Engineering students explore 3-D printing at York

By   April 4, 2016
3D Printing Demo

A 3-D printing demonstration took place at Penn State York last April 28 for faculty interested in using the printers for the 2015-16 year.

This past semester, 3-D printing arrived in the classroom at Penn State York. Two 3-D MakerBot printers are on loan from Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) and were set up in April 2015, according to Suzanne Shaffer, campus instructional designer with TLT. Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services (ETS), a unit of TLT, and Ryan Wetzel, manager of Media Commons, made a trip to the Penn State York campus in April to talk with faculty about their 3-D printing needs.

Prior to the arrival of the MakerBot printers, Gaston said he used a RepRap, also known as a Replicating Rapid Prototyper. Most of the RepRap machine is standard hardware, and it can self-replicate by printing it’s own parts.

Gaston said the RepRap was used in Penn State York’s mechanical lab about two years before the arrival of the MakerBot printers on campus, and some students used it for their senior projects. It worked well for printing a box and its lid, but not for printing an extension cord coupler. The outside of the semi-cylindrical coupler was fine, Gaston said, but everything was being formed by extruded plastic filaments, and they had no support at the top of the inside arch. Some of those filaments were attached only at their ends, and hung loose in the middle.

“3-D printing has fantastic capabilities,” said Charles Gaston, assistant professor of engineering. “One of the objects I use to illustrate 3-D printing is like the rook from a chess set and a little castle tower, except it has an internal spiral staircase. You’re not going to make that with any conventional manufacturing technique.”

Dr. Chuck Gaston inspecting the new 3D printers

Dr. Chuck Gaston inspects the new 3D printers.

In two sections of a freshman engineering design class, students were involved in a windmill project where some teams used the MakerBot printers.

“They do experiments with an adjustable windmill to learn how windmills behave, then they design their own windmill for a power competition,” Gaston said. “It’s just a windmill head they are building; it’s put into a drill chuck that is attached to apparatus that can measure the power.”

The team-based competition, which included a series of trial runs, had several categories for students, including efficiency, highest predicted power, the ability to match their prediction of the first trial, the highest power achieved in any of the series of trials, and the ability to match their prediction of the last trial. Each category carried a different weight, and category weights were added up for the total score, Gaston said.

According to Gaston, the winning team of the competition produced more than five watts with their designed windmill.

Students in both sections of the class learned to use the MakerBot systems by themselves and printed an assortment of items, either for the windmill project or for their own personal interest.

“One student had a device that clipped a special shoe onto the pedals of a bicycle, so that for really high-powered racing, you could pull up as well as push down,” Gaston said. “A portion of that was either missing or broken. It was a fairly simple piece, but he programmed and printed a replacement.”

Other students have made a “pi cup pencil holder,” which has the numerals of pi circling around the cup, and another student made a cover for his electronic cigarette vaping dispenser, Gaston said.

For the spring semester, Gaston said he might incorporate the 3-D printers into his Production Design Laboratory class, where students make chess pieces with computer-controlled lathe and mill machinery. In the class, students learn laboratory methods in production design, which includes automation/robotics, computer applications, and conventional and advanced manufacturing processes.

A lathe and a mill make creating pieces more complex with a “real world” feel for students, and Gaston said 3-D printing has the downside of making things too easy. Regardless, 3-D printing does have capabilities that other techniques just do not have, he said, as students are able to make things they cannot make with a simple lathe and mill.

“When almost all the thinking is done by the computer programs, I’m not sure that the students fully appreciate what it takes to produce something by more conventional means,” Gaston said. “It does give them a lot of flexibility and a lot of power, which is good.”

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