Union students begin 3D printing

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Kadean Vendryes ’15, Joshua Fields ’15 and Carson Miller ’15 in the newly-formed Design Studio. Courtesy of Drew McCalmont Kadean Vendryes ’15, Joshua Fields ’15 and Carson Miller ’15 in the newly-formed Design Studio.Courtesy of Drew McCalmont

Johannes Gutenberg would be delighted to know that Union has now joined the 3D printing revolution with the purchase of a Stratasys Connex 500 3D printer.

The printer was funded by a $330,000 National Science foundation grant.

This grant was awarded to a group of six professors, including Professors John Rieffel (Computer Science), Ann Anderson (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Rice (Biology), Robert Olberg (Neurology/Biology), Michael Hagerman (Chemistry) and Takashi Buma (Electrical Engineering).

The 3D printer was installed at the beginning of winter term and is intended to be used for student research projects.

As soon as the printer was unboxed, there was a list of projects ready to make use of this state-of-the-art technology.

The printer is now the centerpiece of the newly-formed Union Collaborative Design Studio (UCDS), which is a makerspace created to incubate multidisciplinary innovation.

“We’re having a ‘soft launch’ of the UCDS. So we’re open on a limited basis, and hope to have an official grand opening and provide more access to researchers in the spring,” said Professor John Rieffel.

One research project, lead by Professor Scott Kirkton and Areilla Yazdani ’16, will use the printer to make a plastic harness to add weights to grasshoppers’ backs.

The goal is to gradually increase the size of the weights and analyze the effects on the grasshoppers’ muscles.

Hypothetically, with the resistance training, the grasshoppers should be able to jump further.

Ashley Johnston ’14 is in the process of making an adjustable below-knee prosthetic with the 3D printer for the child of a Union faculty member.

“The basic concept behind [the prosthetic] is that it will ‘grow’ with the child, which will remove the need to continually replace the prosthetic as the child grows,” said Johnston.

She is also a finalist for the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award.

The award is not necessarily for Johnston’s project, but the 3D-printed prosthetic is certainly a highlight of her candidacy.

It is fitting that Union is an early adopter of 3D printing, given that five Union alumni work at Makerbot, including Makerbot President Jennifer Lawton ’85.

Makerbot is a leading consumer 3D printer company, which was bought by Stratasys for $400 million last summer.

Two Makerbot employees, Kevin Skeuse ’13 and David Sayles ’10 got their jobs at Makerbot after doing 3D printing research with Rieffel.

Rieffel emphasized that the printer is for the students. “The professors aren’t the experts.  The students know just as much as we do,” said Rieffel.

Along with the 3D printer, Union has a new team of three, soon to be four, student technicians, whom Rieffel has dubbed the “MakerCorps.”

This group will be dedicated to running the 3D printer. The MakerCorps will also assist students and faculty members with designing three-dimensional objects on the computer.

The MakerCorps is currently comprised of Joshua Fields ’15, Carson Miller ’15, and Kadean Vendryes ’15.

Rieffel explained that although the MakerCorps’ expertise will be free of charge, the plastic resin used for printing is not free.

Members of the MakerCorps are supported though work-studies and/or research practica.

After the MakerCorps has designed the part or received a file, the customer will be emailed a price quote.

“The prices vary greatly per material,” said Rieffel. Around 30 cents per gram is the price of one material the printer can use.

Use of the 3D printer is now open for use to the campus research community, with the help of the MakerCorps.

Applications for the MakerCorps are available on the UCDS website.

The Stratasys Connex 500 uses a liquid resin that gets pumped into the print heads, which move around extruding the resin to create the object.  The printer has eight print heads, each of which has 92 nozzles.

Multiple print heads allow for two different materials being printed simultaneously.

The materials can even be mixed as gradients of one another on the fly.

The plastic materials come in various colors, textures and densities.For example, Miller had printed out a wheel with a hard white plastic hub and a black, rubber-like tire on the outside.

In previous commercial 3D printers, material choice was limited to one per print-job.

In the not-to-distant future, keep your eyes pealed for printers that can make objects with multiple colors, similar to an inkjet printer.

Printers that can print metal objects will also be more prevalent within the next few years.

The 3D printer can materialize files from many 3D computer-aided design programs including: Solidworks, Maya, Blender, SketchUp and even the latest version of Photoshop.

In theory, Union’s printer can print objects as large as 50 x 50 x 20 cm.

This 3D printer is not just for rapid prototyping, it can make fully functional products.

It will be exciting to see what the Union community will be able to invent next with this extraordinary new technology.

For more information, the UCDS’s website is: muse.union.edu/design.

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