Research, Development and Guitar Parts on Display at Unique 3D Printer Lab in Colorado
I recently visited Fort Collins, Colorado, for the STEM Education Symposium at Preston Middle School (see my posts here and here to get caught up), where I had the privilege of visiting Colorado State University. I was excited by what I saw and wanted to share with EDCompass readers. Read on.
Down a dark and dusty hallway in the basement of the engineering building on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, there are a series of non-descript doors. Most are festooned with generic-looking name placards announcing the resident Ph.D or P.Eng. But, there is one that is different. To the left of the door leading into Room B7B, a highly-detailed plastic-looking ram’s head is affixed to the wall. It’s the entrance to the Idea-2-Product (I2P) lab.
Also known as a “3D Make Lab”, the innovative I2P program provides CSU students, researchers and the public to access a wide-range of 3D printers. Machines in the lab range from commercially-available, out-of-the-box solutions like Makerbot and Afinia to custom printers designed and built in the lab – some of which are made from parts created on a 3D printer. On my visit the room was hot, cramped and abuzz with students and curious visitors.
Students and the general public can book time in the lab to print whatever their project calls for. All that is required is a short certification training course before using the printers and a credit card to pay for materials used. The lab also provides a full concierge-style service to individuals or companies who don’t have the time or the expertise to use the machines, but have a need for a 3D printed product. In this scenario, I2P provides end-to-end services, including design work, for a fee. It’s a model that is all about empowering researchers, students, companies, entrepreneurs and “makers” to move from idea to prototype to market quickly.
When I was in the lab during my trip to Fort Collins for the STEM Symposium, my host and I2P director Dr. David Prawel showed me a large-scale religious art piece, smalls cogs, a bobble head, assorted widgets and an octopus. With hum of printers large and small whirling from all angles in I2P, seeing 3D printing as it is happening is an extraordinary and humbling experience.
The precision, the detail, the software and hardware, and the limitless possibilities of 3D printing all made immediate sense as I watched a young man carefully whittle away at small, colorful plastic objects with a pair of needle nose pliers. He said he didn’t mind if I hovered for a while. He also happened to be at a station near an open door and while the cool draft was most certainly welcomed by me, it was not by the Plexiglas-encased printers, which apparently don’t like even the slightest temperature change. As he chipped away late into a Friday afternoon, I am asked what his interest in 3D printing was all about. Judging by the series of small cylindrical items he was honing, I assumed he must be printing parts for an all-important end-of-term engineering project. I was wrong. He was printing replacement parts for his electric guitar pick-ups. A completely practical purpose in the midst of incredible technological emergence.