Building 5 and Building 15 aren’t very similar. Building 5 was built decades ago and Building 15 opened in 2007. Building 5 is home to our Art department and 15 houses our Science and Engineering departments. While the architectural similarities may be few and far between, the buildings at the very ends of the TCC campus do share one thing: 3D printing.
United by piece of technology that only just recently came into feasibility due the continued falling cost of consumer grade machines, the Art and Science departments are working with modern technology to advance education. 3D printing is additive manufacturing. The machines at TCC take spools of plastic and melt the plastic, layer by layer, until an object is created. While our 3D printers can’t print off copies of objects as fast as a paper printer (an object an inch or two in size can take an hour or more), this technology is drastically changing how science and art are explored at TCC.
Engineering professor Eric Basham is planning on using 3D printing as a major component to his Spring 2015 Engineering 104 class. After dividing his class into teams, each team will be given a motor and a solar panel and their challenge will be to design and build a working water pump. Across the world, moving water as efficiently as possible is a major problem and the students will use 3D printing to develop rapid-prototypes of their water pumps. “3D printing has changed how we can build prototypes. Previously you’d have to have machine it out of metal. You’d either have to have that expertise or have a machinist available when your design was done.” Now, students will be able rapid-prototype new designs on an almost daily basis.
A concept championed by renowned analog circuit designer Jim Williams is that good engineering should be beautiful.
The 3D printer in the Art department is newer than the Makerbot model used by the Science department. Kyle Dillehay, who teaches Sculpture at TCC, is excited about the changes 3D printing can bring to sculpture. “Sculpture technology really hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years and this technology can change sculpture. Whether this changes the way sculpture is done or if it just becomes another tool, we’ll have to find out.”
For his Spring 2015 class, Dillehay plans to have students use the 3D printer to explore volume and form. “I’m always surprised by what they come up with. They do something interesting and we pursue that.” 3D printing offers art students a chance to gain experience with an upcoming technology that they can add to their resume and eventually apply to an industry. To those outside of the sculpture world, it could be perceived as adding some “practicality.”
Joey Sim is the Vice President of the Engineering Club at TCC and has been using the 3D printer in the Science building for a variety of projects. From his work on the RC Baja team to his latest effort with Susan Bennett, TCC’s Science Lab Technician. For decades, biology classes have used the same puzzle pieces to build amino acids and over time, pieces break or go missing. Susan bought modern replacement pieces recently to attempt to complete the set, but the replacements turned out to be lower quality than the older pieces. After seeing Sim using the 3D printer one day, Bennett asked if he might be able to help make new pieces with the 3D printer.
Sim is in the process of printing new pieces and checking for fit with the existing pieces. It’s a fairly simple project, but an important one to extend the life of an instructional tool while saving the college money.
Another Engineering Club related project is called Sumo Bots. Small robots are placed in a circle with the goal of pushing each other outside the ring. The robots are autonomous and rely on their programming, design, and manufacture. The teams are using the 3D printer to build lightweight parts to improve their bots. You can follow one of the teams as they post updates to their blog on the way to the 2015 Robo Games in April.
Tacoma Community College isn’t the first community college to explore 3D printing, but the Art and Science departments are leading in experimenting with new technology to assist with how students learn. Some high schools have 3D printers and our younger students are coming to TCC with existing experience. As the technology improves, and it surely will, the print times will go down and even more areas of TCC will benefit from the technology.