New Paltz's 3D Printing Lab is Cracking Cold Cases and Creating Candy

How this new technology is paving new roads between community and technology.


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Kat Wilson, assistant director of the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center, and Aaron Nelson, assistant professor of art and director of the Makerbot Innovation Center.

Photo by Rrobin Weinstein

Layer upon layer, a new technology has been building momentum in the Hudson Valley, developing a relationship between the public and academia that’s being applied in rather unique ways.

It’s additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing, and it’s evolving from the engineering sector into public use, and beyond. Leading the way is the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center (HVAMC) at SUNY New Paltz, one of the most advanced 3D printing facilities in the country.

The HVAMC opened its doors to the public in 2012. Inventors, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs alike can utilize a wealth of resources including more than 50 of the highest quality printers from state-of-the-art companies like Stratasys and MakerBot. SUNY New Paltz was named a Stratasys-MakerBot Additive Research & Teaching (SMART) lab in June 2016, the first institution of higher education to hold such a status.

There’s a kind of symbiotic relationship between the facility and the Hudson Valley region. The public has access to technology and the means to help their businesses and projects grow, while the HVAMC can test the practical applications of 3D technology.

“Many academic institutions tend to focus on growing the technology; we’re interested in application — applying the tech to everyday problems,” says Daniel Freedman, director of the facility and dean of the School of Science and Engineering at SUNY New Paltz. “We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do.”

Recently, HVAMC labs have assisted New York State Police in cracking open and solving a nearly half-century-old cold case. In 1970, the decomposing body of a Jane Doe was found in the woods near Chester in Orange County. The only thing state medical examiners could use to identify her came from partial prints of her fingerprints. New York State Police contacted the HVAMC for help in scanning, copying, and reconstructing her skull, so a forensic artist could attempt to draw her likeness. Along with help from the anthropology department, students scanned and “rebuilt” Jane Doe’s skull, using the SMART class 3D industrial printer, Stratasys Connex 2. With fingerprint analysis and the replica, the state police quickly made a positive ID.

Interestingly, that’s not the only HVAMC success story involving skulls. LaGusta’s Luscious, a vegan confectionary located in New Paltz, received an order for dozens of skull-shaped chocolates for the cast and crew of the TV series Bones. The owners contacted HVAMC for help making realistic molds of skulls. The lab borrowed a replica of a real human skull from the anthropology department, and made a copy using their printers. A food-safe mold was made using that copy, and LaGusta’s Luscious concocted creepy-looking chocolate skulls that were a hit with the cast and crew.

When it comes to 3D printing, the possibilities are endless — and HVAMC is molding the way to the future.

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