COVID-19 Update: Operations, Serving Educators & Joining the Fight

Update May 29, 2020

It’s been a month since our last update, and our COVID-19 response is still going strong! On May 12, we were honored to receive an honorable mention in the America Makes Fit to Face – Mask Design Challenge.  Designer Mike Battaglia and Engineer Samantha Reeve submitted a mask in two sizes designed to be printed with NinjaTek Cheetah. We continue to collaborate with projects for supplying PPE and consulting on new solutions for face shields to ventilators.

Our Houston factory is still closed to the public, but our team remains committed to building your Gigabots and filling your supply orders and service needs.

Gigabot customers around the world are tirelessly supporting their communities and we are honored to share their stories. If you have been doing COVID-19 work, we’d love to hear from you!

AUSTIN UPDATE
Thanks to the efforts of so many groups in the city, the PPE needs for healthcare workers there have been met and we have wound down our collection boxes for 3D printed PPE.

HOUSTON UPDATE
As the city begins to open back up we have teamed up with Impact Hub Houston on PPE for the People, an effort to provide PPE to workers in minority and under-served communities who are at greater risk of critical illness from COVID-19. Please support this project by sharing, donating and letting local businesses know about the opportunity.

PUERTO RICO UPDATE
The PPE support work in Puerto Rico continues and the Gigabot collaboration at Engine-4 keeps churning out supplies for the island.

If you’d like to be connected to any local effort we would be happy to make introductions and provide resources. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org.

Update: April 25, 2020

It’s hard to believe that two more weeks have past since our last post! We continue to aggregate and collect your PPE donations in Austin, Houston and PR. We also (just met the deadline for the America Makes Mask Fit Challenge). The final design will be posted to our NIH 3D print exchange tomorrow:)

We continue to be inspired by YOU, and welcome your pics and videos for future stories!

For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew, Capital Factory and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
Capital Factory
 701 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701
(located in the parking garage, next to the loading dock:)
 
HOUSTON
TXRX is winding down its collection of its 3d printed face shield as they have been able to move to injection molding; a move we fully support! We are keeping our drop box open for community PPE donations and will make sure they get donated to those in need. Currently we can accept: assembled face shields, ear savers and Montana Masks. As we get more requests we will post opportunities here.

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

Update: April 10, 2020

What a week! You all have done an amazing job helping our neighbors & the community at large!

While we continue to iterate this face shield design for the Texas Children’s Hospital (you can view the design on the NIH 3D Print Exchange), as well as hands-free door pulls, we have been blown away by the many Gigabots around the world who are helping with the fight. We’ve started collecting some stories. If you would like to be added, please feel free to share your pictures, details and video with info@re3d.org!


Some of you have also asked how you can use Gigabot and/or other printers to support the local movements near our offices. For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
 
 
 
HOUSTON
TXRX and the amazing maker-community continue to organize face shield collection around Houston.  We are donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  We’ve received up to 300 donations in 6 hours- keep it up!
More information and the design file is available here.
 

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
 
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

 

If you live outside of these areas and/or are seeking ways to contribute:

A Form to Volunteer is Available Here. We will be responding to inquiries this weekend and doing our best to facilitate introductions:)

Update: April 3, 2020

re:3D is working on a number of different projects related to 3D printing and COVID response.  Our Houston factory is helping to support two efforts.  The first is supporting the efforts of TXRX and the amazing maker-community organizing taking place around Houston.  re:3D is donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  Second, the re:3D design team is prototyping a custom face shield design, in conjunction with doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital.  The new design incorporates a pre-cut clear plastic face shield with a 3D printed holder/headband.

In Austin, re:3D is rallying the local maker community.  While there are a number of people working on the 3D printed PPE issue in the Austin area, re:3D is hoping to help organize these efforts.  The Austin team is designing hands-free door pulls and intubation boxes, and we will be releasing all of the 3D printable open-source designs that we have created, including face shields, door pulls and anything else we develop, free of charge. We are opening Austin community drop boxes at multiple locations where anyone who 3D prints can donate their COVID-19 parts. location information will be released as soon as it’s finalized.

In Puerto Rico, re:3D is supporting efforts led by Engine-4 on 3d printing face masks and ventilator splitters. Thanks to efforts by Parallel18, our Gigabot has been relocated to Engine-4 to print for this effort and we are hosting weekly calls for healthcare professionals, designers and makers to organize the community to support creating PPE unique to the needs on the island. We are connecting with every available Gigabot owner on the island to help them join the cause.

For anyone who wants to volunteer to help, please fill out this form.

Updated: March 25, 2020

To our Global Gigabot Family and Supporters,

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. The 3D printing community is a talented, diverse and compassionate arm of the creative tech ecosystem. We are energized and inspired by the mass mobilization of 3D printing to tackle COVID-19 head-on by providing protective gear to medical personnel, medical equipment to aid victims and filling gaps in supply chains. Every day, you are proving that this technology changes the world for the better. Keep at it!

re:3D IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

We have been closely following COVID-19 developments in our areas and listening to the recommendations from local and federal authorities. The small yet mighty re:3D team has always been mobile and adaptable, and we are continuing our regular operations while keeping the health and safety of our team at the forefront of all considerations. Here’s how:

    • Your Gigabots® are being built and shipped on their regular schedule.
    • Your supply orders are being fulfilled with minimal delay.
    • Your 3D printing, design and 3D scanning services are moving forward as planned.
    • As an essential business, the Houston factory is open and fully operational. In-person visits are restricted to deliveries and pickups only to respect guidance on social distancing.
    • Meetups, walk-in tours and in-person classes are suspended until further notice.
    • Classes will move to online-only as format and demand allows.

$100 SERVICE CREDITS FOR EDUCATORSThe education landscape has dramatically changed in the last few weeks and as many educators gamely adapt to new methods of teaching, you have awed us with your adaptability, tenacity, and positivity. In recognition of your herculean efforts, now through April 10th we are offering to educators a $100 credit, with no minimum purchase required, for re:3D printing, designing and scanning services.

For all those schooling from home, we are extending a 20% off discount on all services (scanning, design, printing, materials testing) for any effort supporting distance learning.

Service quotes can be requested at re3d.org/services

HELPING THE EFFORT TO FIGHT COVID-19

re:3D’s Houston factory is equipped with a printer farm of large-format industrial Gigabot® 3D FFF and FGF printers, a metrology-grade 3D scanner, a full machine shop that includes two CNCs, manual lathe, drill press and cutting tools. This equipment and our team of 25 engineers, designers and technicians is available to fabricate equipment for healthcare providers that has been reviewed for viability and safety by medical professionals. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org to begin coordination. We are happy to prototype any life-savings device for free in order to expedite review by medical professionals.

For those looking for ways to put your 3D printing know-how to work in the effort to fight COVID-19, we are collecting contact information to share further developments and opportunities to 3D print for those in need.

 A Form to Volunteer is Available Here 

Additionally, a great list of other projects has been curated by our friends at the non-profit Women In 3D Printing.

Stay Healthy and Keep Printing!

  ~Gigabot & The re:3D Team

UAV Innovation Taking off at United States Air Force Academy

Download our whitepaper on 3D printing and drones

Steve Brandt has been flying airplanes for 20 years. F15s and F16s, mostly, with ten years as a test pilot flying new systems for the Air Force.

Given his history, it’s curious to hear him describe the latest tenure of his career. “I always like to say I’ve flown more first flights since I’ve been here in [four] years than I ever flew actually flying airplanes,” he says, “because just about every airplane we build has never been flown before.”

Brandt leads the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Research at the United States Air Force Academy. The elite institution – perched idyllically in the mountains ten miles outside Colorado Springs – is home to just over four thousand cadets pursuing degrees ranging from business to engineering. They will also graduate as Second Lieutenants in the Air Force.

The experience cadets go through at the USAFA, Brandt underscores, is unparalleled – even among the ranks of engineering behemoths like MIT or Ohio State. “There’s probably not another undergraduate senior in college that gets this kind of experience,” he says. “The Department of Aeronautics here is definitely the most well-equipped aeronautics lab in the country, especially at the undergraduate level.”

The Academy is home to impressive manufacturing labs, multiple levels of wind tunnels – from lower-speed options all the way up to supersonic (Mach 4.5, or four-and-a-half times the speed of sound, or 3,425.43 miles per hour) – a huge airspace for flying, and a long list of faculty and researchers to mentor cadets through their studies.

Cadets march their way through the Aeronautics Major, which culminates in conducting a capstone project of designing, building, and flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, under Brandt’s watch.

The aircraft that the cadets build and fly are not the balsa wood models of your childhood. They boast wingspans ranging from two feet to over five, retractable landing gear, jet and electric fan motors, and autopilot systems. They take off down runways, shoot off bungee cord launchers, and are released off the top of trucks while driving. 

“Everything we do here in the design of the airplanes is not normal,” says Brandt. “It’s abnormal.”

The aeronautics workshop is brimming with bodies of aircraft – spilling out of workshops and lining hallways and filling shelves up to the ceiling – that don’t exist in the real world…yet. “We’re doing cutting edge things. We’re trying to make airplanes do things that haven’t been done before,” Brandt explains. “When everything’s not normal, 3D printing is the solution, in so many ways.”

Designing One-of-a-Kind Aircraft

Lieutenant Colonel Judson Babcock is an assistant professor at the Academy currently teaching the senior capstone aircraft design course. This, he explains, is where students take on a project from a customer like the Air Force Research Lab and have the challenge of creating an entirely new, unique aircraft to meet a specific set of needs.

One such undertaking is a personnel recovery system: an airplane designed to rescue a fallen soldier from enemy territory using a retractable capsule released from the nose of the vehicle midair. Another is a supersonic air refueling tanker: a stealthy, high-speed craft capable of zipping into enemy airspace above the speed of sound, slowing down to refuel fighter jets mid-flight, and buzzing back to safety.

In the past, Babcock explains, UAV construction at the Academy typically happened in the mediums of balsa wood and foam. But with the unusual vehicles they’re making, traditional fabrication techniques are not always ideal. “Indeed, our students are making aircraft that have never flown before,” he says. “They’re unique shapes, unique designs, and unique structures.” All qualities, he explains, that render them “difficult to construct by hand.”

Pushing the envelope as they are, the Academy works to stay staying cutting edge with their facilities and technology. It was several years ago that 3D printing blipped on their radar.

Brandt and his colleagues in the aeronautics and mechanical engineering departments were researching methods that could increase their efficiency and accuracy in the aircraft design process. “Pretty much everything we design has got uniqueness to it,” he explains. “We can’t go buy something off the shelf.”

Brandt was aggressive about bringing 3D printing to the Academy for the technology’s ability to manufacture parts quickly and accurately: the technology could give them the ability to create these unique components in-house for rapid prototyping of aircraft.

“The value added to being able to print the parts over anything else is that there’s detail that can be made without flaw,” he says. “I can build holes exactly where I want the holes to be for a motor mount; I don’t have to machine it out of a piece of aluminum and spend a lot of hours and it be a lot heavier than it needs to be.”

As the Academy set its sights on bigger planes – “things that are two, three feet in breadth, and two, three feet tall,” Brandt recalls – he began looking for a printer with a build plate to match.

“I found the Gigabot, and it was the only big printer that I could find that had the volume that we started to think towards,” he recounts. Brandt saw a large-scale 3D printer as their ticket to print bigger sections of sizable aircraft with ease. Rather than having to break a component into multiple pieces to fit onto a small printer bed and connecting the parts post-printing, they could print entire plane sections in one go.

“When I found [Gigabot], we sat around and said, ‘Should we make this investment?’ One of our machinists said, ‘If we’re going to do it, get the biggest one, because you’re not going to want to print smaller.’”

Incorporating 3D Printing into the Airplane Design Process

The Air Force Academy invested in a Gigabot XLT, and with it, over 14 cubic feet of build volume. The printer purchase has paid off.

“To say that we use our Gigabot all the time is pretty much an understatement,” Brandt laughs. “It runs every day; there are times when it runs non-stop for three weeks.”

They use 3D printing to produce a multitude of parts in a variety of steps throughout the aircraft design process.

The first phase is the wind tunnel. Cadets take the CAD model of their concept craft, print it, and subject it to the rigors of wind tunnel testing to assess its aerodynamics in advance of flight. “We can validate the design in a wind tunnel with a 3D printed model, and then take it to the next scale and validate the fact that what we learned in the wind tunnel is accurate,” explains Brandt.

Once they confirm that the aerodynamics and stability of the aircraft are suitable, they’ll take the same CAD model, scale it up, and construct it with the help of 3D printing. Brandt goes on, “The only way to do that is to be able to develop the same airplane at a larger scale, and that requires a big printer that allows us to print larger parts so the accuracy is there in the design.” The successful scaling-up of a wind tunnel model is really only possible in the age of CAD and 3D printing. A balsa wood or foam model may pass wind tunnel testing only to fail on the runway because its larger, hand-constructed cousin didn’t quite match the geometry of its wind-tunnel brethren. 

Fuselage, tails, motor mounts, landing gear interfaces, control services for wings: all of these unique components are printed and assembled – along with batteries, servo motors, autopilot, and carbon-fiber-wrapped foam – to create a fully-functional aircraft.

“We can take the novel designs that our students create, put them on a 3D printer and assemble them together,” explains Babcock, “and we can have a totally unique design – a new aircraft that the world has never seen before – that hopefully meets the requirements that the customer gave us when we set out on that process.”

The Benefits of 3D Printing in UAV Testing and Design

3D printing is now a staple within the USAFA Aeronautics Department, and with it has come a bevy of benefits.

“We break airplanes a lot,” explains Brandt. These are planes that have never flown before that may take a little practice to get the hang of operating. Babcock echoes the sentiment. “Part of the learning process our students go through is failure,” he says. “Inevitably, when they’re creating an aircraft, something will happen and the aircraft will crash or be damaged in some way.”

Because of this, both Brandt and Babcock stress, the cost of plane production – in the form of both raw materials and labor – is extremely important to the Academy.

“That’s where 3D printing really has an advantage for us,” says Babcock. “Typically it would cost hundreds of dollars to produce scaled models of these aircraft. With 3D printing, we can produce a model on the order of $5 instead of $500. It’s literally 100 times cheaper than other construction methods we have available to us.”

Turnaround time is also of concern. They’ve found that 3D printing allows for quick crash fixes in addition to rapid design iteration in the early development stages.

“It happened this semester with my cadets,” Babcock recounts. “We put their aircraft in the wind tunnel, and it didn’t have the stability that they had predicted before we printed the model. We had to make a design change.” The group went back to the drawing board with their CAD model, made some tweaks, and printed a new prototype for the wind tunnel. The plane was ready for re-testing by the next class and passed with flying colors.

Staying on schedule is crucial not only given the cadets’ looming graduation day, but also for the customers who are ultimately relying on the results of this testing to move forward with a real-world project. Babcock adds, “It’s only because of 3D printing that we’re able to do a rapid turnaround on our design iterations and solve problems fast enough so that we can get to the goal of actually flying a prototype for the customer.”

Once cadets’ planes progress past wind tunnel testing, 3D printing also comes into play as they begin flying outdoors for the first time. The technology allows them to quickly repair crashed crafts and get them swiftly back in the air.

“One of the beauties of having a 3D printer is I can get a part at two in the afternoon, I can slice it, get it on the printer, it can print all night, and by the time the students come back the next day, they have a part in their hand,” says Brandt. “That’s the way the world works today, and that’s what we should be showing them.”

The technology functions as on-demand inventory when they have to mend broken aircraft. Once the CAD file is created, there’s no manual labor, nobody whittling balsa wood into the wee hours. “With 3D printing, we have a repeatable process that is hands-off where we can manufacture the replacement parts we need on an as-needed basis,” Babcock explains. “We don’t need to do a large bulk order of parts in advance; we can print new parts to repair the aircraft as accidents happen.”

A Challenging Atmosphere

“One of the biggest challenges of building airplanes, especially at the scale that we fly them: every single ounce matters.” Brandt explains that cadets have an extra obstacle working against them: they’re flying in a challenging atmosphere – literally.

The Academy sits at 7,200 feet elevation. It’s more difficult to take off and fly an actual airplane in these conditions, let alone a small vehicle that doesn’t have the capacity to carry a large engine. “Developing lift – which is what we need to do – is harder at this altitude,” says Brandt. “It’s a very challenging place to fly, yet we do it pretty successfully over and over.”

“And the speeds?” He smiles. “They’re fast.”

The aircraft they’re building are typically in the range of five to fifteen pounds, cruising at speeds between 30 and 80 knots – roughly 35 to 90 miles per hour. So not only do their designs need to be lightweight, they need to be strong.

3D printing affords them the ability to design and create parts in a way that traditional manufacturing or hand construction often does not, and also to adjust print settings to maximize a component’s efficiency in both volume and weight. “A 3D printed part can meet all of those contours, yet still have the strength that we need to be able to put it on an airplane and have the structure that we need to fly,” says Brandt.

Enabling Innovation with Cutting Edge Technology

3D printing is a relatively recent addition to the arsenal of manufacturing capability at the Academy, yet the headway they’ve made since bringing the technology on board is impressive.

“This capability here has really just been developed over the past four or five years of building airplanes at the volume and scale that we’re doing,” says Brandt. “We used to get three or four – maybe five – airplanes built a semester; maybe two or three of them would fly – maybe.”

Now, he explains, they have the means to significantly increase both the quantity and quality of production. They’ve essentially doubled their numbers – building, by Brandt’s estimates, somewhere between eight and twelve airplanes a semester. “And why can we do that? It’s because we have the design tools and the manufacturing tools to do it.”

It’s a boon not just to the Academy but also their customers – like the AFRL – who rely on their aerospace expertise. “I think the most invigorating thing to me is that we provide – as best as we can – a product to a customer in a very short turnaround time,” says Brandt. “3D printing has enabled us to build airplanes that are what the customer wants. The only way we do it with the level of precision and accuracy that we do it today is because 3D printing has infected it so much.”

Inspiring Future Airmen

At the end of the day, the Air Force Academy is just that: an academy.

Its mission is “to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.” And what better way to do this with the next generation of pilots and flight engineers than with the challenge of designing, building, and flying a unique aircraft that solves a real-world need?

“When you design an airplane, it’s built on a computer screen somewhere,” Brandt muses. “We’re going to take that CAD drawing and turn it into a real airplane. It suddenly jumps off the screen, and now they’re holding a real piece. The fact that we can do that quickly with a 3D printer is amazing.” Babcock has also seen how the technology has impacted the learning process for cadets. “It really makes the world come alive for them.”

When the cadets’ planes finally leave the theoretical realm and go wheels up, “the whole learning loop is closed,” explains Brandt. “All of the learning comes together, and they go, ’Wow, I really do understand how an airplane flies, I understand how it works, and I also understand that – even at this small scale – these things are very complex.’”

The majority of the USAFA graduates will go on to become pilots. This experience of designing and flying scaled-down jets, Brandt explains, “gives them a greater appreciation for how those things operate, and the complexities that they inherently have inside of them.”

As for the “inspire” portion of the equation, Babcock has seen enough cadets go through the process to understand that box is being checked.

“You have to realize these cadets have worked for four years in an extremely demanding environment: extremely rigorous academics combined with extremely rigorous military training and athletic requirements,” he explains. “In their last semester here in this capstone design class, everything comes together, and they design and build an aircraft from scratch that has never existed before to meet a unique customer need.”

Toward the end of the semester is when they first send their designs skyward. “When it actually all comes together and works for the first time, you just see it on the students faces,” explains Babock. “It’s an indescribable feeling where all of their four years [have] come together to reward them with this moment where they’ve actually made an aircraft and flown it. And it actually matters because there’s a customer out there that needs this aircraft to meet a certain requirement. It’s really a special feeling for them.”

Brandt recognizes that the Academy has taken a lot of chances as they plumb the boundaries of what can be done with regards to new aircraft development.

He references back to his statement about the unparalleled educational experience that the USAFA provides, even when compared to other top-tier engineering institutions of the country. “Their level of innovation is not the same as what we do here,” he adds. “We take big risks because we want great return, and we’re willing to take those risks to give the cadets the best experience that they’re supposed to get at the Air Force Academy.”

Brandt and Babcock both reflect on the profound effect that 3D printing has had at the Academy, for cadets as well as the customers for whom they’re creating aircraft.

“In terms of performance and reliability and cost,” says Babcock, “3D printing has changed how we operate around here for the better, because it’s beat all of the previous methods hands down in all of those categories.”

Download our whitepaper on 3D printing and drones

3D Printed Play Structures and Architectural Models with Rice University

“It is certainly a beautiful campus in which to construct a temporary play structure. It also meant that I would walk by the installation every day on my way to and from work, allowing me to observe the structure over time and learn more about the novel construction system.”

David Costanza, now teaching at Cornell AAP’s Department of Architecture, was a Technology Fellow at Rice University’s School of Architecture at the time of this visit, where he taught for four years.

In Model Object, a Rice seminar that Costanza co-taught with Assistant Professor Andrew Colopy, students explored issues of digital modeling and fabrication through focuses on additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, and cutting.

Costanza came from MIT where he got his M.Arch and S.MarchS, a postgraduate research degree. He was involved in a number of design and fabrication courses there, including as a teaching assistant for the class “How to Make Almost Anything,” where they were heavily invested in 3D printing. At Rice, one of his undertakings as a technology fellow was to restructure the building technology sequence in the School of Architecture, where he worked to incorporate more contemporary and digital tools for design, representation, and manufacturing.

Thanks to his heavy involvement with 3D printing during his time at MIT, Costanza brought a strong additive manufacturing background with him to Rice. This skillset helped him spearhead the bulking up of Rice’s 3D printer arsenal, where he used each machine as a stepping stone to the next level.

Sizing Up Rice's Printer Arsenal

When Costanza arrived at Rice, the department had one desktop SLA printer. In his first semester teaching Model Object, he and Colopy wrote a grant and were able to buy a series of Ultimakers, or desktop FFF printers. “We then used the work that was produced in that course to write a larger grant, and that allowed us to purchase the Gigabot,” he explains, “to allow the work that we were doing and the research at the smaller scale to scale up with the larger 3D printer.”

Their shift in focus from SLA to FFF was deliberate, Costanza explains.

They considered both SLS and SLA machines, and although the print resolution is high and allows for fine detail, the technology didn’t give them what they were ultimately looking for. “We’re trying to project forward as to how those geometries might be constructed in the real world,” Costanza muses. “The same translation that we have with an architectural scale model also happens at a full-scale on the construction site. So we’re trying to project how building that model might also scale up.”

SLS and SLA technology “works really well at a small-scale,” he explains, “but they don’t really allow for the scaling up of something that might be architectural.” If they were going to be testing complex geometries that would ultimately be building-sized, they wanted to be sure they were doing so using a method that was actually representative of real world construction.

“Because we’re very interested in the full scale here in the Architecture Department, we can really treat [an extruded] model as something that could scale up,” Costanza explains. “The thing that we’re printing on the Ultimaker can scale up to the Gigabot, and the thing on the Gigabot can scale up to a Kuka arm with [an] extruder at the end of a gantry crane.”

In the real world, building construction typically happens through an additive process: concrete is poured, steel is erected, bricks are laid, et cetera. A 3D print created using fused filament fabrication would therefore be a more realistic representation of how that structure would ultimately come to be. “Where the other models – SLS, SLA – would produce objects that were purely representational,” Costanza continues, “by using an [FFF] printer, we could essentially replicate – more or less, at a different scale – something that could happen at an architectural scale.”

The School of Architecture is now home to a Gigabot – as of several years ago – which lives in the department’s dedicated 3D printing room and spends most of its time producing models of buildings.

Now that architects essentially operate in a digital world – conceptualizing and designing buildings on a computer – “that translation from the digital models that we’re producing into a physical object or scale model can be quite complex for some of the geometries,” Costanza explains. “When the Gigabot is used to produce architectural representational scale models, it’s typically to produce geometry that would be otherwise quite difficult to replicate physically, but is quite simple to produce digitally.”

Beyond Architectural Models

Rice’s Gigabot also occasionally gets to spend some time on other real-world endeavors.

One such project was a chair that Costanza produced in collaboration with his Model Object co-teacher, Colopy. Thermoformed from a single piece of rice husk biocomposite, the final piece sports asymmetrical curves that are just as much function as they are form. The back of the chair flexes slightly to the body’s natural contours, the oblique face of the seat is perfectly angled for a natural tuck of one’s feet as it slopes to the floor, and the shape of the chair allows it to nest for packing purposes.

The design of the chair feels natural and obvious – as good design should – but much testing went into settling on its final form.

“As we were manipulating the geometry of the chair, the Gigabot allowed us to produce quick, iterative prototypes of how the chair might look that we could evaluate for its aesthetic qualities, but also even some of its performative qualities,” Costanza recounts.

They could use 3D prints not only to take their vision into the physical realm and allow them to turn the design over in their hands, but also to test its functionality. “To see how the plastic flexes for the back of the chair, let’s say, was something that we could test even out of PLA,” Costanza explains.

Scaled-down iterations of the chair – from palm-sized miniatures to versions big enough for a kid – still adorn one of the workshops in the architecture building. “We built a number of small scale mock-ups, all the way up to a half-scale version of the chair on the Gigabot,” recounts Costanza. “Between each iteration we were able to manipulate the double curvature of the chair, which is what produced the stiffness for the back, or the double curvature of the seat, which allowed for various degrees of comfort.”

End Use 3D Prints in a Real World Structure

Another project of Costanza’s – originally on exhibit at Lawndale Art Center in Houston – now resides on the Rice campus.

“The design of the object is a kind of communal play structure, something that would bring disparate communities together to play, where one interaction by an individual would have repercussions for someone else on the play structure,” explains Costanza. “So it’s sort of a collective bench, or possibly a see-saw made up of a series of hammocks.”

Part furniture piece, part play structure, the design sits roughly 15 feet in diameter, made up of a skeleton of fiberglass pultrusions connected with nodes and wrapped with a webbing of climbing rope. Its asymmetrical upper and lower surfaces prompt loungers to either lay down or sit upright. One design feature in particular lends the structure its name.

“Depending on the number of people that are occupying the structure, it will tip to one side or to the other,” Costanza explains. “So the name of the object is TipTap…It’s really meant to bring people together through coordinated play.”

In this particular piece of work, Gigabot played more than just a prototyping role. TipTap’s structure is made up of linear, off-the-shelf fiberglass pultrusions which were simply cut to length, joined together by a series of “highly intricate, complex nodes.” Enter Gigabot.

“There are 32 nodes. Each node is unique, and they were all printed on the Gigabot,” says Costanza. The nodes operate as a mold for a fiberglass shell structure: first printed, then wrapped with fiberglass tape and an epoxy resin and vacuum bagged, rendering them structurally sound.

The design of TipTap ultimately hinged on Costanza’s ability to use a large-scale 3D printer for the fabrication of the nodes. “I designed the nodes for the TipTap play structure around the scale of the Gigabot,” he explains, “knowing that they would be 3D printed, knowing how long it would take to print those objects, and the kind of scale that I could produce and the quality of those parts.”

He considered the alternatives – machining molds out of foam and fiberglassing the foam, for example – but noted that the other methods available to him would have been more time-consuming and labor-intensive than his 3D printing method.

“So in the end,” he muses, “we probably would have designed a different object if we did not have the Gigabot.”

D&D Helps Kids Level Up Their Social Skills

“But will you guys be mad at me if I don’t?”

That earnest and open-hearted question was posed by a student participating in D&D@CLCE, an after-school skills group at Clear Lake City Elementary School (CLCE) in Houston, TX. They were role-playing a situation with a difficult choice: should I give up something I own and care about in order for the whole group to benefit? As the student contemplated his decision, his peers, in turn, responded with how they felt. This form of social skills group therapy has been around a long time, aiding those who struggle socially to learn and develop those skills in a safe and moderated group setting. Kari Euker, the Counselor at CLCE debuted a program this year to combine skills training with the tabletop fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Those unfamiliar with D&D may have seen it recently reflected in pop culture on the TV shows Stranger Things or The Big Bang Theory. In a nutshell, one plays by gathering a group of people who then create characters with certain sets of skills, be they wizards or rogues or fighters, and together they explore an imaginary world narrated by the game’s lead storyteller and referee, the dungeon master. It’s improvisational storytelling on steroids.

In the case of the student’s conundrum, he wasn’t mulling over the consequences of keeping a football to himself in the schoolyard, he was trying to decide whether to give up a sparkling magic crystal by placing it on a wall with crystals belonging to the rest of his adventuring party. If he placed his crystal, the wall would absorb the crystals and open a portal leading the team onto a new escapade. If he kept it to himself, the magic wouldn’t take hold, the team would be stuck, but he’d still have that beautiful crystal. What to do?

Ms. Euker didn’t discover D&D on her own. It was her high-school aged son Christopher and his friends who caught her on to the idea. Christopher’s enthusiasm for D&D opened Ms. Euker to the possibility that D&D could provide a fun and imaginative setting in which to practice life skills in a low consequence environment. As she wasn’t an expert in playing the game, they worked together using the older boys’ experience with D&D and Ms. Euker’s knowledge of skills training to craft artful scenarios where the CLCE students could flex those social skills muscles. The older boys served as dungeon masters, the younger kids were the explorers, and Ms. Euker was there to facilitate each session. What they discovered is that the fantasy elements of their role-playing helped the kids contemplate the consequences of their actions from a safe distance and therefore allowed for critical thinking and deep conversations that are hard to achieve in real-life scenarios.

Ms. Euker approached re:3D about helping the students’ characters come to life, and re:3D was more than happy to support the team’s innovative problem-solving. In D&D, dungeon masters will often use real maps and tokens to help keep track of where adventurers and their foes exist in relationship to each other. The students designed minifigures in Hero Forge, selecting the race, armor, weapons and accessories that best fit their whimsical characters. re:3D took those 3D models, and with a little bit of slicing manipulation and custom supports, printed out the whole group of minifigures in one batch.

Though we at re:3D are known to Dream Big, Print HUGE, in this instance we made an exception. Utilizing Gigabot’s highest resolution of 0.1510 mm layer height, we printed these tiny 48 mm tall figures, miniscule accessories and all, with PLA and water soluble PVA supports. After an overnight bath, these creative creations were ready to join the fray.

The older boys were so invested in this project that they took the time to paint the minifigures by hand, and the CLCE students were thrilled to see their hard work rewarded with a physical representation of the character they built from their imagination. And the kid who was hesitant to give up his treasured crystal? He listened to his peers and then chose to add the crystal to the wall. Away they journeyed, onward to the next adventure.

*This project was supported through re:3D Houston’s Community Engagement Team. Are you a school or non-profit with a passion to explore 3D printing? Reach out to us at discover@re3d.org to schedule a tour or workshop!*

Teaching for STEM Success in High School with a 3D Printing Curriculum

CJ Bryant has done a lot of thinking about success.

“One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is, success is something that can be taught. You don’t wake up in the morning and you’re successful. Somebody teaches you how to be successful.”

He’s in the position of being the shepherd of success for young people who have previously struggled with it in the classroom setting. Bryant is the Technology Coordinator at the Phoenix School in Roseburg, Oregon, a charter school for students who weren’t flourishing academically in the standard high school environment. “All the students here were at risk at one time of academic failure,” he explains.

All this changes when they reach Bryant’s classroom.

A Hands-on Approach

The learning that happens under Bryant’s watch is project-based and hands-on, and, often unbeknownst to the students, supplementing the work they’re doing in other courses.

“This room is 100% mathematics,” he explains.

Bryant’s classroom looks like a hybrid computer lab – machine shop. One half is lined with desks and monitors; the other, filled with equipment: a vinyl cutter, laser cutter, drone, foundry, and 3D printer.

The hands-on approach is Bryant’s way of getting through to students for whom learn-by-doing may click where formulas in a textbook fall short.

“[The students] will come down here after being in a math class and they’ll just be really frustrated,” he explains. “And you’re like, ‘Wait a second, why is geometry bothering you? You’re doing geometry in this CAD drawing. This is geometry.’”

Bryant has found that the real-world approach resonates with students, giving them tangible, tactile applications of the information they’re studying in other classes. “This is where math becomes real and applicable. It’s what makes math real and important. It’s not just some formula on a board that you have to memorize.”

Baby Spoons and Chess Pieces

As the head of the school’s technology program, 3D printing was naturally on Bryant’s radar early-on.

He wanted a workhorse machine that could handle a constant stream of projects from his classroom: both large, singular pieces as well as bulk batches of student projects. He quickly found himself disappointed.

“I started looking for 3D printers and all there were these little tiny ones on the market, and that was useless,” he explains.

He began attending 3D printing meet-ups to gain a better sense of the landscape and hopefully pick up some printer recommendations. “I probably went to five or six workshops on 3D printing, and they would have these tiny little things there,” he lamented. His frustration mounted.

“In the last one I went to I said, ‘Okay, other than baby spoons and chess pieces, what can you make with this?’”

Bryant took his search online and stumbled across the original re:3D Kickstarter page. At that point the campaign was long over, but it led Bryant to re:3D, and thus to Gigabot.

“I went to my boss and I said, ‘We need this.’”

Building a Bot

Bryant’s boss bit, and shortly thereafter his students found themselves elbow-deep in the project of assembling a Gigabot parts kit.

“That was our first fun project with it,” Bryant muses. The learning experience of building the machine from start to finish was incredibly valuable for students, as they came to understand how the components work together on an intimate level.

Their next fun project came from the school’s art teacher, who approached Bryant and asked if he could print a classical face for drawing students to use as a practice model. Bryant and his students downloaded a 3D scan of the Smithsonian’s marble bust of Augustus Caesar and pressed print on their Gigabot.

As their first major print, they were still getting the feel for best print settings, and so the head weighs a hefty several pounds. “It took five, six days,” says Bryant, “but it turned out fantastic.” They learned to dial down the infill on future prints.

From Classroom Success to Real-World Wins

The Phoenix School Gigabot has been kept busy on a wide variety of projects since.

“One of the things that we wanted the 3D printer for was robotics,” explains CJ. He is unimpressed by the robotics kits often sold to high schools. “Everything’s already in there. There’s nothing to imagine: you put the kit together and you end up with the robot that you bought the kit for. I don’t want to do that.”

He wants a challenge for his students, something that pushes their creativity and problem-solving skills. “I want to come up with a task and then design a robot to fit the task,” he says. “With the Gigabot, we can print the arms, we can print the gears…everything we need, we can print. It opens the door to custom-built robotics, so we can design a robot to do whatever we want the robot to do.”

It’s clear what is on the top of Bryant’s mind as he builds his lesson plans. Woven into the fabric of every project in his classroom is the common thread of success; specifically, making sure he sets his students up for it.

Bryant views success as a teachable, stepping stone path that he very deliberately guides students down.

“At one point in time, we had our first big success. We had our ‘Aha!’ moment where we realized, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” he explains. “We learned, we experienced success, and success becomes a ladder to a successful future. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

For Bryant, the first step comes in the form of a 3D printed luggage tag/dog tag. “One of the reasons I have them make this…is most of the skills that they will need to use the CAD program for are wrapped up in this dog tag.” Within the project is a foundation of expertise that his students will continue to build on: a variety of CAD features, uniqueness (each student designs a tag with their own name on it), and operating a 3D printer to bring them to life.

“With our student population, a lot of our students have never experienced success academically before,” he explains. “So you give them a project that they can do. I won’t tell you they can’t fail – they have to work pretty hard at it – but you give them a project and you make sure that they succeed.”

Bryant sets his students up: he has a video tutorial for the students to follow along with as they design, and it’s common to see students helping each other, popping over to others’ computers to lend a hand when needed. At the end of it, each student gets to take home a trophy in the form of their very own personalized, 3D printed name tag.

“Their next project is a bit more difficult,” he explains, “but they have the tools and the recent success to build on.” The carrot in the form of more 3D printed goodies to take home probably doesn’t hurt either.

But Bryant is not interested only in achievement inside the classroom. “We’re interested in not just academic success, we’re interested in student success. It’s the whole piece,” he explains.

The apex of this is the fact that his classroom takes abstract concepts and turns them into concrete, real-world applications. Geometry becomes CAD, which becomes an object a student can hold in their hand, which becomes a job opportunity.

Bryant recalled a recent story: he was talking to the manager of a local business when he mentioned where he worked. “He stopped and he goes, ‘That new girl that works for us. She’s from the Phoenix School.’” Bryant recognized her name, a now-graduated student of his.

“He goes, ‘Man, do you have any more?’”

An Offer for Fellow Educators

Bryant has seen the school’s investment in 3D printing pay off for their students, and he’s learned some lessons along the path to where he is now.

His advice for other teachers looking to convince their schools to make a similar investment?

“Have a direction that you want to go with the 3D printer.” He’s asked teachers from other schools what they would want to do with one, and sometimes gets vague answers along the lines of, “Well, anything. Just think of everything we could print.”

They’re not wrong, he explains, but it helps the acquisition process to have a concrete proposal in place. “Have a direction you want to go with your 3D printer. Make a plan, even if it’s kind of out there a little bit. ‘If we had a 3D printer, we could…’ and fill in the blank.”

Bryant sees CAD and the doors it opens as the 21st century shop class. “We’re getting a whole different group of kids and we’re exposing them to this form of technology, and we’re doing more and more with it in the workplace. Ergo, we need to train the kids.”

He believes in it so much so that he has an offer for any teachers out there seeing his story.

“If you need lesson plans, call me. I’ll give you my lesson plans. You won’t be the first I’ve given them to and you won’t be the last, but I’ll give away my lesson plans for the first year. I think that much of this of this technology. My lesson plans are yours and I’ll talk you through them.”

All the work is worth it, as other educators will likely understand, to see the lightbulb turn on for students who may have previously been feeling their way through school in the dark.

“That’s what keeps this job fun and exciting,” Bryant smiles. The students are often very skeptical when they first enter his classroom, and then something clicks.

“By the time they’ve been in the program for a year or so, it’s, ‘Do you think we could?’ Then they start asking the real important two questions; ‘Why not?’ and ‘What if?’ And that’s the beauty of the 3D printer. I think 3D printing is only limited by our imagination at this point.”

Are you a teacher who would like to take CJ up on his lesson plan offer? Send him an email at cjbryant [at] roseburgphoenix.com

Medical Models For Disaster Response: Why We Designed and 3D Printed Flexible Vaginas

Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with its Category 5  power. The entire electrical grid was destroyed, water systems were inoperable, 95% of cellular sites were broken and 400 miles of Puerto Rico’s 16,700 miles of roads were too damaged to drive on causing thousands of people and communities isolated from communications and disaster relief.  While the island experienced many problems, many problem solvers stepped up to respond and local grassroots relief and recovery efforts formed immediately. One local organization, Colectiva Feminista en Construccion – a political organization advocating for women’s rights and protesting capitalistic and patriarchal oppression– opened up a fund and set up a center in an abandoned building in San Juan to distribute supplies to the community. But they didn’t stop there.“We don’t want to be just a band-aid,” shared one of the organizers, Maricarmen Rodriguez, “We want to help everyone and create a more inclusive society. Hurricane Maria cleared the makeup that was covering up problems that were already in Puerto Rico.” 

 

One of those problems surfaced while providing feminine hygiene products and realizing the need for medical models to teach about aspects of the vagina and how to use products like Diva Cups. More than that, Maricarmen wanted to find a way to talk about menstrual cups and sexual education that is often taboo in society. Could 3D printed vaginas be a tool for more grassroots sexual education? When you look for your typical sex ed class medical models, they can cost hundreds per piece and the industry is monopolized by a small number of manufacturers. These models are made from unforgiving plastics that lack usability and plasticity to use to demonstrate with products like Diva Cups. Not to mention, in post-hurricane conditions, importing products like these would have been nearly impossible and taken months to arrive.

 

So Maricarmen reached out to re:3D in Puerto Rico and our teammate Alessandra set out to 3D print vaginas. Right now, there are no open source vagina medical models so Alessandra started from scratch by creating a 2D picture by tracing from a medical book. She then used Rhino to create a 3D model. The 3D printed vaginas – printed from flexible materials such as Ninjaflex and semi Flex making them more durable and less likely to break – provide more realistic and life-like medical models. These 3D printed medical models have the ability to be just as realistic with attention to detail at a fraction of the cost: only $20-30 per print. These prints took about 3 hours on Gigabot – making body parts accessible nearly on demand. This opens up new possibilities for schools, hospitals, and grassroots organizations to have access to affordable teaching tools – before a disaster and to aid in recovery and education after and beyond. 

 

Watch the 1-minute video of Alessandra explaining the 3D printed vaginas

 

 

re:3D had a #HurricaneStrong year in 2017 – our Houston team was hit by Harvey and our team in Puerto Rico withstood Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. June 1st marks the official beginning of hurricane season in Puerto Rico and in this series, we are highlighting stories of impact and insight to encourage #3DPrintedPreparedness this year.

The Library Makerspace

There are four videos throughout this post – scroll through to watch the full story.

 

If you ever find yourself driving through the Clear Lake City community of Houston, keep your eyes open for an interesting McDonalds. Looming in the sky on East NASA Parkway next to the golden arches is a giant astronaut, advertising the “Play Space” area of the space-themed establishment.

It’s commonplace in the neighborhood, which is infused with the culture of a local celebrity, the NASA Johnson Space Center. NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center is down the street from another couple of locations which you may be familiar with: the re:3D Houston HQ, and the subject of today’s story: the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library.

It’s only fitting given the local climate that this library would be an innovator in its space. Walk upstairs and you’ll find an unexpected surprise nestled among the bookshelves on the second floor: a makerspace.

The library has found itself among the first of its kind leading the charge to reinvent the literary institutions as a hub for community creators to access cutting-edge technology. Named the Jocelyn H. Lee Innovation Lab, the space was made possible thanks to an extremely generous individual donation.

Jim Johnson was the Branch Manager of the library during the shooting of this story last year, and and now works at Harris County Public Library’s administrative offices.  “It started all the way back when we received a notice about a bequest received from Mr. Jocelyn H. Lee in 2013, and actually found out exactly how much he was giving us in 2014,” he explains.

Photo credit: HCPL

The sizable sum allowed them to put plans in place to purchase equipment and cordon off an area for the lab. They officially opened the doors to the makerspace in February 2015. The lab boasts a variety of equipment, from a CNC to laser cutter, soldering stations to dremel tools, Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, and of course, 3D printers – the largest being a Gigabot. “3D printing tends to be a cornerstone feature of the lab,” says Jim.

All the equipment and classes offered by the lab are free of charge to the community.

Photo credit: HCPL

“With us being based in the Houston area and right near NASA, we’ve got obviously a lot of engineers in the area, and a lot of engineers’ kids,” Jim explains. “This space tends to focus on STEM activities: science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Some of the groups taking advantage of the lab are local robotics teams and home-schooled groups of students. One such group is FTC 8668: Error 404, Team Name Not Found, a local FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team comprised of high school home-schooled boys.

Error 404 Coach Clarissa Belbas saw a big opportunity in the lab’s capabilities, and in a true demonstration of “mothers always know best,” urged the team to consider incorporating 3D printing into the design of their robot. “At the end of last season, I kept saying, ‘Guys, there’s this Gigabot at the library. We could print the whole chassis in one piece!'”

The boys didn’t bite, protesting that the printed version wouldn’t be strong enough, so Clarissa took matters into her own hands. She visited the lab on her own, using Gigabot to print out a small, proof-of-concept of their robot’s chassis to show the team. They were sold.

“There haven’t been any other teams that we have seen that have had their robot completely 3D printed,” says Nick, a programmer on the Error 404 team. “Having a 3D printed robot and a good engineering log helps to make us stand out to the judges.”

It’s also proven to be quite the teaching tool. “For me the point was educational,” explains Clarissa. “Because that’s the way that it is in the real world: you truly design something before you manufacture it.” Forced to flesh out a part on the computer through CAD before printing, the team learned the lessons of design cycles, prototyping, and manufacturing.

Having access to a large-scale 3D printer has been crucial to the team’s robot design.

“Our first year as a FIRST Tech Challenge team, we had a really small 3D printer that we got as a grant; only had like a five inch by five inch by eight inch print area – absolutely tiny,” recounts Nick. “When we saw the Gigabot here at the library, that’s when we had the idea of printing out our entire chassis, because we’d be able to make it all in one piece, and that made it a bit more structurally sound.”

In addition to strength, the 3D printed chassis affords them more mounting opportunities for their robotics challenges, a more compact electronics section, and a far cheaper alternative to the aluminum they’re typically forced to buy for competitions. Clarissa explained that where one small piece of aluminum channel may run them $15 – “You don’t know how much you put into this” – they can get several iterations of their entire chassis out of a $30-40 roll of PETG. 

While Error 404 is currently leading the pack in 3D printed robots, Clarissa sees things trending in this direction. “There have been a lot of teams that have come and said, ‘Wow, that’s a really great idea. We want to do that.'” The only issue, she explains, is printer size. “A lot of teams say, ‘Well, our printer isn’t that big,’ and ‘Where did you get a printer that big?’ A lot of people don’t have access to a Gigabot.”

That’s something that the library is trying to change.

“We’ve got small business entrepreneurs who use this space, inventors, we have International Science Fairs winners who’ve come through here…many, many different kinds of projects that take place in this space,” Jim muses. “We really want it to be a space for the community and for them to sort of define what they want it to be.”

Another group making themselves comfortable in the lab is the FLL Thunderbolts #17355 robotics team.

This home-schooled FIRST LEGO League robotics team has also been taking advantage of the lab’s 3D printing capabilities for their robot, which is unusual for their division. “Not a lot of teams 3D print at this level,” explains Thunderbolts team member Tyler. “We thought we’d probably stand out a lot.”

And stand out they have. “This is only our second year as a robotics team and we’re going to World,” says teammate Israel. The FIRST World Championship is the culmination of the FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics Competition. “It’s the best of the best,” explains Nick from Error 404.

The Thunderbolts’ challenge was to design a product for animal-human or animal-animal relationships. They chose the problem of multi-dog families where a dominant dog eats the others’ food. Underwhelmed by the solutions available on the market, the team designed The Thunderbowl, a food bowl that opens and closes based on a bluetooth tag attached to a dog’s collar. Multiple types of food can even be enclosed in the same bowl, revealed in different compartments depending on the tag sensed.

The team started their prototyping process with paper plates, then moved to LEGOs, and finally graduated to 3D printing. In addition to helping them stand out among the competition, the 3D printed model is welcomed by many of the teammates for its durability.

“When our Thunderbowl was just a prototype in LEGOs, our job was to fix it whenever it broke, because it broke quite a bit,” says Abigail, another Thunderbolts team member. “That’s what I love about the 3D printing is it doesn’t break.”

Thunderbolts Coach Kris Lee admires the power of 3D printing to enable the kids to turn ideas in their heads into tangible objects. “We teach them the skills of CAD…and all of a sudden that idea is real,” he muses. “It goes from an idea to in their hands. That’s something I didn’t have when I was a kid.”

Jim also found continued wonderment in the projects that came out of the library’s lab through the years he worked there. “I’ve been amazed at a lot of the things that have come out of this space,” he says. “I am not an engineer myself, and one of the things I was looking forward to most about this space was seeing what people were going to do, because my imagination was very limited.”

Imagination now abounds on the second floor of the library. “There are ideas and plans in the works to expand the space due to the amount of usage it’s received over the last two years,” he reveals. “The sky is the limit.”

A fitting attitude for the NASA-neighborhood library.

Learn more about the Jocelyn H. Lee lab here.

See more photos courtesy of the Harris County Public Library here.

Learn more about the Error 404 Robotics Team here.

Learn more about the Thunderbolts Robotics Team here.

 

 

Prehistoric Preservation: 3D Printing Dinosaur Bones at SWAU

A Hidden Gem in Keene

The drive from Dallas to Keene is bucolic in a quintessential Texas kind of way – scenery of grassy fields broken up by farmhouses.

Keene is a small town, home to Southwestern Adventist University. The campus is still calm when I arrive, meandering my way to the building that’s brought me here – something that feels almost like a bit of a secret.

It is only once I round the corner of the building that the hidden gem reveals itself, and I suddenly find myself peering over the edge of a railing, where, sitting in a sunken courtyard below me is a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex.

This humble building is the SWAU Dinosaur Science Museum and Research Center, and it’s home to more than 20,000 dinosaur bones. It’s an impressive number when you consider the ratio of bones to students – roughly 25:1, with just under 800 undergraduates enrolled at the university.

 

A Whale of a Project

Art Chadwick is the director of the center and the driving force behind SWAU’s dinosaur research. He was the head of the university’s Biology department for a number years, and also taught courses in Geology and Paleontology. Shockingly enough, he wasn’t always so keen on the research of the prehistoric beasts.

Well, I really wasn’t interested in dinosaurs at all,” he admits.

“I was working on the taphonomy of fossil whales down in Peru.” A taphonomist, he explains, is someone who studies everything that happens to a fossil from the time it’s alive until it’s excavated from the ground. It covers behavior, what the creature was doing when it died, cause of death, and the subsequent fossilization process. All skills that, fortuitously enough, are easily transferrable from whales to the dinosaur realm.

Art had been working in South America on the whales for several years when he got a call from a friend asking if he’d be interested in checking out some dinosaur bones. A call that, no doubt, most of us would drop everything to answer.

But Art wasn’t so easily convinced.

I really wasn’t very interested at first,” he recalls, “because I had plenty to do, and dinosaurs had no particular attraction to me.” Nonetheless, his friend persuaded him to come check out the site, a ranch in Wyoming.

“The ranch owner took me out onto his property, and he drove his pickup up onto a butte, stopped, and told us to get out,” Art recounts. But when Art went to exit the truck, he found he couldn’t stand on the ground. “It was covered with dinosaur bones.”

So although he wasn’t originally compelled by the taphonomy to study dinosaurs, Art couldn’t help himself. “I know we’re not making any more of those data, and every year these bones are being washed away and lost to science,” he mused. “So I committed myself to spending some of my time trying to preserve these remains and save them for posterity. This meant that I would have to do science at its best.”

Fossil Excavation

Art brought on equipment that’s normally used in surveying: “High resolution GPS, RTK. And we started mapping our bones with that in the year 2000.” They have high-resolution GPS data for every bone that they take out of the ground.

And therein lies one of the most impressive parts of the SWAU Dinosaur Research Lab. To the layperson – me, for example – the impressive part is being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of prehistoric items that used to be inside dinosaurs. But to a scientist, SWAU’s real gem are their data.

There are a number of universities that have bigger collections of dinosaur bones,” Art explains. “But they don’t have the data associated with bones that we do…The thing that we have that’s unique is information.”

Once someone in one of the Wyoming dig sites – called quarries – hits a bone, the team works to excavate the specimen as carefully as possible. Once it’s exposed enough to where the dimensions are visible, they bring in the GPS to take measurements and photographs.

The bones are then shipped back to Keene where they’re cleaned – I watched a girl use what looked like a dental drill to carefully remove dirt – and then photographed. In one corner of their photo lab is a circular table upon which the specimens are placed. The table rotates 360 degrees, during which time 32 photographs are automatically taken. They turn these images into virtual 3D images as well as 3D models and STL files.

All of this information – the bone catalogues, the maps and GPS data of the bones in the ground, photos, 3D images, and STL files – is all available on the Dinosaur Museum’s website. Simply enter a keyword – Triceratops, for example – and you’ll be treated to dozens of listings of bones and teeth with corresponding data for each specimen. “There’s a lot of information available to anyone that wants to do research on these bones,” Art says.

I say that’s an understatement. This is an almost indescribable treasure trove of scientific data, collected and amassed by an unassuming university off the beaten path in Texas.

 

The Thescelosaurus Discovery

Within the last several years, 3D printing started to pop up on Art’s radar. “We began to realize that we needed that for our project,” he recalls. “We needed to be able to print bones so that we could re­construct some of the animals that we’re finding, especially as we began to find whole animals.”

One dinosaur discovery in particular finally pushed the museum over the edge.

Two years ago, we found a more or less intact Thescelosaurus.” A Thescelosaurus is a plant-eating, slightly-larger-than-human-sized dinosaur. “That was a big breakthrough for us,” Art recounts.

But when it came to displaying the skeleton in the museum, they quickly found that assembling the whole thing would have been destructive – they would have lost bone in order to make the armature to hold the specimen.  

“That seemed like an ideal time for us to begin to operate in 3D printing,” he says. “And that’s where the Gigabot came in.”

Art found his way to Gigabot because, as he explained, “That’s the biggest printer that we could get.” They wanted the ability to print larger bones without having to break them into many smaller pieces, as they would be forced to do for larger specimens on a machine with a smaller build volume.

The university brought their Gigabot home (Art came to our Houston factory to pick up the machine himself, which was a treat for both parties. “The fact that they’re all real human beings, they’re interesting and it was just delightful to me,” he added.) and promptly kicked off a massive print.

“Of course, the first thing we printed was two giant jaws of a Triceratops, which took 47 hours,” Art chuckles. “That was a major feat of an out-of-the-box machine.”

And of course, there was the original impetus for the Gigabot purchase: the Thescelosaurus. “We kept it busy, day and night, for a long time, printing out all those bones,” Art says, of Gigabot. “Several hundred hours for the whole print,” he estimates.

The full, 3D printed specimen stands on display in their museum.

Old-School vs High-Tech

Traditionally, museums accomplish the replication of specimens like dinosaur bones with casting. And although tried and true, this technique has its faults.  To name a few, it’s expensive, time-intensive, messy, and potentially damaging to very fragile specimens. It also falls short when there’s a missing bone.

“The thing that 3D printing can do is enable you to replace lost pieces or missing pieces,” Art explains. “If we have a left femur, for example, we don’t have a right, we can just mirror the left femur and make a right.”

And while casting will get you a really good replication of a bone, Art finds that he actually prefers the 3D prints to conventional casting.

“I have found that I prefer the not-perfect-printing to having a perfect replication anyway,” he says. “If I made every vertebra the same using a casting technique, it would be very obvious on the specimen. But with 3D printing, there’s enough variation in the surface so that we can get every bone looking different.” As they would be on a real animal.

There’s also the topic of money.

“One-­off casting is very expensive,” Art explains, “whereas 3D printing is nickels and dimes. So you could 3D print an image for a dollar, but it might take you $50 worth of materials to make a mold for that object.” He points to a massive triceratops skull, dripping with a shiny pink material. “There’s $250 worth of latex on that specimen right there.”

“Science has to be open.”

The vast amount of data SWAU has accumulated on their dinosaur findings was Art’s goal from the start. “Science has to be open,” he says. “Sharing information is what it’s all about.”

And for Art, the advent of 3D printing is a windfall for science. “To me, 3D printing is opening a whole new avenue of sharing information, which is what science is all about,” he says. “If you’re not sharing information, you’re not doing science.”

His team shares what they’ve discovered – the GPS data, the maps, the images, the STL files – in the hopes of helping someone else with their research or encouraging someone who’s interested in dinosaurs.

“It’s for the general good and advancement of knowledge to share information with your fellow researchers,” he says. “If you find something or you have something – especially these things like STL files of bones – the best thing in the world you can do is to share it, so that other people can access it,” he explains. “Not just for paleontology but for biology in general, 3D printers are a boon.”

The proliferation of the technology aids their mission with the general public as well.

“We share the 3D images so that anybody  in the world that wants to print a vertebra of a Thescelosaurus can download it and print it,” he explains. “People that like dinosaurs can now print parts of dinosaurs that they’re really interested in, and this will increase interest in science, and I think will contribute to the dissemination of information.”

 

Inspiring Future Scientists

Southwestern Adventist’s dinosaur digs and research are ongoing, and there’s still plenty of work to do.

They’ve accumulated their 20,000+ bones over the last 20+ years working in Wyoming, and each year they return and bring back another 1,000 or so bones. They’re coming back with Edmontosaurus – duck­billed dinosaurs that are 30 to 40 foot long (“A giant of an animal.”), Oviraptor bones, massive Triceratops skulls (just its head is seven feet long and weighs about 500 pounds), Nanotyrannus (they dug up the second specimen ever found), and Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Of course everybody’s favorites are T­-Rex teeth. If you find a T-­Rex tooth, you found something really big.”).

The bones that once littered the ground when Art first visited the ranch are being preserved, catalogued, and studied in the name of science.

One of the questions they’re trying to answer is, with a bone bed spread over 50 acres, made up of scattered bones of dinosaurs, how do you get all these bones separated from one another and then deposited in a single layer? And why are they finding a lot of whole animals in one site, but only disarticulated remains in another site?

Piecing together the story of what they see in the field is the name of the game.

And while they do research to answer our most burning prehistoric questions, they also seek to inspire a whole new generation of scientists. “Our museum we set up deliberately to tell a story. We want to encourage people to be interested in science. That’s our main goal.” 

 

The Syracuse University Makerspace Final Post

Syracuse University got their first Gigabot in 2014 for their new Makerspace, poised to fill the position of “large-scale 3D printer.”

Since then, they’ve found uses for their Gigabot’s build platform size across the board, from “mass-manufacturing”-type jobs filling the bed with many smaller pieces for groups of students, to large-scale prints that have pushed the multi-day mark, like the infamous “backside print” for a visiting UK-based artist.

Their Gigabot has filled a valuable spot among 30-some-odd other 3D printers — all desktop-sized — as their largest 3D printer, allowing them to keep up with the Makerspace’s heavy demand for prints, big and small.

And there’s more exciting news afoot at Syracuse since our visit last fall: more Gigabots.

Their “workhorse” of the Makerspace now has company. In December, Syracuse got a second, new-generation Gigabot to add to the Makerspace’s lineup, and within the last couple of weeks, they placed an order for a third bot for a different department on campus.
3D printing is changing the way a lot of industries do business — for education it means enabling students to create things that they may not be able to make otherwise. As John put it, “You can have that idea in the morning and have it in your hand by the afternoon. That’s something that didn’t exist.”

 

Why 3D Printing is Such a Game-Changer for Syracuse University

 

In this final installment of the Syracuse University ITS Makerspace video series, John nails down exactly what makes 3D printing so powerful.

This is a technology that enables.

From businesses to schools, established corporations to garage entrepreneurs, 3D printing allows a mere idea to become something physical. A hazy vision becomes a tangible item that can be held, touched, poked, prodded, and ultimately, sent back to the drawing board and printed again.

All this without ever having to contract out to a third party to tool up a prototype. The entire design and iteration process can be done in-house, affordably and rapidly.

John encompasses the entire spectrum in one – he’s the at-home handyman and tinkerer, while at the same time an educator managing a university makerspace that serves a student body of around 20,000. He sees the potential for this technology through both of these lenses, making his point of view a particularly interesting one.

And from his point of view, 3D printing is a game-changer.