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OM in the News: Chattanooga’s 3-D Hub

February 5, 2016

3-D Ops printed heart valve

3D Ops printed heart valve

“Chattanooga faced a moment in truth in 1969 when Walter Cronkite declared the city to the most polluted in the nation,” writes Industry Week (Jan. 27, 2016). But the city cleaned up its toxic plants so much that by the mid-1980’s Nissan and GM set up shop and brought advanced technology to the area. With the growth of the auto industry and its supply chain, the region gained high tech manufacturing capability and was designated as an advanced tech area by the U.S. Over the past few years, the city has become a hub for 3D printing. The backbone of the growth of this sector is the city’s gigabit internet network, the most advanced smart grid system in the nation. This network provides the speed necessary for 3D printers.

“The availability of a variety of 3D printers, some so new that they aren’t even on the market yet, is a big draw for our company,” explains the CEO of 3D Ops. That firm uses CT scans and MRIs to build 3D printed models of body parts (such as an aorta valve), so that surgeons can better plan medical procedures. 3D Ops converts an MRI to a 3D printable file, then prints it for an average of only $400. The models provide surgeons with a more accurate approach to simulated surgery, decreasing the overall amount of time spent in the operating room. The surgeons are able to practice on physical models of body parts they will operate on.

Another 3D company, Branch Technology, recently introduced 3D printed interior walls. The company uses the world’s largest freeform 3D printer to print cellular matrixes out of ABS plastic, and then reinforces those structures with carbon fiber. They then use whatever material needed for a particular project to create the exterior of the walls. The technology necessary for the 3D companies to thrive was brought about by an aggressive plan that resulted in the city becoming America’s first “Gig City” with a citywide gigabit (1,000 Mbps) Internet service.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why did Chattanooga attract 3D printing firms?
  2. Compare the region to other clusters noted in Chapter 8.
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