Jeff Stevens, OcuGlass director of engineering, talks with Andrew Rose, OcuGlass engineering intern from Michigan Tech University about the 3-D printed parts.
Editor’s note: At the time this story was published, USGlass was unaware of the legal allegations concerning Brad Aldrich. Read more

Local high school students are using 3-D printing technology to solve a problem for OcuGlass, an acid-etched glass manufacturer based in Calumet, MI. The company has partnered with the Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools’ Student Organization of Aquatic Robotics (SOAR) program to create 3-D printed product process equipment parts as an alternative to importing them from Italy, which takes weeks and is expensive.

The company was repairing or replacing a key piece of their process equipment repeatedly, which was costing them excessive downtime in production.

“The system was designed and manufactured in Italy and the replacement parts come from Italy. Lead times were up to eight weeks, not to mention the parts were very expensive,” says Brad Aldrich, CEO of OcuGlass. “The equipment is four years old and there’s been a lot of wear in that time.”

Andrew Rose, a Michigan Tech undergraduate mechanical engineering intern with the company, had experience with 3-D printing and suggested the process as a way to cut lead times and costs. Jeff Stevens, director of engineering at OcuGlass is a member of the Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools board of education. He was familiar with the SOAR program, a student-run, non-profit high school project-based class that allows students to design and create using 3-D printing technology. He approached the group about a collaboration.

The initial project included recreating a geometrically complex part for 3-D printing and provide that part to OcuGlass for use in their process equipment.

“The students had been wanting to do more real-world projects. Andrew met with the students and designed the parts for 3-D printing. The students would then print the prototypes and Andrew would tweak the drawings based on what needed to be changed. We were able to select our own materials from the prototypes, resulting in a better product,” says Aldrich, “Right now they are printing two different parts with a two-day lead time. We pay market value, but there’s no shipping costs. We’re currently working on prototypes for two more parts.”

“Working with the students has been a very rewarding experience for me. As an aspiring engineer, I have a passion for science and technology so to see such an impressive tech department in a local high school is awesome. The excitement the students express when we see a design come together to create a working part is remarkable,” adds Rose.

Aldrich has no plans to bring the 3-D printing operation in-house, and has no plans to patent the parts, which have been modified from the original Italian parts.

“I prefer our relationship with the school over an in-house operation. We’re big on community involvement and our internship program,” he says. “Andrew is brilliant. His designs are more accurate and have better interface characteristics. We have no plans to resell the parts, so we’re not thinking about patenting the designs at this time.”

Rose, under the direction of Stevens, has been the lead point of contact for the students and their advisor, Matt Zimmer.

The goal is to have a long-term partnership with SOAR consistently providing parts to OcuGlass. “The students develop proficiency in scheduling, material selection and professional communication between clients and designers, along with advancing countless other skills to solve real problems,” says Zimmer.

“Forming a collaboration between a local company, the DB-TC High School and a Michigan Tech student has been a win-win-win,” adds Stevens.

Aldrich says that 3-D printing could definitely be used more in the glass industry.

“3-D printing capabilities are amazing. The chemical materials for the parts has to be so specific, and 3-D printing allows for those specifics. I see the process having a big effect on equipment, but I don’t see it changing the way we make glass,” he says.