Ready for the ‘revolution’
Class prepares for a manufacturing world driven by 3D printers
January 25, 2017
As Professor Scott
Springer stood in a University of Wisconsin-Stout manufacturing lab, the
student activity around him underscored something he believes has been
happening for several years.
“There’s a quiet
revolution taking place on how things are manufactured,” Springer said.
Springer and his students was the reason for that revolution: 3D printers.
Preparing for their
careers in the world of engineering and manufacturing, students weren’t just
learning how to use 3D printers but how to make them work, how to program them,
how to troubleshoot them and even how to build and improve them.
The Advanced Manufacturing
Lab in Jarvis Hall Tech Wing at UW-Stout had seven such printers, but no two
were alike and they weren’t being used by students in the same way.
In one corner was a
group of students designing and 3D-printing new landing gear to improve a commercially
made racing drone.
In another corner
was a group fixing a malfunctioning 3D printer.
In a third corner
were students retrofitting a 3D printer to meet the needs of a product they had
Manufacturing class included 20 students from a variety of majors: manufacturing
engineering, engineering technology, packaging, plastics engineering and
mechanical engineering. Computer engineering students may be in future classes.
students want to be part of the “revolution.”
“This is why I came
to UW-Stout. There aren’t a lot of schools that have classes like these,” said
Anthony Panici, of Wilmette, Ill., a senior majoring in engineering technology.
“I’ve been into 3D printing since I was 10. One in five companies now is using 3D
printing. In eight to 10 years it will be one in three. If you can design it,
you can print it.”
for example, is using 3D printers to make a part that once was an amalgamation
of 20 parts. The new part is faster to make, less expensive and lighter,
Professor Scott Springer said.
GE recently bought controlling
interest in two companies that make 3D metal printers, a newer form of 3D
printing as opposed to melting polymers. 3D metal printers use lasers to melt
metal dust, turning the dust into solid objects, Springer said.
He referred to 3D printers as robots. “How do you control
them? 3D printers employ robotic control algorithms, electronics, motors and
drive systems. How do you make a machine to give you a better
manufacturing system? It’s engineering, and it’s robotics,” he said.
New class for a new age
The class was
created by Springer, who recognized the trend in manufacturing and that
graduating students will need in-depth knowledge of 3D printers when they reach
the work world.
The curriculum was
developed in part when Springer received a UW-Stout professorship in 2015, the Fulton
and Edna Holtby Manufacturing Engineering senior chair. He received endowed
funding to pursue professional activities that would benefit students.
The curriculum is all
about 3D printers, but the projects take many forms. “I give students a chance
to do something they’re interested in,” Springer said.
J.R. Smith, a
senior from Cornell, was part of a student team that added precision machining
to a 3D printer, which previously had come to UW-Stout as a kit and wasn’t
“We had to go in
and set it up and figure out why it wouldn’t start,” Smith said. “We knew very
little about the computer end of it. It was a huge learning curve. There was a
lot of troubleshooting.”
One group of
students came up with a business idea using a 3D printer. They programmed their
printer to create 3D topographic lake maps, something a cabin owner might buy.
Each map consists of 20 separately printed pieces.
If a company buys a
3D printer and doesn’t know how to use it or troubleshoot it, the printer “can
turn into a very expensive paperweight very easily,” one student said.
Along with the 3D
printers in the Advanced Manufacturing Lab, UW-Stout students and staff use 3D
printers in other academic areas, including the School of Art and Design and
the Discovery Center Fab Lab.
Kyle Russell, front right, and Samuel Aasen, look closer at a 3D printer for
which they designed a protective enclosure during the Advanced Manufacturing
class at UW-Stout. The enclosure helps control the cooling rate of plastic
parts made by the printer.
Second: Scott Springer
left, students Ryan Conto and Brittney Hameister from the Advanced
Manufacturing class at UW-Stout display a research poster. Their group’s
project was 3D-printing new landing gear for a racing drone.