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  Comments (2) Total Monday Apr. 21, 2014
The Future of Manufacturing
3-D printers are becoming mainstream and revolutionizing the industry with the help of a local family
Family members Milana, Tina, Marc and Caleb Milisavljevich, left to right, demonstrate the software and hardware they use in 3-D printing at their home east of Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
The hardest part is explaining it.

When Marc Milisavljevich tells people about 3-D printing, a perplexed expression almost always crosses their faces. The notion — instantly printing a complete object like a wrench or a chess piece with a machine about the size of a traditional printer — sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The ability to create almost anything imaginable as easily as printing a document contends with conventional wisdom and requires a leap of the imagination.

But 3-D printing is very real, and Milisavljevich can prove it. From inside his home office east of Kalispell, Milisavljevich can set a wrench on a small laser scanner. It takes a few minutes to diagram all sides of the object before a computer file is created. From there he can use a software program to modify the wrench similar to how photographers edit pictures. Once the specifications and design are ready, Milisavljevich presses “print.”

Across from his desk a Project HD series 3-D printer quietly powers up. The machine looks similar to a copier except for glass in the front that reveals what’s happening inside, providing a window into the future of manufacturing.

An empty platform sits in the middle with a robotic arm positioned above. The arm begins scribbling miniscule streams of liquid plastic that immediately hardens atop the platform. Layer by layer, the plastic builds in angles and dimensions. In less than a half hour, for example, the platform can replicate an entire wrench. As part of the creation process, objects are partially covered in wax. But once the replication is finished and the wax is removed, Milisavljevich can take the fully assembled wrench, made of sturdy ABS plastic, and use it in his garage.

“It’s that simple,” Milisavljevich said recently from inside his home office where two 3-D printers sat idly. “It creates everything you can think of. We have parts here that can go right on a car.”

He added, quite frankly, “It’s revolutionizing the industry.”

Only 20 years ago, 3-D printing was a secret that only NASA and a few major manufacturers knew about. Similar to the first computers, the original 3-D printers were primitive, oversized and extremely expensive. But recent innovations in science and technology have radically evolved the machines, and today they can cost as much as a laptop and fit inside a small room. Like something out of a Star Trek episode, the machines can quickly create an entire world of colorful possibilities — tools, cups, toys, architectural models, iPhone cases, jewelry, sculptures, mechanical parts, prosthetics. The list is endless.

“It seems like everybody has an idea but they could never get from A to B,” Milisavljevich’s wife Tina said. “That’s what this service provides. It helps people get those ideas out there and make them a reality.”

Standing next to one of the 3-D printers, Marc Milisavljevich, right, describes the unlimited possibilities of items that can be created as his daughter, Milana, looks on. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Depending on the size of the printer, objects can be replicated large or small and with extreme detail. They can print any color. Objects are made either in ABS plastic, acrylic or nylon.

These modern 3-D printers have attracted the attention of major companies, like Hewlett-Packard, and spurred several start-ups that are jumping on the wave. The printers are being sold to manufacturers like car companies that can make and modify parts easier and cheaper than ever before. The technology is also extending to regular homeowners who can use the machines for simpler creations, like dog toys or any everyday item they may want.

Milisavljevich and his family have the only dealer and replicator company in the state. The company, 3-D Printing Color, contracts with the manufacturers that make the printers, and Milisavljevich sells the machines to customers across the Pacific Northwest.

But Milisavljevich is also interested in partnering with individuals who want to bring their ideas to life. After all, his wife’s family is full of artists, and the excitement of creating something unique resonates in the Milisavljevich house.

With the help of his wife and teenage son and daughter, Milisavljevich has become a manufacturer inside his home office. He has worked with local and regional inventors and artists who would like prototypes or products made without having to purchase their own 3-D printers. Even though the machines can cost only a few thousand dollars, some people would rather give Milisavljevich an idea and have it created. The rapid prototyping that Milisavljevich can do is cheaper and faster than the traditional plastic mold injection process.

As Milisavljevich points out, it can cost upwards of $15,000 to produce an initial model of a product. But Milisavljevich charges a fraction of that, and can replicate almost anything overnight.

An assortment of toys and functional items or prototypes is seen at the home office of 3-D Printing Color. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“For so many people it’s hard for them to understand how they can take their product and have it the next day,” he said. “It’s hard to explain that the technology is that simple.”

Milisavljevich has drawn the attention of regional universities and major companies that are similarly interested in his work. Most recently he visited a manufacturing expo held in Missoula.

“We were swamped,” he said.

The Milisavljevichs also stand out because of their skillful abilities with all stages of the replicating process, from start to finish.

Milisavljevich’s teenage son, Caleb, has become a whiz with the computer software that can alter objects. The software is the same used by the filmmakers of Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean and essentially any animated feature. Caleb can now help customers make modifications on the computer screen.

The family recently signed a contract with a regional university to create several 22-inch tall statues that will display, in full color, the evolution of clothing style changes.

In order to meet a flood of demand, he opened satellite offices in Portland and Missoula. Milisavljevich is also buying another printer — his fourth.

Less than two years ago, none of this was imaginable. It’s hard to explain where everything is headed from here. But Milisavljevich and his family appear to be on the brink of the future.

“These have just changed everything,” he said.
On 11-03-12, mooseberryinn commented....
Does anyone know if Comrade/King Obama is interested in 3D printing?  If he doesn’t see a good need for it, it will not survive.
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