It’s called “additive manufacturing.” Think of objects being assembled in layers, one on top of the other, like Legos. Imagine 3-D printers producing materials, like aircraft parts, seemingly out of thin air.
A new development project devoted to additive manufacturing, dubbed Neighborhood 91, is part of the 195-acre Pittsburgh Airport Innovation Campus, airport officials announced at a news conference on Friday.
Neighborhood 91 will be the world’s first development to condense and connect the different components of the additive manufacturing supply chain in one concentrated area.
“Additive manufacturing looks at things in a two-dimensional view and you kind of stack things together, layer on layer on top,” said John Barnes, founder and director of The Barnes Group Advisors and an expert in what is often called AM. “You essentially put the pieces together and do some light machining work to smooth it out and wind up with these very intricate shapes.”
And now Neighborhood 91 has its first tenant: Coopersburg, Pennsylvania-based Arencibia, which focuses in the production of noble gases, including new and recycled argon, a key element used in additive manufacturing.
Arencibia will recycle argon gas onsite. Argon is often used in the chambers of a 3D printer, and also is used in heat treatment and in producing metal powders used in 3D manufacturing.
Being able to recapture the gas, clean it and recycle it onsite will reduce costs for other Neighborhood 91 tenants, said Joe Arencibia, president and CEO.
“Additive manufacturing has a lot of different contributors to it. There’s the people that make the metal – a lot of times it’s powder metal manufacturers; there’s the people that do the printing; there’s the people that process the parts afterwards; there’s the people that do heat-treating to make a complete part,” Arencibia said.
“There’s many steps along the way. All those steps use these expensive gases as part of their process, and all along the way we can pick up all of these otherwise waste sources and recycle them and save everybody money in the same place.”
An ecosystem of businesses
Located adjacent to Pittsburgh International Airport’s four runways and terminal, the Innovation Campus broke ground in December 2018 with plans to feature office space, warehouses and industrial manufacturing, among other facilities.
Neighborhood 91 will house an ecosystem of businesses that all contribute to the additive manufacturing industry, including those that specialize in powder production, 3D printing, heat treatment, post-production, testing and analysis.
Among the early adopters of AM are the medical and aerospace industries.
“With the use of technology, it’s a very material-efficient process and doesn’t require a lot of machining, so it opens doors for parts to be produced at a lower cost,” Barnes said. “You will see a lot of medical companies that are making implants, basically replacement parts for humans made out of titanium. It’s similar with aerospace. Airbus and Boeing use additive manufacturing for various aircraft parts.
“The idea is that the part will never have to leave the campus until it’s ready to go to the customer,” explained Barnes. “Today, the supply chain for additive manufacturing is very fragmented. For example, a part could go from West Virginia to Texas to Michigan to Canada before being shipped to a customer overseas.”
Why the airport?
Because Neighborhood 91 sits on airport property, it offers ease of access through air travel and cargo, along with close proximity to major highways – making it possible for tenants to transport products anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours.
Last week, Pittsburgh International Airport announced it will become the first major U.S. airport to be powered entirely by a microgrid. The first-of-its-kind energy system will be fueled in part by the airport’s own natural gas wells drilled onsite and nearly 8,000 solar panels spread across eight acres.
Airport officials are planning to construct a second microgrid to power the Neighborhood 91 site, which will offer a reliable, sustainable and cost-efficient energy option for tenants.
“When we’re talking about production processes that are energy-intensive – that need not only reasonable energy but also consistent energy – the thought of the microgrid and having a robust energy source is very appealing,” said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes, a national non-profit institute that promotes AM.
“The capability of having materials sourcing right on campus, the access to the transportation both for personal travel and freight and delivery of product, all of those ingredients are putting together a facility that is second to none in the world.”