Experts demonstrate 3-D printing technology [The Bismarck Tribune, N.D. :: ]
(Bismarck Tribune (ND) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 28--North Dakotans saw a demonstration Thursday of how 3-D printing is becoming more accessible and affordable.
"Now anyone can have the capability," said David Lehman, a North Dakota State University industrial and manufacturing engineering Extension specialist. "It's really exciting."
NDSU Extension hosted a 3-D printing demonstration Thursday in Bismarck.
"If we can get the technology out to more people across the state, maybe there will be more uses," Lehman said.
The presentation covered how 3-D printing could be used in manufacturing, both for prototypes and making actual products.
"It's amazing technology," said Ben Bernard, an NDSU computer services specialist.
Bernard said 3-D printing is a good fit in the educational realm as well as the design realm.
For example, a biology teacher may choose to print out models of bones, atoms or molecules to pass around a classroom for students to examine rather than having them look in a textbook.
Another example Bernard gave was use of 3-D printing by architecture students at NDSU. They can use the technology to make models that include complex geometrical shapes that can't be made by hand.
"In one semester, we were doing things we couldn't design before," he said.
One student made a model of a subterranean steam house that could fold apart, showing the detail in the different layers of the structure.
The models take less time to make with the printer, too. A small model of a cathedral took eight hours to print using standard resolution.
The printers at the demonstration printed objects made out of plastic.
The filaments came in multiple colors and there were two types: Polylactic acid filament, a corn-based bio-degradable plastic, and the stronger Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, the same material used to make Legos.
The filament comes on rolls. The printer melts it and lays it down layer by layer to build an object. Then the object hardens as the plastic cools.
Bernard stood on one of the designs, a hexagon that was hollow inside except for a plastic honeycomb pattern for support, and it supported his weight of 250 pounds.
The printers hook up to computers and receive the commands for printing objects from 3-D design software. People can design their own object using 3-D design software or download what others have made online.
Bernard said the technology has been around since the 1980s, but is now more affordable.
A professional printer that used to cost $30,000 to $50,000 can now be purchased for $2,300. Build-your-own printer kits sell for $300 to $700.
The costs of materials also are less. A kilogram of filament, or 2.2 pounds, good for about a month of printing, costs $20 to $50. That comes to about 25 to 40 cents per cubic inch.
Jake Clark, lead designer at Alderon Industries, said his company is now able to bring products to market with less risk because of 3-D printing. He is also able to turn an idea into a product in a shorter period of time.
Alderon Industries is a control panel and wastewater-product manufacturing company in Hawley, Minn.
With 3-D printing, Clark has shortened design time from a couple of years to a month. He recently designed sensors used in maintaining water levels.
Earlier, he would have had to use injection molding to prototype the product, which could cost $400 to $1,000. He can print a model for $10 to $15 now. He estimates he has saved the company $62,000.
Clark said the lower cost allows engineers to explore and test ideas.
He recently opened a 3-D printing company in Fargo called Fargo 3D Printing. There he sells printers, does custom printing and creates curriculum for school teachers to use 3-D printing in the classroom.
Clark said 3-D design software and engineering principles are being taught to students as early as middle school. When they get to high school, 3-D printing lets them take their designs a step further and test them.
"They can learn engineering ideas and concepts at a younger age," Clark said.
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