3D Printing at Valencia Equips Students with Desired Industry Skills

 By Andy Ray, Professor/Program Chair for Building Construction Technology


3D printing is getting a lot of press and has some tremendous potential with exploration and application of new technologies. As key patents on existing manufacturing techniques have expired, the price of equipment has dropped and KickStarter has changed the paradigm for inventors seeking venture capital. This has resulted in exponential growth in the consumer market, with many new companies producing printers capable of fine detail at an affordable price.

The new Technical Certificate in Rapid Prototyping (proposed for the 2014 Valencia Catalog) allows students to explore the progress of 3D printing at Valencia while learning some of the opportunities and challenges these new technologies present to designers, as well as some exciting new software and hardware applications across multiple disciplines and industries.

The first class of Intro to 3D Printing was offered in fall 2013, made possible by the purchase of five new 3D printers, which are housed in Building 9. The first two models were AFINIA printers (available through Amazon, and purchased with Perkin’s funding) and have proven to be little workhorses. The maximum print size is limited to a 5-inch cube, but they consistently generate solid, good resolution objects with more than a dozen colors from which to choose, including two that glow in the dark. Students are using these two printers as their primary “test of concept” machines, and the portability of the machines has allowed us to demonstrate their use at multiple events on and off campus.

A slightly more expensive MakerBot Replicator 2x, with dual print heads, has added the ability to print in two colors at once, with a larger build volume of 12 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches. This printer and two more high-end machines were purchased with strategic equipment funding, for which we are grateful. The higher-end uPrint SE Plus has a build volume of 8 inches by 8 inches by 6 inches, and it prints final parts at higher resolution in solid and support material, similar to the Mojo Printer with its smaller 5-inch cube limitation. The water-soluble support material dissolves in a large ultrasonic cleaner.

As an experiential learning, project-focused curriculum, students in the first course were initially challenged to design a unique creation — a business card holder. Their second assignment was to take an existing product, a cell-phone case, and redesign, customize or personalize it.

Their final project involved service to the College. Each student was assigned a faculty member who had requested an object be created to serve as a learning artifact for their discipline. In essence, faculty functioned as their client and the student had to determine the client needs and produce a satisfactory product that could be used for instructional purposes.

KimLewis_3DPrints-270wThis project proved very successful and produced the following models: the Globe Theatre for humanities; molecules for biology; scaled human heart for anatomy; and a section of the Khufu’s Pyramid for humanities. One student modified his phone case to attach to a microscope, such that a cell phone can be used to take pictures of cell-division. This project will be presented at an undergraduate research showcase this fall.

The Advanced Rapid Prototyping course is currently underway in spring 2014 and is generating some interesting redesigns of injection molded parts (Legos), and the students are exploring design applications, such as protecting fragile objects and creating self-propelled vehicles using a variety of propulsion methods. Tommy James, adjunct professor, B C tech, has built a successful program that is popular with students, and those who complete certificates in drafting and design technology will find these skills are desired by industry.


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