SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The latest gee-whiz technology addition at Slippery Rock University is a 3D printer that enables students to create three-dimensional, solid objects of virtually any shape from a design created on their laptop.
Ben Shaevitz, professor of physics and pre-engineering, said he bought the $700 Robo 3D printer to give budding engineers prototype learning opportunities.
"Students in the physics and pre-engineering clubs were very anxious to learn about this emerging technology," he said. "I thought this was an opportunity to pique their interest. SRU will purchase one eventually; I was just trying to take advantage of their enthusiasm. In addition, the printer serves as a platform for computer hardware interfacing - something not taught in the physics department"
A 3D printer is a limited type of robot capable of carrying out creation of objects under computer control.
"It was a gift from me to the physics department to help our students," Shaevitz said.
Maxx Swoger, a physics and pre-engineering major from Erie, used the printer to form a purple, plastic owl from an image he downloaded from the Internet.
"I was looking for something interesting and detailed to try and print out for my first big print, and I thought the owl was a good model to start with," he said.
Swoger said his first step was loading a 3D model onto his laptop, which in turn decided the most efficient way for the printer to create the object in 3D.
"The printer then takes a plastic filament and melts it at around 200 degrees Celsius and prints the 3D model I loaded on the program layer by layer until it creates an exact replica of what I see on my screen," he said.
The end result was the purple owl.
Swoger said he is part of SRU's 3+2 pre-engineering articulation program with West Virginia University. He said the 3D printer gives him career-specific learning opportunities that are emerging as mainstream in some firms.
"I can't stress how useful 3D printing can be to the future engineers, it already is becoming a token piece of some engineering firms," he said. "The firms use them to create scale models of parts they design, offering a real look at what was stuck on blueprints or a computer screen before. You can also use them to demonstrate working mechanical systems. For example, if you go to youtube.com and search '3D printed jet engine' some hobbyist printed parts for and constructed a model for how a jet turbine works."
Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.