Wohlers Associates helps organizations take advantage of technologies and strategies that enhance the rapid product development and manufacturing process.
By Ray Huff
At universities worldwide, 3D printing is unlocking doors previously unavailable to students, staff, and others. Five years ago, David Prawel introduced Colorado State University to 3D printing with a single RepRap 3D printer in the mechanical engineering department. News of the new technology spread quickly, and soon Prawel spun off a dedicated lab providing 3D printing education and services. The lab was modeled after Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs originally launched in South Africa by professor Deon de Beer.
I was introduced to the I2P lab in mid 2014. I had spent the first half of that year managing a fledgling web marketing startup in Denver, and was looking to shift into a more dynamic industry. After some preliminary research into the 3D printing industry in Colorado, I came across an open house at Colorado State hosted by the I2P lab. It included a symposium featuring Terry Wohlers, Andy Christensen, and others in Colorado. I was blown away by the amazing, cutting edge developments in my backyard. It was then I knew I had to find a way into this industry. A year later, while working at then 3D-printing startup Aleph Objects, I was encouraged to pursue a degree in engineering, and that brought me back to Colorado State and the I2P lab.
I accepted an offer to serve as lab manager during my first year and was immediately exposed to more developmental projects than I could have imagined. Entrepreneurs came to the lab seeking help in 3D modeling and proof-of-concept development. Researchers designed custom apparatuses for their experiments and fabricated them on the spot. Educators learned to think creatively in completely new ways to clearly demonstrate difficult concepts. Artists came to modify and replicate their models digitally and physically using 3D scanning and printing. Veterinary surgeons brought CT scan data to create bone and organ analogies in preparation for surgical procedures. Countless engineering students began to produce models of their designs from classes and projects. I found that with a little bit of education and guidance, people of all backgrounds can go further and faster with their ideas and innovations than ever before.
Today, the I2P lab looks vastly different than it did in the days of a single student running one 3D printer. Over the past two years, the I2P lab customer base has doubled to more than 700 registered users. The lab boasts 20 3D printers of both material extrusion and vat photopolymerization technologies. Users come from across campus and the community to make their dreams into realities.
As these technologies mature and become less expensive to implement, labs like I2P are developing and multiplying in nearly every corner of education. Already, maker spaces, schools at many levels, and even libraries are benefiting from the creative freedom offered by 3D printing, 3D scanning, and design software to empower the community. They are being challenged to transform ideas into realities that affect and improve lives.
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