The Department currently has a 3D printer that students can use to design and develop 3D models. Our students have the opportunity to take a 3D project from concept to design and right through to the building stage. These projects are student driven and the Physics and Engineering Club currently manages most of the 3D printing projects for the department under the supervision of Dr. Ford.
3D printing is an emerging technology that is just now reaching the commercial market. When we 3D print an object we are taking a 3D model created by modeling software such as Solidworks or AutoCAD and breaking it down into more manageable layers or slices. The slicer software then generates a series of commands for the computer to export to the 3D printer. The 3D printer then executes these commands, while at the same time extruding a liquid material that hardens as it prints each layer. The printer continues to construct the model in real life line by line, and layer by layer. In the Physics and Pre-Engineering department at Slippery Rock University we primarily use the PLA plastic filament as our extruding liquid, but other 3D printers can use other materials such as nylon, wood filament, and metals. PLA stand for Polylactic acid and is a biodegradeable thermoplastic.
3D printers have been used widely in the engineering and manufacturing industries to spur on innovation. Engineers in particularly use 3D printed objects to construct real-life models to simulate designs they are currently investigating or developing. In other industries 3D printing is often used to make highly specialized tools designed for specific situations or in the case of the fashion or art industries to create highly intricate and unique objects that would be hard if not impossible to construct by hand. Having a 3D printer in the Physics and Pre-Engineering department allows students, particularly pre-engineers, to gain an important skill that will be helpful to them in their future careers as engineers.