In recent years, do-it-yourself projects — whether building a wooden shelf, knitting a scarf, or crafting a beaded necklace — have become increasingly popular, perhaps due to the sense of pride one feels in creating something (virtually) from nothing. But 21st-century technology — specifically, three-dimensional desktop printing — now is turning this idea on its head.
“3-D printing allows you to create almost anything you can design from a computer file,” says Dan Freedman, dean of SUNY New Paltz’s School of Science and Engineering, and director of its Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center. The term “printing” is something of a misnomer: Instead of paper, these machines are loaded with a solid material — either “spaghetti-sized plastic filaments, or metal or ceramic powder,” Freedman says; the material is then extruded from the device, “building an object up one layer at a time, starting from scratch.” The printers have become a popular tool: Students in the college’s biology department, for example, fixed a broken apparatus by using the printer to reproduce a part that was irreplaceable, while the art department has used the technology to produce multiple projects.
And now — thanks to MakerBot, the leading manufacturer of 3-D desktop printers — the campus is home to the country’s first MakerBot Innovation Center. This printing hub opened in February, and offers the use of 30 printers — assembled in MakerBot’s Brooklyn facility — to faculty and students. And a four-course Digital Design and Fabrication certificate program is available to students as well as community members interested in learning about 3-D design and printing software. “It’s mainly oriented toward the community, and we’re hoping to have an undergraduate minor approved in the fall,” Freedman says.
“The idea is to be able to use 3-D printing across campus,” he continues. “It’s been used in educational institutions for a while, but usually in the art or engineering departments. Our point of view is that 3-D printing is a transformational technology that can be used in every area. The history department can print out scans of artifacts or the English department can make 3-D designs of characters from books, and so on.”
While the center is not open to the public, local companies can request that students make custom products; chocolate molds for Lagusta’s Luscious Chocolates in New Paltz and beer taps for a brewery in Yonkers are already in the works.
Freedman feels the center can help bolster the college’s educational offerings in all disciplines. “The old impression that New Paltz is purely an arts college is passé. Over the last five years, the number of students in science and engineering has grown by 75 percent,” he says. “We saw this center as a way to infuse art into science and engineering, and vice versa. Cross-fertilization between the two schools can be a benefit to all students.”
Courtesy of Makerbot
Want to see what a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3-D Printer can really do? Check out Thingiverse.com, a Web site created by the MakerBot team to highlight and share projects uploaded by users. More than 28,000 “things” — ranging from smartphone docking stations and wiper blades to mechanical hands for use by disabled children and adults — can be downloaded and printed in 3-D.