From the ground up: Taking 3D printing technology to the next level

Timothy Simpson is the proud owner of a custom wristwatch, one of only a few made entirely in the United States these days. Created by Vortic Watch Company, a firm owned by Penn State alumnus R.T. Custer, the piece is a beautiful 1908 pocket watch made in Waltham, Massachusetts, that is encased in a 3D-printed titanium outer shell and fitted with a custom leather strap.

With 3D printing, “Vortic was able to give new life to an antique, and create a niche high-end luxury good,” said Simpson, interim department head of the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and the Paul Morrow Professor in Engineering Design and Manufacturing.

A big part of the technology’s appeal, Simpson added, is that it allows for a level of customization not possible with traditional manufacturing. With 3D printing, Vortic can create custom titanium fittings for each unique timepiece using the same machine and placing orders after receiving payment. For Custer and a growing number of others, 3D printing has lowered barriers to manufacturing.

“It democratizes entrepreneurship, especially for hardware-based startups,” said Simpson. “Entrepreneurs don’t have to invest millions of dollars in machines and equipment. They can just buy a couple of printers and start making things.”

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