*Thanks to Collin Binkley for interviewing us and writing/sharing this article about the DU3D printing pilot in the Columbus Dispatch!
This semester, Ohio State University bought two 3-D printers and spread a message across campus: For two months, students can make whatever they want on the printers for free.
It’s partly an experiment for the people in charge of technology at Ohio State. They wanted to measure demand for 3-D printers among a wide pool of students and workers, not just the engineering, architecture and art students who use 3-D printers every day for class work.
But it’s also a test of creativity –– to see what students, with no bounds, want to build.
“It’s an exciting technology,” said Queenie Chow, manager of the OSU Digital Union. “People hear about it and think they’re not going to get their hands on it.”
Demand isn’t a question anymore, officials said. Halfway through the pilot, the list of requests to use the printers topped 500, more than the printers can handle in those two months.
The list of projects includes plenty of curios and trinkets –– model cars, figurines from popular TV shows and bottle openers –– but also the big-thinking ideas that Chow hoped for.
Two students separately asked to build robotic, prosthetic hands. For one, it would be a gift to his father, who recently lost his hand in an accident. For another student, it’s an opportunity to see how 3-D printers could be used to spread inexpensive prosthetics around the world.
“My personal interests are the convergence of global health and emerging technology,” said Dheeraj Duggineni, 23, a medical student from Louisville, Ky. “It could really help from a global-health standpoint, installing a 3-D printer in clinics across the globe or in developing communities.”
Both students got the idea from websites that offer free, readymade designs that serve as blueprints for 3-D printers, the digital directions guiding the device. Most of the proposed projects came from websites like that, but some students have made designs on their own, or asked for help from the staff at the Digital Union, which connects students to all types of technology.
“That’s the beauty of the Digital Union,” said Liv Gjestvang, assistant vice president for e-learning. “It’s a place where people know they can say, ‘I want to do this thing, but I have no idea how to do it.’ ”
Other students have used the printers to make bicycle and car parts. One made plans to build the body of a violin, and another wants to build parts to make a flying drone.
Professors have taken note of the pilot, too.
One biology lecturer is printing small clips that attach to cellphones and, with the help of a glass bead, turn a phone camera into a microscope that magnifies up to 1,000 times. Cynthia Dassler printed microscopes for her whole class as a cheap alternative to expensive equipment.
Depending on the size, projects can take less than an hour or several days to print. Instead of ink, 3-D printers use a filament, starting their work on a flat surface and building up layers on the foundation. The finished products usually have a rough, plastic-like texture.
Across campus, other departments are trying to make 3-D printing easier and cheaper, too.
Art and design students already have a lab with 3-D printers, but they pay based on the size of the work. That means that class projects, and mistakes, can be costly. But the manager of that lab, Christie Whisman, is asking Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to donate its used sample spoons, which are made of a corn-based material that can be crushed and used as filament for 3-D printers.
“They’ll be able to print for free if Jeni’s is willing to give us the spoons,” Whisman said. “ It’s a cost savings for students, but it’s also just a way to re-use the stuff.”
Outside the art world, 3-D printers are commonly used in architecture to make model buildings, and in science fields to create prototypes of all kinds or models of molecules. A California biotech firm announced last year that it can print human tissue to be used for research.
The technology has been growing at other colleges, too. Xavier University, a private Catholic school in Cincinnati, opened an “innovation center” this month with 31 3-D printers. The goal is to spur collaboration among students and faculty members, along with local entrepreneurs.
Cost is still a limitation, though. The new MakerBot Replicators that Ohio State bought cost $2,900 each. After the pilot ends, OSU will decide whether to add more printers permanently.
“I can tell you that the interest is there. We’re just looking at the cost,” Chow said.
But there are other ways for students to get their hands on the technology. In January, with the help of an online manual, one student submitted a request to the Digital Union to print several small components –– the parts to build his own 3-D printer.