YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Matt Heffinger of Salem thought he’d have to relocate to a major metro region perhaps hundreds of miles away from the Mahoning Valley to put his engineering degree to work.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to look far at all.
Instead, Heffinger, a recent graduate of Youngstown State University’s additive manufacturing program, seized an opportunity at Center Street Technologies.
The company is home to one of the largest and most sophisticated 3D printers in the world, which is capable of printing products weighing up to 60,000 pounds.
“Being able to be involved in something like this is exactly what I was looking for,” he says.
Heffinger graduated in May 2020 and worked as an intern at Center Street for about a year before he was hired on full-time just after earning his degree.
“The first time I walked in here and saw this machine, I thought to myself I have to be a part of this. Being able to maintain my roots and stay around here for a career is really rewarding to me,” Heffinger says.
Another YSU graduate, Alex Fitzgerald of Warren, also was recently hired at Center Street Technologies.
Center Street and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, based in Latrobe, Pa., received a $9.4 million grant to support work in additive manufacturing for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The government funding enables Center Street to engage in the sort of advanced product development that Michael Garvey, president of the company, envisioned eight years ago, when officials announced the creation of Youngstown-based America Makes, the first of the Obama administration’s network of advanced manufacturing hubs.
“There are going to be parts made here from marine applications to aerospace applications initially,” Garvey says.
Eventually, the technology and products would be used to transition to the private sector, he adds.
For example, the technology could be a perfect fit for the automotive industry.
“We’ve been talking to some of the automotive companies and there’s a real shortage of clay modelers,” Garvey says. “With this technology, we’re going to be able to take the digital designs and manufacture those exact designs on a piece of equipment like this.”
Attracting and training young people to this form of manufacturing is a core component to what the company and other partners are trying to build for the future of the Mahoning Valley.
“It’s our intention to use the talent here in Youngstown,” Garvey says. “We’re convinced that we can re-skill different people into this technology and create the jobs we’ve all been talking about.”
Garvey says the federal funding would first be used to develop technologies and products for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Center Street’s printer is 25 feet deep, eight feet high and 12 feet wide – big enough to park a full-size SUV with plenty of room to spare. The build table is designed to handle 60,000 pounds.
“The equipment and technology makes this one of the most sophisticated hybrid additive manufacturing machines in the world,” Garvey says.
Additive manufacturing is a process that uses digital designs and machinery to print 3D components and finished products made of a variety of materials.
In this case, Center Street Technologies uses a polymer and carbon mix that is distributed through a large nozzle that navigates the digital pattern on a build table, constructing the product layer by layer from the bottom up.
The federally funded project would begin with Department of Defense contracts, such as developing maritime and aerospace products, Garvey says.
However, in time, the lessons learned from the government work will likely transition to commercial applications in the private sector.
He gestured to a control cabinet that was printed at Center Street that was specifically designed to optimize space in a C-130 transport cargo plane.
“We printed that control cabinet in less than a day,” Garvey said.
Were a more conventional method of manufacturing used, the project would have taken about six weeks, he says.
“There’s time savings, costs savings and a readiness factor involved here. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
America Makes is overseen by NCDMM, based in Latrobe, Pa.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio 13, joined Garvey, America Makes Executive Director John Wilczynski and others for the check presentation at Center Street’s plant on Ohio Works Drive.
“We look at this from a three-pronged approach: technology, education and ecosystem development,” Wilczynski says. “We’ve been talking about large-scale additive manufacturing for eight years. This is exactly the kind of story we need to tell so investment keeps coming into the technology.”
About four years ago, Garvey met Charles George, the president of Strangpresse, a local company housed in the Youngstown Building Incubator’s Tech Block Building No. 5.
Strangpresse has developed advanced extrusion technology that is used at Oak Ridge Laboratories, and the two created Center Street in order to combine capabilities and build the new 3D printer.
Garvey then approached the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, or Magnet, for assistance with the design and construction of the printer.
“Mike came to us with this brilliant idea,” says Ethan Karp, CEO of Magnet. “Bringing his partners together with our engineers over the course of a year and a half, we actually built this thing.”
Magnet essentially designed and engineered the project, Karp says, and subcontracted the physical construction of the printer.
“It’s just such a triumph for the region,” he says.
Ryan says his role was to help facilitate funding through the 2020 federal appropriations bill for the project. Ryan is vice chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
“The Department of Defense can use this technology to make products in hours instead of weeks,” the congressman says. “It reduces the burden on the taxpayer. That’s all being done here.”
Parts for tanks, trucks and aircraft could all be produced using this type of technology at Center Street, Ryan adds.
“They can build pretty much anything.”
Pictured: Alex Fitzgerald and Matt Heffinger are YSU graduates employed by Center Street.