Life in 3D

Engineering at SUNY New Paltz has come a long way in the past six years. The 3D Makerbot printers the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center started with had much less capability and were much more primitive than the sophisticated new equipment the HVAMC will install when it moves into its $10-million Engineering Innovation Hub on the New Paltz campus later this year. The new machines will have vastly expanded manufacturing capabilities that were only wished for when the school launched the HVAMC.

They’ll be a big step forward. The new facility’s equipment will be capable of turning out not just printed prototypes but also high-quality final-use parts in a wide variety of materials, including stainless steel. They’ll also be capable of something called “continuous build,” where the machine will start on another copy as soon as it finished with the first one — perfect for short runs or custom manufacturing. 

What material is best for a particular 3D printing application? Try some of them out. There are hundreds of thousands of different plastics from which to choose, for instance. How durable does the material have to be? How flexible? Does it have to be transparent? What temperatures does it need to tolerate?


A SUNY 2020 grant paid for the Engineering Innovation Hub building. The state added another million dollars in regional economic development funding. Most of the equipment housed in the building, however, will come from funds contributed by foundations, private businesses and individual entrepreneurs within the region or interested in it.

The Dyson Foundation last year awarded the HVAMC $500,000 to support its new metal printing and wax printing capabilities. Central Hudson recently chipped in $200,000 through a Wired Innovation Center grant. HVAMC clients and partners Selux, Zumtobel, ICL, Schatz Bearing, Ametek Rotron, Ducommun and ColorPage also contributed, as did a New Paltz alumnus and a member of the school foundation’s board.   

“Since its launch, the HVAMC has received enormous support from the regional business community,” said engineering school dean Dan Freedman last week. “Each year, the school has expanded its contacts with that community.”

The number and intensity of links between the school and its constituencies increase every year. The 3D printing program, of great interest to artists, inventors and enterprises of all sizes and shapes, has opened new doors for pursuing existing relationships and starting new ones. HVAMC staff provides expert advice on all aspects of 3D printing, and supports the teaching of design in the arts and engineering, the building of prototypes, and consulting of materials and processes.

In today’s manufacturing, Freedman explained, change is constant, agility essential. Change is built into economic life. It has to be. “All manufacturers that are successful,” Freedman said, “are very innovative.”

When it comes to the adoption of 3D printing, New Paltz was there first. The SUNY New Paltz facility was the first academic 3D printing superlab in the world. Freedman laid out his vision for the lab’s future in one long sentence in June 2016. “The combination of our unique focus on the interface of art, engineering and science, and the recognition and support by the world’s leading manufacturer of 3D printing [Stratasys],” he told a reporter, “will move us to an unparalleled interdisciplinary educational experience, help us support regional businesses, and give our faculty the tools and expertise to do cutting-edge scholarship in art, engineering and design.”

There’s little time in the present environment for the school to rest on its laurels. New equipment is on its way. Academic capacity must be reinforced. Relationships with business partners need constant attention. Students must be counseled, entrepreneurs in the region assisted.

Engineering schools have their specialties. MIT does just about everything: “When students come here, they often feel like a kid in a candy store,” says its website. “The options seem infinite.” NYU is very sophisticated, but unlike New Paltz doesn’t do outside work. The University of Texas El Paso specializes in aerospace. The Rochester Institute of Technology does research on additive manufacturing. Clarkson is best known for its work on materials, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy for its deep knowledge in various fields.

3D printing has continued to evolve into a key technology in modern manufacturing. The niche New Paltz engineering has chosen seems more and more to have been a good bet. The engineering school’s problem-solving partnerships with the manufacturing firms of the region is leading to an acceleration of technical adoption. When you provide support for the manufacturers of an entire region, you can, over time, provide a real boost to productivity.

Outreach to the regional community has long been a guiding principle of the New Paltz School of Engineering. Its regional credibility is well established. Last year the Council of Industry, the professional association of regional manufacturing in the Hudson Valley, awarded the school a Manufacturing Champion Award for its help in developing the sector and assisting entrepreneurs and employees. Many SUNY engineering students go on to work for the region’s manufacturers.