3D printing manufactures the future in CSU lab

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3D printing makes it possible to print meat for consumption and implants for survivors, while seamlessly combining a plethora of parts.

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Colorado State University’s second 3D Printing Day, hosted June 25, inside Behavioral Sciences Building and the Idea2Product Lab, brought renowned experts in the field  to demonstrate and discuss the use of 3D printing.

“It’s having a real impact on lives,” said David Prawel, director of CSU’s public-access Idea2Product Laboratory.

Prawel, along with his team, crafted the helmet for an exoskeleton to help paraplegics walk again. I2P used 3D technology to ensure the helmet will custom fit to any person’s head. The exoskeleton debuted at the opening game of the 2014 World Cup.

The first speaker to take the stage was Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates and CSU alumnus. One of Wohlers’ employees, Olaf Diegel, creates 3D printed guitars modeled after insects.

“Why would you want bees inside the honey comb,” Wohlers said. “Because, we can.”

The technology began in the late 1980s and recent growth trends show that its popularity has grown 32.2 percent on average in the past three years, according to Wohlers.

“We think the tipping point for 3D printing was around the 3rd quarter of 2012,” Wohlers said.

Low-cost 3D printers, high end applications for commercial and medical use and 3D printed guns have attributed to the recent popularity of 3D technology, according to Wohlers.

There is a general confusion between low-cost 3D printers and high-end applications. Low-cost 3D printers run in the hundreds of dollars while high-end printers can total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”The materials used can vary based on the machine, as well. Low-cost printers use cheaper materials while high-end printers could produce metal or polymer products.

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“You more or less get what you pay for,” Wohlers said.

Boeing, a pioneer in 3D printing, is using the technology to consolidate and compound parts. According to Wohlers, Boeing has combined parts to reduce the total number of parts required, which has led to the reduction of assembly lines. The parts, after creation enter a rigorous test process with the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) to ensure each part is air safe.

Another airline company, Airbus, is working on creating mass sections of a plane, attempting to reduce the overall weight by 1.7 tons.

NASA has consolidated 115 parts down to two. This year a 3D printer will be sent to the International Space Station to recreate parts quickly.

“The idea is to build parts on demand,” Wohlers said. “I was told they lose a surprising number of parts on the space station, like a wrench.”

3D printing even extends into living organisms. Modern Meadow is working to print beef, and all sorts of meats, for consumption.

Andy Christensen, 3D Systems vice president of Personalized Surgery and Medical Devices, explained the place of 3D printing in the medical field. According to Christensen, surgeons can simulate surgeries via virtual planning to laser guide and custom design specific implants, making old methods and measurements outdated. In addition, the software used can virtually duplicate body parts for 3D printing with plastic, polymer and metal materials. 3D printing, in association with virtual planing, is reducing negligence, costs and time for surgeons.

Easton LaChapelle, 18-year-old founder of Unlimited Tomorrow, spoke last. He began his career when he was 14. Through the past four years he has taught himself robotics and created a full 3D printed robotic arm, which he used to shake President Obama’s hand. He also just left NASA after five months of work and graduated high school a month ago.

For LaChapelle, it began with a 7-year-old girl and her artificial limb at a science fair he entered to fund his projects.

“This small girl came up to me and she had a prosthetic limb and I started talking to her parents more about it and I soon realized that this arm costs $80,000,” LaChappelle said.  “For $80,000 you would expect it to be a full functional arm … It wasn’t at all.”

So, he designed a full robotic arm on his computer and printed it for $400 on the three 3D printers sitting in his room. Since then he’s been inspired to create more efficient exoskeletons. Before parting the stage, he shared a part of his philosophy.

“I encourage everyone to be curious and to chase your dreams,” Lachapelle said.

Collegian Managing Editor can be reached at news@collegian.com.