PRINTING PROGRESS: Students Learn From 3D

It’s a busy time of year on college campuses as students rush to finish projects. A special high tech printer is helping one group get the job done.

It sounds and looks like most printers. But, what`s about to come out of a printer inside an Iowa State University lab isn`t like anything you print at the office. Teaching Lab Assistant Andrew Jordan shows a 3 dimensional object saying, “You`ve got 3 layers inside of this bone.”

Jordan works inside ISU’s rapid prototype lab. He helps design and engineering students print 3D objects from the computer. Teaching Lab Coordinator Bill Rickard says, “They can design a model and have it built within a day.”

And students print everything from wind tunnel parts to planetary gear sets and just about every component for a prototype of a bike. Steve Herrnstadt with the College of Design said, “Somebody asked, ‘can we ride it?’ No not yet.”

Rickard says the first 3D printer arrived on campus a decade ago. Now, about a dozen are at Iowa State. One of the printers in Howe Hall cost $170,000. And, it can take as much as seventy hours to print a complicated project. He says, “These use a polymer liquid that it lays down almost like an ink jet printer. It lays down drops and has a roll in it, and it rolls out evenly. And, then it uses ultraviolet light to cure those layers.”

Rickard says the printers can be a game changer for design. He says students can save thousands of dollars and several hours by printing prototypes instead of building the parts from scratch. He says, “You have product that you can look at and put together and identify problem areas. You can identify areas that are not going to work.”

Sophomore Jackson Johnson says the printers provide valuable hands-on experience. He says, “I have to be able to when I`m designing something, I have to be able to design it so somebody can build it.”

Rickard says 3D printers start at a couple thousand dollars for people who use the machines for a hobby. But, companies like Boeing spend up to a million dollars for 3D printers.



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