The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has long been a 3D printing advocate, and a lot of this important work takes place at the university’s W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation, which is also the first satellite center for America Makes. Now, UTEP has made an agreement with Germany-based Aconity3D GmbH, which develops laser powder bed fusion 3D printers, to be its base of operations in North America.
“We are pleased to establish a relationship with UTEP. This is an excellent example of how research universities can partner with private industry to advance the educational opportunities afforded to students and also attract economic development to the region,” said Yves Hagedorn, PhD, the Managing Director of Aconity3D. “We are confident that the combined expertise of the Keck Center and Aconity3D will yield innovative approaches to 3D printing and offer world-class research opportunities for students.”
Aconity3D was founded in 2014 as a small startup, though it now boasts over 50 employees, and makes 3D printers capable of manufacturing complex metal parts for medical implants, airplanes, and cars, among others. It was eager to set up camp at UTEP due to the Keck Center’s expertise and prominence in the industry, as well as its commitment to increase economic development.
“This exciting collaboration is very well aligned with UTEP’s access and excellence mission. UTEP is committed to providing our students with exceptional educational opportunities, many of which are advanced through the ground-breaking research underway on our campus,” said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. “This agreement with Aconity3D will enhance UTEP’s research environment, broaden the range of experiences available to our students in the Keck Center for 3D Innovation, and attract new business development that will enable UTEP graduates to remain in this region to pursue their career goals.”
This agreement will not only give Aconity3D a home in the US, but it will also attract high-end jobs for the community’s engineering students, increase UTEP’s production and service operations, and advance 3D printing through important research investigations with government agencies and industry.
“The Keck Center is a natural fit for Aconity3D as it is a recognized leader in additive manufacturing. This collaboration will enhance our technical knowledge base and expand our expertise,” said Theresa A. Maldonado, PhD, the dean of UTEP’s College of Engineering. “We can also work collaboratively toward our model to incubate startups and provide them a pool of highly qualified graduates.”
The company’s 3D printers have an open architecture system, which is different from most commercial approaches in that users can modify the parameters themselves in order to find the optimal way to 3D print a customer’s specified material. The equipment is great for research, as one needs plenty of knowledge about the technology in order to operate the 3D printers. This helps feed Aconity3D’s corporate philosophy of locating near high-tech research organizations – for instance, its German headquarters are near the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (Fraunhofer ILT). Aconity3D’s model of supporting the institute’s interns and students will continue at UTEP.
Aconity3D will begin its North American operations with only a CEO, but plans to hire up to three employees within a year. The hiring process will focus first on Keck Center graduates who have experience working with the company’s technology, as one of Aconity3D’s laser powder bed machines is already housed there.
“We have long worked on leveraging our expertise in 3D printing to build a new economy in El Paso around additive manufacturing. Our partnership with Aconity3D is a major milestone in that direction and is validation of all of our combined efforts,” said Ryan Wicker, PhD, the founder of the Keck Center. “The only way a company like Aconity3D would decide to come here is because of our technical strength in additive manufacturing, access to our graduating talent to meet their workforce needs, and the tremendous opportunities available for commercial success through collaborations with UTEP. We can apply this economic development model to build other businesses around their technologies, recruit other 3D printing businesses to our region and create new businesses from our own 3D printing technologies coming out of UTEP. As a research university, UTEP must be – and is excited to be – fully engaged in stimulating economic development for the benefit of our region.”
The long-term goal of this agreement is to set up a technical center and research space in the Keck Center, which will work with Aconity3D’s German headquarters to sell and service its 3D printers in North America. Its US base of operations will be located at UTEP’s University Towers Building.
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