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College Shows Off Technology Destined For Berkshire Innovation Center

Berkshire Community College and area business leaders showed off cutting-edge technology on Thursday that they believe will grow the region’s innovation and manufacturing sectors.Thanks to nearly $1 million in state funding the Berkshire Innovation Center now has three 3D printers, a laser measurement machine and a portable measuring arm. The machines are expected to be used by BIC members and partners including Berkshire Community College, General Dynamics and a number of area high schools and companies. Rod Jane, project manager for the BIC, talked about the decision to buy the equipment.

“We want the biggest machine with the most features,” Jane said. “We’re not looking to buy equipment that manufacturers already have in the region. We’re looking for a piece of equipment that nobody has and that gives advanced capabilities that really up the game for our manufacturers in the region.”

One of the 3D printers can print in seven different materials, including bio-compatible materials and the complete color spectrum. Charles Evans of Stratasys, the world’s largest 3D printer company, detailed the machines recently installed at Taconic High School to area business leaders.

“Two of the machines that were recently purchased by you are called our Dimension 1200,” Evans said. “That’s our base model FDM machine. The way that machine works is it takes a filament spool and it’s running it through an extruder and essentially a hot glue gun. It’s laying down a bead of this material in a grid pattern and building up those grid patterns to make a part. The other type of technology we call our PolyJet. This is very similar to an ink jet printer except instead of jetting out little ink droplets we’re jetting out resin droplets.”

Evans says the printers can be used for prototyping and manufacturing largely in the plastics and assembly industries. He pointed out that time and money are saved since the printer runs on its own once a design is programmed in. Officials passed around working crescent wrenches that were created and assembled within the printer. The coordinate measurement machine uses laser and touch-probe technology capable of locating flaws as small as one micron for inspecting parts. There are more than 25,000 microns in an inch. Bill Mulholland is BCC’s Vice President for Workforce Development and Community Education.

“Many companies now, medical device companies like Johnson & Johnson, are requiring companies to have that capability,” Mulholland said. “Saying when you build us a part we want it quality scanned. If you can’t do it, we’re going to find somebody else.”

Representatives from General Dynamics, Pittsfield Public Schools and plastics companies in the region have gone through the first round of multi-day training on the machines. A General Dynamics representative says the company can use the machines to inspect complex parts and reverse engineer old parts.

The equipment will move into the Berkshire Innovation Center once the roughly 20,000-square foot building is completed at Pittsfield’s William Stanley Business Park. BIC’s board is working with the state to bridge what could be a $3 to $6 million funding gap as construction and other costs are higher than originally estimated. At one point, summer 2016 was tossed around as an opening date, but ground hasn’t even been broken yet. Jane is hopeful for movement on the center, which is slated to have labs, clean rooms and conferencing facilities, in the near future.

“We have a $9.7 million capital grant from the state to build a facility,” Jane said. “We’re seeking a small additional amount extra so that we can completely build the current design. I believe that’ll happen and it’ll happen fairly soon. In the meantime, we have not rested on our laurels. We’ve been moving forward with all the development of our programs at the Berkshire Innovation Center.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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