POST FALLS — The hot summer sunshine beating down on the Quest Integration’s Post Falls campus Tuesday afternoon was nothing compared to the heat inside an industrial 3D printers they displayed.
“This particular model,” Quest Campaign Coordinator Jessica True said, pointing to the large box that looked like a steel chest freezer, “gets up to 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The printer was one of a dozen on display in Quest Integration’s showroom during a symposium on the future of 3D printing. Approximately 160 engineers and business leaders from the Inland Northwest and across the country came to the company headquarters on Moyie Street to see the latest advances in what industry leaders describe as the future of manufacturing.
“At least once a year, we try to showcase some of the technologies and demonstrate not only what innovations we can provide but what innovations the industry can provide,” True said. “This has been a tremendous success.”
The event, dubbed the Industry 4.0 Experience, gave audiences a series of demonstrations and symposiums on how 3D printing is quickly finding a new home in the manufacturing industry.
Spencer Morse of the Spokane engineering company Hotstart pointed out how the first generations of 3D printing — the early years that dealt almost exclusively in plastics — have evolved into a new frontier.
“I came today because I wanted to see metal,” Morse said. “The ability to print metal is absolutely revolutionary. I just wanted to see it in action.”
The art of 3D printing begins with a computer program sending schematics to a machine that scales and measures what needs to be built. Using super-heated filament, which could consist of an assortment of different materials that traditionally formed plastic, the printer then casts the design onto a platform in the shape and scale the schematics require, creating a mold of the item. 3D printing has successfully cast creations ranging from guitars to guns to human tissue.
With the ability to craft metals from printers, the manufacturing industry is taking notice.
“Right now, there’s a huge revolution,” Quest Marketing and Systems Supervisor Chantel Wilkes said. “We’re calling it the fourth revolution because it’s the next miracle in technological design that is changing the world.”
The Industry 4.0 Experience displayed more than just their machinery during the event. Organizers and guests spent the day admiring the results of Quest Integration’s successes. Morse was one of many to admire a privately owned glider with a unique problem.
“I needed a new tail wheel arm,” James Neils of Hauser Lake’s Ventry Solutions said, motioning toward the rear wheel of his glider. “You can’t land without it, and if you’re taking off, you eventually need to land.”
The company that produced the tail wheel arm Neils needed no longer manufactured the piece, forcing Neils and Quest to get creative. Neils said Quest Integration gave him the ability to keep flying — now with a tail wheel arm made of nylon.
“It would’ve taken me two years to craft something like this,” Neils said. “It took Quest a couple of weeks.”
Evil Bikes, a bike manufacturer out of Bellingham, Wash., took Quest’s 3D printing capabilities to the next level, constructing custom bikes developed not only for riders but for riders in specific races.
“This is helping people in any number of different ways,” Quest Integration’s David Minerath said. “From concept to production, the entire manufacturing industry is looking at 3D printing in ways we never dreamed possible two years ago.”
Minerath, founder of the company now celebrating its 21st year in business, said the trajectory of transformative technology means a limitless future for Quest.
“This is an industry that’s changing at a rate we’ve never seen,” he said, wife Diane by his side. “Who knows where we’ll be five years from now, or even two years from now?
“With our new fabrication possibilties, the sky’s the limit.”