Michigan Tech 3-D printer workshop

It’s been said that there is high-tech and then there’s sci-tech…technology that is real but seemingly so advanced that it’s hard for the average person to visualize it.

Three-D printers fall into the category of sci–tech, and not only are they real, but these teachers are learning how to build them.

Michigan Tech associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering Dr. Joshua Pearce says, “We have 24 teachers here that are working in teams of two to build self-replicating rapid prototypers, or three-dimensional printers.  They are open source 3-D printers that they are taking back to their schools to build scientific equipment and let their students get access to this new wave of doing industrial manufacturing.”

Whereas a two-dimensional printer can only print documents, a 3-D printer can create almost any object.

Dr. Pearce says, “You can literally use it to print anything, everything from common household things you might find in the kitchen. You can fix broken appliances with it. We use it here at Michigan Tech a lot to build our own scientific equipment, so highly customized, very expensive things that normally would cost thousands of dollars, we can print for under $10 in plastic.”

The applications are limitless, and they are not just for small components or only for the high-tech savvy.

One company has brought 3-D printers to remote areas of Chile.

“We are making a urinal this week for a slum outside of Santiago for a disaster relief bathroom installation,”  re:3D founder and catalyst Samantha Snabes says. “We are able to print furniture. We are looking at making a surfboard, a skateboard, things that are bigger than your hand.”

Where they used to cost more than $100,000, 3-D printers can now be bought for about the same amount of money as a flat-screen television. What’s even more amazing is that 3-D printers can be used to make other 3-D printers.

Dr. Pearce adds, “What’s really unique about them is the 3-D printers can make more than half of their own parts. They can fix themselves and they can upgrade themselves. And they’ll also be using it in their classrooms to create 3–dimensional student projects so the students can design something then actually bring it into reality.  But then also cut the cost down for teaching and learning aids that they would normally use in the classroom.”

This workshop was made possible by Square One and GM.

What these teachers learn here, they will then take back to the classroom to share with their students.

Calumet High School teacher Michael Roland says, “I’m going to bring it into my Basic Computer Technologies classes and show the kids what they see on the screen, they now how the capability to bring to life. So, everything that they thought “Oh, it would be really cool to have one those’, they’re gong to design it, they’re going to print it out, and they’ll actually have a tactile product.”

Programming a VCR was a challenge for our parents, and now our children might be printing DVD players before too long.