Over 150 logged parts have emerged from a new 3D printer, the brainchild of graduate student Michael Bell, by room D115 in Moench Hall since it was installed fourth week of this quarter. Bell, who has a bachelor’s in Computer Engineering and is currently pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, said that he was motivated to design the printer by the lack of access to machines on campus.
“I came to Rose with the desire to learn how to 3D print entire electrical/mechanical devices, such as cell phones,” he said. “I've worked with 3D printers since high school, but by the time I became a senior at Rose I realized many students didn't know what they were.”
During an independent study with Dr. Patrick Cunningham of the Mechanical Engineering Department, Bell designed and built a 3D printer for National Instruments. During that time, he stated that he would like to see 3D printers become as prevalent on campus as paper printers. Dr. Cunningham replied, “Why not?”
Bell then applied for and received about $500 from IP/ROP to construct a "Low Cost, Robust, Publicly Accessible 3D Printer” and to supply a quarter’s worth of plastic filament.
“My goal with the project is to enable students to build their own creations, all while learning about 3D printing,” he said. “While the printer is completely free monetarily, some students for the first time are learning how to design in 3D modeling programs. Others are learning how to calibrate the machine, and are actually learning a great deal from this unique hands-on experience.”
The 3D printer in the hallway was actually built by ECE Senior Technologist Mark Crosby, whom Bell introduced to 3D printing last year. Crosby based the printer off of designs from Bell, who has previously built more than five printers.
“It was really important to me that a staff member takes charge of keeping the printer in shape, since this is my last quarter at Rose and staff members are here for more generations of students and have the resources and spare time to maintain something like this.”
After two and a half weeks, the printer was read. Bell was surprised by how quickly students began to use it. He put the printer out at 6 p.m. December 18, and came back the next morning to find that four parts had already been printed between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“This was all without any type of notification that a 3D printer was in the hallway, students just sat down and figured out how the thing worked after stumbling upon it.” Bell said.
Since it was installed in Moench, the printer has garnered a huge response. Right now, 11 students are continuing Bell’s idea and are building their own 3D printer.
“The first seminar I gave on 3D printing 6th week had more students than could fit in D116 classroom (around 70),” Bell said. “I ended up giving the same seminar again the following week that had another 50 students, packing the room.”
According to Bell, the first parts printed were all personal. Later on, students started using the printer for classes like Mechatronics, Introduction to Robotics, Image Recognition, and Graphical Communications. Even the HPV team has used it for their carbon fiber molds. The machine is so popular that it’s difficult to schedule all the parts students want to print. Bell and Crosby are looking into adding another 3D printer to spread out the work.
Students do not require permission to use the printer and can use it anytime, and anyone that needs help or information can look up instructions on 3dprint.rose-hulman.edu. According to Bell, printing is a straight-forward procedure for those who are technologically competent. Students can talk to Mr. Crosby in his office E105 if they encounter any problems.
“My only rule for the printer is that someone who knows how to use it teaches those who don't,” he said.
Bell will be moving to Harvard next month, where he’ll start his PhD in Materials Science and will be working on his dream of 3D printing of electronics.