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Why Chattanooga is a Leading 3D Printing Hub

Kristyna Bronner

Chattanoogans and non-Chattanoogans alike may have noticed that our city has received quite a bit of media attention for our thriving 3D printing scene. CNET, one of the world’s top sites for tech news, said that 3D printing is “where Chattanooga's past meets its future,” while 3D Printing Industry noted that Chattanooga is on track to “be far ahead of the world.”

Like many people, you may be confused about what exactly 3D printing is and – perhaps more importantly – why Chattanooga has a become leader in the industry. You’ve arrived at the right place.

Simply put, 3D printing allows users to upload a digital file and ‘print’ customized, three dimensional, solid objects layer by layer (here’s a handy video from Mashable that explains the 3D printing process). 3D printing offers many advantages over traditional manufacturing, like the ability to print hard-to-find machine parts on demand, or print shapes that aren’t found in traditional manufacturing processes. Around the globe, people use 3D printing to create things we’ve never seen before, like 3D printing food and cars.

In the midst of all this innovation, industry experts recognize Chattanooga as a top hub for 3D printing companies, which comes as no surprise to those who have recently visited the area. For starters, there’s a large cluster of 3D printing companies in Chattanooga, including: Branch Technology, which uses the world’s largest freeform printer to make building walls; 3D Ops, which uses CT scans and MRIs to build 3D printed models of body parts, so that surgeons can better plan and practice medical procedures beforehand; and Collider, a startup which recently received invested from VC firm Asimov Ventures, will allow manufacturers to print in materials and shapes not yet used in 3D printing.

These companies all participated in GIGTANK, a boutique accelerator for startups developing ultra high-bandwith business applications. GIGTANK organizers recognized that Chattanooga – a city with a rich history in manufacturing – was ripe to be the next great 3D printing hub, and in 2014 dedicated spots in the summer GIGTANK program to 3D printing companies. Many companies, including Branch, first came to Chattanooga for the GIGTANK program and ended up staying after realizing how great Chattanooga is.

So what else makes Chattanooga a 3D printing hub? As you’ve heard, Chattanooga boasts the fastest internet in the Western Hemisphere. Our municipal utility, EPB, offers companies and residents internet speeds as fast as 10 gigabits—more than 300 times faster than the average U.S. speed. Most importantly, our internet allows users to upload speed as fast as they can download: a critical aspect for 3D printing companies uploading large files with their product designs.

Since the Gig’s roll out in 2010, our city has experienced a cultural and entrepreneurial renaissance, which has helped attract new companies and residents. In fact, Chattanooga’s downtown has doubled its number of residents in the past two years; investors are building more than $700 million in downtown developments, providing even more housing and cultural opportunities for all. 3D printing has made its way downtown—the fourth floor of the Chattanooga Public Library is home to a 3D printer that is available for public use.  

And of course, these companies promote Chattanooga in their own way by exporting 3D printed and Chattanooga-made products. Branch Technology recently displayed its 3D printed garden pavilion at Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville, making the news and exposing many to what Chattanooga-area companies can create.

Are you part of 3D printing company and want to learn more about bringing your company to Chattanooga, or simply interested in learning more about 3D printing in our city? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and give us a call at 423-756-2121. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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