The magic of 3D printing
If you're on the UWS Yammer network (opens in a new window), you may have noticed some interesting creations coming out of the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics (SCEM) recently – recreations of the Eiffel Tower, shoes, hands, even cookie cutters – all thanks to amazing 3D printing technology, also known as "rapid prototyping technology".
Wondering how the magic of 3D printing works? 3D models are created using a computer program. Stereolithography (.STL) files are sourced online and downloaded for parts of the model, or you can design the model and save it as a .STL file yourself. Alternatively, a 3D scan of an existing model can be used. These designs are then turned into a new file format that can be loaded into a 'slicing' program, which creates instructions for the computer on how to make the finished product – the printer uses these instructions to build the 3D model, layer upon layer, using plastic.
The University currently has 17 3D printers. Most of the printers use plastic to build models, while others are multi-material and use chemical-based products and ultraviolet light to solidify materials to simulate plastic, rubber and more.
Trevor Johnstone, Technical Coordinator for Industrial Design from SCEM, says the time to print a project can take anywhere from between five minutes and 77 hours.
"We have had a large number of students using these machines this year for various projects including a full lighting display; product designs for a packaging company; design concepts for the UWS solar car, Inertia; shoes and more," says Trevor. "They have learned a lot of skills in regards to design. Students can create a 3D part and, within a day, have the part in their hand for visualisation and verification. In a way, it opens up the imagination of the student to what they can create in 3D."
While the 3D printers are proving useful to students, staff may also find use for them in their work. "We have created parts for the Observatory, made musical turning pegs for the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, and also used the machines to print off promotional giveaways for events," says Trevor. "SCEM Executive has been supportive in procuring new 3D printers for use in teaching and learning. All printers are available to support research, too."
What's in the future for 3D printing? "The technology has been growing at an alarming rate over the past five years," says Trevor. "There are already machines that can print food, ceramics, and metals. We can now buy carbon fibre, nylon and filament for printing wooden models. There are machines that can print full-size cars and houses. There are already universities that are linked to hospitals printing body parts using stem cell research. Imagine what else we can do in the next five years."
Find out more about 3D printing at UWS on the SCEM Facilities webpage (opens in a new window)
Keep in the loop of all things 3D printing at UWS by joining the UWS 3D Printing Hub discussion group (opens in a new window) on Yammer.