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Solidscape in Merrimack is in forefront of 3-D printing technology

Union Leader Correspondent

April 28. 2013 3:19PM
Mark Magee, left, and Chaz Sullivan, right, show off components of their 3-D printing technology to Boston University mechanical engineering students. (BENJAMIN C. KLEIN PHOTO)

MERRIMACK - While 3-D printing has just recently entered into the public lexicon, Merrimack has quietly been the home base for Solidscape, a company develops 3-D printers, for the past 15 years.

Far from a new technology, Solidscape has been developing 3-D printers for 19 years, and Vice-President of Operations Dan McCarthy said that with the company's experience, technology and equipment already in place, executives are just waiting for the applications of the technology to expand so that they can expand along with it.

"This is a very exciting time for us," McCarthy said.

Now on its fifth generation of 3-D printing technology, McCarthy said 3-D printing is nothing new, and that the primary users of the technology up until recently had been jewelers. Still though, even with the increased exposure of the technology, the primary source of income for the company remains jewelers because it allows them to make incredibly precise custom-made jewelry in short amounts of time.

"For the people that have been into 3-D printing, it has been exciting for 20 years. It's just that now the media and the public are getting excited about it as well," said Solidscape President Fabio Esposito.

Esposito added that 3-D printing isn't even the correct term, "to the people in the know, it is called additive manufacturing."

Solidscape is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Stratasys Company and is publicly traded. Esposito says this allows the company the support of a much larger company, while also giving it the freedom and flexibility of a much smaller, streamlined one.

The printers Solidscape develops look fairly typical on the outside. Aside from dimensional capability, the biggest difference between 2-D and 3-D printers is the price tag. Solidscape's printers range in cost from between roughly $25,000 to $46,000.

With 60 local and two remote employees, McCarthy said Solidscape is actively trying to expand into new fields.

"We are looking to expand into the medical field because this would allow dentists to create immediate moldings and materials for patients on the spot, and we are also trying to sell our equipment to universities and trade schools so that students can learn the value of the technology and how to use it firsthand," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that many universities and trade schools currently use 3-D printers that cost only $2,000 or so, but that they are drastically inferior to what Solidscape's printers are capable of.

"You get what you pay for," he said.

A group of Boston University mechanical engineering students took time Friday to take a tour of Solidscape, a move that McCarthy said would help them in the future.

"When the rest of their classmates are home organizing their clothes and posting on Facebook, these four are getting a leg up on them in the job market because I will remember their names and faces, and that puts them ahead of their classmates," McCarthy said.

Nina Le, a junior at Boston University, said she wanted to tour Solidscape because the capability of its printers are far more advanced than anything she has seen before.

"The 3-D printers we have at BU are terrible," she said.

Senior Samantha Chan said she is fascinated by the technology because the applications are endless, including potentially replicating body parts.

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