The 3D City Strikes Back: How Pflugerville Companies Won the Fight Against COVID-19
30 Jul 2020
The 3D City Strikes Back webinar series, hosted by Pflugerville Community Development Corporation (PCDC), featured lightsaber wielding community and business leaders - leaders who fought back against COVID-19 and the challenges it presented to the manufacturing community and the world.
Named the 3D City by Site Selection Magazine, Pflugerville has the highest concentration of 3D manufacturing companies in the state of Texas and one of the strongest ecosystems in the nation. Like any heroes, they were presented with a national and global crisis and in that moment decided to rise to the occasion and fight back. How? By using their ingenuity and technology to help solve challenges facing supply chains, and by producing PPE and ventilators that could be used by first responders. 3D companies are uniquely poised to do so because they can retool and design parts at warp speed.
One of the panelists, Blake Teipel, PH.D., CEO/Co-Founder of Essentium, spoke of how their 3D technology allows factory floors everywhere to transform by removing traditional barriers to speed, scale and strength. This is important when working to address the supply chain issues caused by global manufacturers needing to quickly transform their manufacturing lines from consumer or industrial products to making PPE. “We help to solve supply chain solutions by creating the tooling applications that make the manufacturing process go. As we started to see the pandemic take hold we realized we could focus on using our skillset to help manufacturers retool, while also using 3D technology to make PPE and masks ourselves,” said Teipel. He continued by saying, “It is difficult to retool and set up a new manufacturing line. We recognized this early on and worked to help manufacturers complete that retooling process quickly in order to speed up production and delivery times for essential PPE.”
SISU, a Pflugerville robotics company also rose to the challenges posed by COVID-19, using their brand of lightsaber to create affordable ventilators. Russell Aldridge, CEO/Co-Founder of SISU, built a robotics company with an engineering, software and manufacturing division. SISU designs custom robotics machines to boost business productivity with a wide range of applications, but they had never made a ventilator before. In mid-March, Russell became aware of the potential shortage facing New York and the rest of the world. Their team knew that if they had a chance to save lives they had to take it. Working for 80 to 100 hours a week for 16 days they were able to produce 100 prototypes that worked.
“Our process typically involves someone getting a crazy idea, learning everything we can about it, quickly developing a prototype than rapid deployment. To do this, we engaged 20 medical professionals and relied on other local companies to help us make the parts. This was a collaborative Pflugerville effort,” said Aldridge.
He continued by saying, “20 3D printers were delivered to us by a local company and these were used to build parts day and night. We made the ventilators out of industrial components that could withstand millions of cycles and be used in third world countries where the conditions are less than optimal. We have since spoken with the military about the potential of producing more ventilators if and when needed.”
The speed of design, prototyping and delivery gave Essentium and SISU the power to make a positive impact in the race to prepare for the impacts of COVID-19. Gerald Hutchinson, COO Medway Plastics Corporation, shares in their vision. “We have 27 injection molding machines that can make parts that are very small or very large. Our ability to do so makes it possible to reduce lead times, help manufacturers retool and to get products to market faster. Our family has been in the plastics industry for over 50 years and 3D manufacturing has enabled us to be even more creative and responsive - something that has been more important than ever during our fight against the pandemic,” he said.
So, when it came time for the 3D City to strike back, Pfulgerville’s community was ready. PCDC stood guard and provided assistance as necessary to ensure that these local heroes could focus on the fight. “We brought our manufacturing community together for weekly conversations, making introductions to other suppliers and vendors, breaking down communication barriers and working to remove any obstacles that could stand in their way,” said Amy Madison, Executive Director of PCDC. She continued, “As a 3D City, we are better prepared to tackle any challenge that comes our way and our manufacturers have proven this. When we fight - we win together.”
Learn more about the 3D City and their fight against COVID-19 by watching the 3D City Strikes Back webinar series here.