Ready for the ‘revolution’

Class prepares for a manufacturing world driven by 3D printers

January 25, 2017

Students Kyle Russell, front right, and Samuel Aasen, look closer at a 3D printer for which they designed a protective enclosure.

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.

Surrounding 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.

Scott SpringerIn 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 designed.

The Advanced 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.

The UW-Stout 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.”

General Electric, 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.

From left, students Ryan Conto and Brittney Hameister display a research poster on their 3D printing project, designing new landing gear for a racing drone.

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.

J.R. SmithThe 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 working properly.

“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.



Top: Students 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

Third: From 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.

Bottom: J.R. Smith