College to open tech center for 3-D design, manufacturing

By Wayne Bryan Published February 6, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

College of the Ouachitas President Stephen Schoonmaker, from the left, and instructors Glenn Franklin and Jody Callahan stand beside two of the more than 50 MakerBot 3-D printer/replicators the school has acquired for use by pre-engineering students.

With the help of a lot of boxes, the College of the Ouachitas is opening an innovation center to teach students how to design and produce their own products, while providing training opportunities for businesses.

“We are going to be the world’s largest MakerBot desktop 3-D innovations center,” said Stephen Schoonmaker, president of of the college in Malvern. “We have acquired more than 50 3-D printer/replicators for use by our pre-engineering students.”

The 3-D printer/replicator has been a much-talked-about technology in recent years. The printer, in a frame about the size of a small aquarium, uses spools of plastic materials, looking like a cord spool for a giant lawn trimmer, to produce three-dimensional objects based on digital designs.

“It’s a little like magic,” Schoonmaker said. “If you have an image in mind, you will be able to make it.”

MakerBot, a New York-based manufacturer of the desktop 3-D replicators, was called by Jody Callahan, an instructor at COTO, about purchasing some of the units for the pre-engineering program.

“Some of the companies wouldn’t talk to us,” he said, “but when I called MakerBot, a person answered the phone, and we started talking.”

The purchase of a couple of units became something more as talks continued. Once Schoonmaker entered the negotiations, a partnership was developing between the college and the company. He said the talks continued through the Christmas holidays, and the printers were shipped, arriving New Year’s Day.

“It was like Christmas,” Callahan said. “We came to school in jeans, and we unloaded the delivery truck ourselves, including Dr. Schoonmaker. We were excited.”

“We were interested in having enough machines to create a corridor of learning,” Schoonmaker said. “If you have a sufficient number of machines, you can make learning practical. If you start a project on one machine, it might run for hours, but with multiple machines, you can make separate parts and have a useful class experience.”

Callahan said that as he talked with MakerBot, the company’s officials urged the college to not change its curriculum.

“They said not to change what we were teaching,” he said. “Rather, they wanted their printers to enhance what we were doing — to take this emerging technology and work it into the program.”

Schoonmaker said the MakerBot has taken the idea of an innovation center to teach the use of 3-D printer/replicators beyond the College of the Ouachitas and will open centers in other schools.

Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, said an innovation center at an institution of higher learning will change the dynamics of teaching creative design.

“Class projects can be fully realized and brought to life through 3-D printing and scanning,” he said. “Product prototypes can be created, refined and finalized at a much faster and affordable pace. Schools can train future innovators and be ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing students for the real world and workforce.”

In addition, a second program at COTO will be opened to nonstudents.

“The innovation center will be teaching members of small businesses and even major industry in the use of the machines,” Schoonmaker said. “We will establish what should be the first program to earn a certificate of training for the desktop 3-D printer.”

Callahan said the school will be setting standards for the training program.

“The students will follow the curriculum,” he said. “We will be meeting with representatives from MakerBot to talk about the learning certificate, what it will contain and what it will mean when it is earned.”

Schoonmaker said the program is costing about $100,000, with the college able to buy the printers at a special price. In all, the school purchased 47 one-head machines, as well as six two-head machines that can work in two materials for more-complex designs. The school also purchased six digitizers. Those are 3-D scanners.

“You can place an object on the scanner, and it will create a digital design of the object,” said Glenn Franklin, senior instructor of the pre-engineering program. “Then with that design, you can make another [object] with the replicators.”

The printers at the school use two kinds of plastic, Franklin said.

“PLA (polylactic acid) is made from cornstarch,” he said. “It’s not very durable, but it’s good for making a prototype quicker than creating a mold, which is very costly for something that probably will change. If it does change, you just recycle the plastic and make another one.”

The other plastic is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, which is more durable and is often used in injection molding. The plastic is used in pipes and for many uses in automobiles, Franklin said. LEGOs are made from ABS, and some of the items being made at the school resemble the plastic building blocks.

One of the major parts of the training for the college students and those who will earn the certificate will be the computer program used for designing.

“At the college, the students use a high-level CAD (computer assisted design) program,” Callahan said. “You design a criteria, then draw what you want to make in the virtual world, check it for fit and function, then send the file to the printer.

Schoonmaker said two of the students in the pre-engineering program have already created designs for uses that could be patented.

“If these students are able to create something like that this early in their training,” he said, “imagine what they can do once they have their engineering degrees. Now is their chance to learn how to create.”

In addition to the 3-D printers, the school recently received two industrial plastic-injection systems, donated by the Kohler Co., which has a plant in Sheridan.

“We received the donation with the help of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission,” Schoonmaker said. “With this equipment and the printers, we can develop training based on these machines and have the beginning of a program in plastics.”

Franklin said he is excited to see what the students can do with the new equipment as it goes on line.

“We have some of the top kids in the college in this program,” he said. “You don’t take this course because it’s cool or because your friends are taking it.”

Schoonmaker said the college is waiting for the stands that will hold the machines to arrive and that the grand opening of the innovation center will be scheduled for later in February.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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