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Pitt has been working with Oberg Industries for five years to help them develop an expertise in additive metal technology. That investment has increased Oberg’s competitiveness in the metal fabrication market and in this interview Dave Rugaber, Oberg’s chief technology officer, and Albert To, Pitt’s associate professor mechanical engineering and materials science, discuss their collaboration.
Dave, what does Oberg do?
Dave: Oberg is expert in metal fabrication, using all kinds of techniques to come up with precise assemblies and components. So, our customers were asking us, what about this new additive? Where could we use it? Is it an application for us? We’re consultants to our customers, so we needed to know about it. We’d studied it, we’d read about it in research literature, but we needed to get hands on in a real research application and really get familiar with it. This was really important to us, because if a new technology comes out could change what our customers need, or obsolete something that we are working on today, we want to be the first people understand it and we want to do that replacement ourselves. We also want our customers to be able to advance their products in the market place as fast as possible, using traditional and new techniques such as metal additive manufacturing.
Albert, how did the University of Pittsburgh become involved with Oberg and its additive work?
Albert: When I first met David, Oberg industry was already very interested in additive manufacturing, but because they are a mid-sized company that does not necessarily have the capital to invest in a million-dollar additive manufacturing machine they wanted to partner with us.
Dave: At first it was just the core of the idea – is there a way that Oberg could actually learn additive, implant someone to run the Ansys laboratory at Pitt and also contribute to the projects that the University of Pittsburgh is working on. The commitment that it takes to learn additive technology is beyond what you can read in books or understand by talking to people. You need to be able to get your hands on the equipment, you need to be able to use the equipment, understand what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the type of involvement you would need to have, because then you really have the experience to say, I know this part really is a good additive application, or it’s not.
Dave: We actually are rotating people through the University of Pittsburgh. Our goal is to have multiple people in different functions at Oberg that are very conversant and understand where this technology should be used. That way, whether it’s on the manufacturing floor, or with our customers helping them launch new products, we know when to best apply metal additive manufacturing.
Dave: Our competitiveness definitely has increased in terms of how we can serve our customers better because of our relationship with Pitt’s Ansys Lab. It gives us a lot of credibility with our customers and taken us to a level that our competitors can’t necessarily match because we can send them sample parts out of additive and answer questions very well, so it’s definitely made us more competitive.
This is an evolving technology, it’s a new technology. It’s very important that we understand this. We don’t want to be on the outside looking in. And this is by far the most cost-effective way that we can be right in the middle of the technology. So for us, compared to any other way to do it, it’s the most cost effective way to position ourselves where we wanted to be to support our customers.
Dave: The OEP organization has been instrumental and somewhat of a glue I think. They have been there to encourage the partnership and develop the relationship between the two companies.
Albert: I think in the future this relationship will grow more because we’ve always been discussing new possibilities and opportunities where we can really go out and impact advanced manufacturing.