Last spring, two teams of sophomore industrial design students designed and assembled two 3D printers. The teams had the opportunity to build the printers through the Department of Design, in an industrial design class taught by Professor Roozbeh Valamanesh. The rising popularity and increasing demand for 3D printing technology encouraged the development of this innovative project, supported by the department and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD).
To construct the printers, the students used 3D design modeling software and imported the firmware into the printer. Although the machine is not as complicated as it might seem, there are many individual parts that make printing possible. The teams spent nearly two months in class researching, designing, building and modifying the printers to function properly.
“The coolest thing was when it started working,” says sophomore team member Emily Stokes.
Thanks to their design, the printers are able to accept any virtual 3D project from any software. The printer builds the model object using a biodegradable starch material called PLA (polylactic acid), which is wound into a thin wire-like coil and thread through a heating apparatus where it is dispensed onto a platform. The 3D printers work on three axes: the x axis, y axis and then the z axis to build up the layers of the 3D object. The software slices the model into thin layers and the printer builds the object one layer of PLA at a time, until the object is complete.
The interesting thing about these printers is their “self-replicating” nature according to Valamanesh. Approximately 40 percent of the parts needed to make the department’s two printers were created by a printer acquired last year. The two printers created this year will be used to create the parts needed to construct printers next year, and so on, creating a network of printers for students in the Department of Design. The printers will have a “parent-child” relationship with one another, and in the future, Valamanesh aims to create a family tree of 3D printers.
The 3D printing project was made possible by funding from ACCAD; Valamanesh hopes to continue the project every year.