THE DALLES – Imagine tiny grains of metallic powder being fused with a laser to make an important part for an airplane, a rocket or even a medical device.
Well, it happens every day in a nondescript building along the Columbia River in The Dalles. The company doing it is Integrated 3D Manufacturing.
It is a process called additive manufacturing – a process to make a part by adding material. The more traditional way to manufacture parts is known as subtraction manufacturing, where a part is created by cutting away a block.
Matthew Garrett and Erin Stone started the additive manufacturing service bureau in 2013, specializing in 3D metal printing. Both had experience in the emerging field and recognized there was a lot of growth potential. Stone serves as Integrated 3D’s chief executive officer and Garrett is the chief operating officer.
At the time they started, Garrett said they were the first service bureau in Oregon and Pacific Northwest.
Initially, the goal was to make sure additive manufacturing was available to smaller operations who would benefit from the technology but not have access to it.
Now, there are more service bureaus offering additive manufacturing. But the competition isn’t a negative. The field’s growth means Integrated 3D Manufacturing has allowed the company to expand who it provides services to. Fast forward to today, The Dalles-based company does work with what is known as tier one manufacturers and companies like Boeing and Insitu. These larger operations do have the technology but for various reasons work with service bureaus to do the work.
Additive manufacturing’s growth can be attributed to several factors. Parts made through the additive process tend to be lighter yet just as durable as parts machined from metal blocks. Being light has made additive manufacturing attractive to aerospace, medical and automotive industries. Devices and parts made through the additive process are also used in medical applications and firearms.
In addition to being lighter, the process has less waste than the subtractive manufacturing process. Garrett said in the subtractive process, there is about 70 percent waste since a part is cut from material. That waste is reduced by using 3D printers to make the part. Waste is about 5 to 10 percent.
Although the process has been around for several years, it was General Electric that made it an important part of aviation and aviation machining. Garrett explained that the GE used the additive process to manufacture parts for the LEAP jet engine. This lead to the Federal Aviation Administration certifying the additive-manufacture part for use in flight.
The industry’s growth into aerospace has prompted the FAA to draft guidelines and regulations for parts made by 3D printers.
Additive manufacturing has the added benefit of creating onshore manufacturing jobs – manufacturing done in the U.S. not overseas. When Garrett and his partners set out to open Integrated 3D, they were encouraged by economic development specialists and their funding source, to seek out areas that were economically distressed.
“If you don’t have to be in Portland then why would you be?” Garrett said, adding that he is from the Portland area and Stone from the Grass Valley area. “In the end, The Dalles location was a lifestyle location for our employees and our customers.”
The city provides easy access for the company international and American customers. Garrett said customers can fly into Portland and a have a nice drive to The Dalles. He adds that no one has complained about the scenery yet.
“The Dalles is ripe for opportunity,” Garrett said. With the steady growth that Integrated has experienced, its leaders look toward expanding. The company recently added another printer that will allow them to create larger parts. They also plan to expand their manufacturing shop.
What about employees? Integrated 3D has a total of 13 employees – eight employees work in the manufacturing facility at the Port of The Dalles. Garrett explained the other five employees work out of the sales office in Bend.
Garrett describes the Integrated 3D workforce as “home grown.”
“We are the ones training on how to use and work the technology,” he said. This helps with retention and helps create the type of culture Garrett and Stone want at their manufacturing shop.
That culture is to be innovative, to solve problems and be customer focused, Garrett said. The idea is to encourage employees to take calculated risks, learn from those outcomes and improve.
“If we keep that level of employee with that mindset, we’re unstoppable,” he said, adding it helps secure their place as a market leader. “I love the culture we have.”
Integrated 3D’s culture is also focused on its roots. Each of the printers housed at the Port of the Dalles is named for a river in Oregon such as Deschutes, Columbia and Willamette. The newest printer is slated to be called Umpqua.
With roots comes outreach. Garrett said the company works with student robotics clubs and STEM groups to show area students that there are opportunities for technical work – manufacturing – in their hometown.