NDSU’s Technology Fee Advisory Committee provided a $15,000 grant to install the MakerBot Replicator 2 printers, and there are plans to expand the technology further in the near future. Five printers are located at Renaissance Hall and one at Klai Hall.
Currently, architecture and landscape architecture students are permitted to use the technology, but plans are being coordinated with the library through the NDSU Impact grant to make the equipment available to all students.
With the addition of 3-D printers, students can now bring their designs to life in plastic. The material used to create the printed designs is a biodegradable thermoplastic filament called polylactic acid, which is derived from corn. The scrap materials could be composted, but instead researchers are working towards recycling the leftovers into new filament — greatly reducing costs. Additional testing will be done to increase material varieties to enhance the strength of the product created from the printers.
Models are submitted to the printer through a Secure Digital card, and from there layers of filament are applied as thin as the width of a single sheet of paper. The printer heats the polylactic acid to 450 degrees, yet re-solidifies quickly and releases no fumes. The cost of a MakerBot runs at $2,300, and the price of a single scroll of polylactic acid is $25 — which will last through about a month of printing.
3-D printing allows students to create molds that were previously unachievable by traditional woodshop and laser cutting methods.
“There’s obstacles in the woodshop,” said fifth-year architecture student Casey Cotcamp.
Department of architecture and landscape architecture computer specialist Ben Bernard added: “Something that can’t be made in the shop is easily accessible through 3-D printing. It’s often referred to as a ‘rapid prototyping tool.’ If I have a design idea, I can complete it that day and know what’s working and what isn’t. That way I can be onto my next idea regarding that design.”
Bernard stressed the benefits this technology could hold for students of all majors.
“There’s lots of opportunities for students,” he said, “such as entrepreneurs who want to design a product and wish to print a prototype.”
Working with innovative technology will prepare students for a more successful future, as demonstrated by recent NDSU graduate John Schneider, who recently opened Fargo 3-D Printing after using the technology at NDSU.
“People will be able to find inspiration and use it more as a tool to complete what they’re trying to portray as visual artists,” Cotcamp said.