student researchers and 100 industrial and 10 federal agency clients.
Our state-of-the-art facility has hosted as many as 20,000 local K-12 student visitors per year, serving to inspire our local schoolchildren in science, technology, engineering and math, and we are proud to boast producing more research publications on 3-D printing over five years than any other university in the U.S. and securing a steady flow of advanced manufacturing patents.
Most recently, the Keck Center's accomplishments were recognized nationally by its selection as the first partner satellite center for America Makes, a federally funded public-private partnership focused on 3-D printing and advancing U.S. global competitiveness in manufacturing.
This designation legitimizes UTEP's leadership in 3-D printing and advanced manufacturing, opens up enormous opportunities for expanding our reach to other industries and federal and state agencies, and puts El Paso on the global manufacturing innovation map.
Perhaps more important from a local perspective, our plans include expanding the role of the Keck Center to help achieve the full economic potential of 3-D printing in the El Paso region.
One of El Paso's greatest challenges continues to be the "brain drain" of highly trained UTEP engineering and science graduates who are aggressively recruited by employers across the U.S. and beyond.
Today, all of the Keck Center graduates are becoming leaders in the 3-D printing industry, commanding starting salaries as high as $150,000 per year — and all outside of El Paso.
We plan to leverage our research leadership in 3-D printing and the skills of our entrepreneurial graduates to bring new industry focused on 3-D printing technologies and applications to El Paso, and to develop a high-tech, well-paid workforce capable of leading a regional 3-D printing industry.
Implementing these plans will require the support of many individuals, partnerships and investments, and we are working hard to secure this support. With community support, many of you will be part of our future through the new and innovative business opportunities created in El Paso — all built around 3-D printing.
Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., P.E., is a professor of mechanical engineering at UTEP, holds the endowed Mr. and Mrs. MacIntosh Murchison Chair I in Engineering, and is the director and founder of UTEP's W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation.