What is 3D Printing Anyway? An Interview with Innovation Conference Keynote Speaker, Brian Slocum

The Innovation Conference will include Brian Slocum, Managing Director, Wilbur Powerhouse Prototyping Lab, Lehigh University, as a Keynote Speaker. 


Brian has been working with Additive Manufacturing since his return to Lehigh in 2002 when he took over responsibility for their first FDM printer. Since that time, he has been instrumental in growing Lehigh’s Additive footprint, working with faculty to weave 3D printing into the curriculum as well as developing a robust research agenda around Additive.

Involved in many aspects of Lehigh University, Brian’s primary role revolves around the act of making things. In addition to managing Lehigh’s premier Makerspace, the Wilbur Powerhouse, he also serves as Director of the Lehigh University Additive Manufacturing Lab, and the Design Labs which include both wood and metal shops.

While his passion is helping students physicalize their ideas and teaching them how to think with their hands in addition to their heads, Brian also teaches courses in design, metalworking, prototyping and design build and serves as a faculty advisor for the IPD program. In addition to his work at the university, Brian has cofounded Isosceles Design Studio, LLC., a Design Firm specializing in custom furniture and architectural and interior design and also work as both a design and manufacturing consultant for various companies both large and small.

We discussed the future of 3D printing and the economic opportunities it presents. Below is our interview with him! 

“I am very excited to be a part of this event and can’t wait to get NEPA excited about the prospect of Additive Manufacturing!”

1. What is the importance of Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing to NEPA region:

Since childhood growing up on a Christmas tree farm in Wayne County, I have watched the economic vitality of the NEPA region ebb and flow.  I have watched vital, local, manufacturing relocate or shutter their doors and have seen first hand the impact this has on community and the quality of life of the citizens of a part of Pennsylvania that is part of my blood.  I see Additive Manufacturing as a beacon of hope that can revitalize manufacturing in NEPA and our nation in general.  The technology puts the power of innovation in the hands of those who have ideas, and the potential for Additive to allow for fully customizable manufacturing is something that can change the paradigm of our relationship with products, parts, and supply chain.  My hope in my keynote is to inspire the decision makers responsible for the growth of local industry to adopt Additive Manufacturing as a technology in an effort to make eastern Pennsylvania a new hub of innovation while at the same time, demystify the technology and show there are real applications that can be employed now that can make us a far more nimble and efficient place to make things!

2. What are the growth opportunities for Additive Manufacturing:

Not immediately, but in the near future, Additive Manufacturing has the potential to replace traditional manufacturing, at least in some sectors.  Right now, the biggest impact would be in reducing the time to market of new products through prototyping and replacement of traditional methods for limited run manufacturing, but this will creep closer and closer toward a true manufacturing solution as the economies of scale start to tip in favor of Additive.  That’s when we start to reverse the flow of mass production from China back to the US.

3.  Is there real job growth from Additive Manufacturing:

My true expertise is in Additive Manufacturing technology and the application of that technology.  I am not an economist.  With that caveat in place, I will tell you that we have lost the majority of manufacturing to overseas competitors because it is cheaper to manufacture the parts there.  However, it isn’t the process that is cheaper, or the materials.  What’s cheaper is the labor market in every way from the lowerly hourly wages to few if any requirements for safe working conditions.  BUT, if you have a less labor intensive process, one where one or two people can run a warehouse full of Additive Manufacturing machines, each producing a large quantity of parts, the only real labor costs are in the post processing steps.  In this scenario, the economics work in our favor.  If we can reduce the cost of the materials necessary to run the Additive technologies, we eliminate the cost of tooling, the cost and time of shipping goods halfway around the world, and the need to make product runs at a minimum of 100,000 units, suddenly it becomes vastly more affordable to manufacture things down the street than on the other side of the planet.  To do this, however, we need workers trained in Additive Manufacturing.  Designers and engineers who are designing more complex, lighter weight parts, that take advantage of the benefits of Additive Manufacturing.  Not to mention a distribution network that isn’t built on moving large quantities large distances.  That is where I see the job growth — trained operators, trained technicians, better-educated design engineers, and a new localized distribution network.

We’d like to thank Lehigh University Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology / Lehigh Emerging Technologies Network for their continued commitment of Additive Manufacturing growth in NEPA and their generous sponsorship of the Innovation Challenge.