Updated: 10/13/2013 1:52 PM KSTP.com By: Josh Rosenthal
Manufacturing is the second largest industry in Minnesota. But these days, the way we manufacture is changing.
One example is at Minneapolis-based Tennant, a company that makes floor cleaning equipment. When testing products, they used to make aluminum prototypes. It took weeks to make just one part, and it cost about $3000. Now they use 3D printers to make plastic prototypes that cost $80 and save a ton of time.
"Before this, we were limited to one or two prototypes," explained Tennant Company's Peter Loring. "Now we can do a prototype every single day if we want to."
A 3D printer is basically a robotic arm that spits out layer after layer of melted plastic or other materials. One of the industry's leaders is Eden-Prairie based Stratasys. Not only did they build Tennant's 3D printers, they've printed games, headphones, tools -- even a turboprop. They think 3D printing will change the manufacturing industry as we know it.
"There's really nothing that 3D printing can't do, said Stratasys Executive Vice President Jonathan Cobb.
Think of it this way: if you're making a screwdriver, you need to make a metal part, a plastic part, and a rubber part, then assemble them. With 3D printing, you still need the materials, but then you just print.
"The future is really I think unlimited at this point in time in the manufacturing community," Cobb said.
It means manufacturing is becoming faster and cheaper without sacrificing quality. Tennant says it's already changed the manufacturing industry. Stratasys thinks it's going to change many more.
"If somebody can imagine it," as Cobb put it, "you can print it, and I think absolutely that's the case."