3-D printing: For engineers and entrepreneurs
ASSISTANT MOSAIC EDITOR
Last Christmas, junior mechanical engineering major Nicholas Lunsford needed Christmas gifts for his parents. After uploading photos of his parents’ faces to his computer, he used a 3-D printer to create busts of the two of them – Lunsford’s father keeps his bust on a shelf in his office.
The 3-D printer came in handy once again when Lunsford moved into his new apartment. He saw there were a few odds and ends missing, including that little circular object that holds toilet paper. So he went online, found one and printed it.
After a while, he noticed that people had a need for pool cover clasps, so he started selling them for $4 each on eBay. This is all from within the comfort of his own home. Clearly, hs 3-D printer has fulfilled a variety of purposes.
Lunsford is not the only person for whom this is true. According to research company OnePoll, 3-D printers are gaining popularity and sparking a DIY trend. The company polled 1,000 U.S. consumers and found that Americans want to use the printers to create everyday items, jewelry, personalized gifts and prototypes for business ideas. Moreover, it mentioned this interest lies mostly with millennial consumers, ages 18 to 24.
Colby Banbury, junior and president of Printing Revolution, the university’s 3-D printing club, says printing has given him further experience with technology and helped him land a job.
The club’s main purpose is to teach the university community about the opportunities 3-D printing offers.
“We also hold meetings to teach people about 3-D design, how to 3-D print things and we try to run semester-long projects,” Banbury says.
Last year the club helped a hospital make children’s hearts, a project that came about when the club was approached by a PhD student who was working on transferring computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scans into 3-D files. He then connected the club to Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital, where surgeons needed 3-D hearts to practice operations. The club made the models on their 3-D printers, sent them to the hospital and the hospital liked them enough to proceed to create the hearts with a professional printing company.
Aside from occasionally working on projects, the club wants students to understand that 3-D printing is pretty straightforward.
“It’s the easiest thing, you just press a button, it gives you a file and you hand it off to someone with a printer and they can print it,” Banbury says. “Really you don’t need a class on it, anyone can 3-D print.”
Graduate student Yashita Jain works as a 3-D artist in the Blue Print 3D Studio located on campus in the basement of Smith Hall. Blue Print has been in the basement since 2015, with a staff of 10 students and five printers – three small and two large, of the brands Cube, CubePro and Makerbot, respectively.
Also in the office are various colored 3-D items. On the desk where Jain sat, there was a pencil holder made from their 3-D printer. However, she thinks the most interesting things printed by the studio have been a chess set and a human brain.
“You can see there is a Blue Hen, whale, cars, eiffel tower, fish, so students can design on their own, and also they can get the design from different websites,” says Jain, pointing to items displayed on a nearby wall.
Blue Print also works with classes each semester, including Typography II, Leadership, Innovation and Creativity and CAD for Landscape Designers. Still, Jain says 3-D printing is beneficial for every major. She says business students can use it to design a prototype, biology students can gain access to organs and engineers can design motors.
Generally, it takes two to four hours for small objects to print and eight hours for large items to print at the studio, and the process is relatively easy for students. Students can request something to be printed on Blue Print’s website. Then, it gets reviewed by an employee and finally, it is printed.
The printer, Jain says, works “layer by layer, so the plastic is in liquid format. It comes like an extruder, and it starts printing to the shape of the object and then it cools down and it is a solid device.”
Jain says students should not be nervous to start 3-D printing because Blue Print holds monthly beginners’ workshops. She believes that students and professors alike can benefit from the technology as 3-D printed objects help make difficult concepts easier to understand.
“So [students] can have a more hands-on experience to not just imagine but to see the object in real life,” Jain says. “It might help them learn better.”