High School Students Learn Basics of 3-D Printing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- On Monday, Grace Sotler, a junior at Lowellville High School, didn't know the first thing about additive manufacturing.

By Wednesday, she had successfully designed her idea on a computer and was prepared to make her first prototype on a 3-D desktop printer in the front of the room.

"They've all learned this solid modeling in just a day and a half," says Hazel Marie, associate professor and chairwoman of the department of mechanical and industrial engineering at Youngstown State University. "They have young, quick minds. These kids are so fast [that] they pick up things before I'm done talking."

Seventeen students crammed inside room 2390 of Moser Hall Wednesday during a session of the Summer Honors Institute, a weeklong program that allows high school students to explore a variety of studies and disciplines the university offers.

YSU STEM hosted an open house to highlight student interest in 3-D manufacturing in conjunction with the National Day of Making, which included the first White House Maker Faire (READ STORY).

Martin Abraham, dean of the STEM College, was on hand at the White House Maker Faire as the university unveiled its new Launch Lab, collaboration between the STEM College and the YSU College of Creative and Performing Arts.

In Marie's class, students are examining the basics of additive manufacturing, a process that transforms a virtual design into a solid component by building that part layer-by-layer with a specific material through a 3-D printer.

The image Sotler selected for her first project was a 3-D relief of the Disney animated rendition of Piglet from the Winnie-the-Pooh series.

"I just like Disney and cartoons, and it seemed like the easiest to do," she says. "I want to be an engineer, and I want so see how these different methods work."

Although Sotler says she's seen 3-D printing machines at places such as the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, she had never once used them or the software to design or print prototypes.

Students are using SolidWorks software package, Marie says, but adds that the university is making the transition to another 3-D program developed by Siemens Corp. as part of that company's $440 million in-kind grant two years ago to YSU.

The STEM College has conducted this course as part of the Summer Honors Institute before, but hadn't hosted it over the last two years. "With the emergence in this area with 3-D printing, we thought it was time to come back," Marie says.

Just two of the 17 students in the course have had exposure to additive manufacturing, she reports.

One, Matthew Knepper, is a budding engineer and science fiction writer who designed a coin with an insignia related to one of his stories.

"Since we have some limitations, I thought that designing a coin was the best way to go," Knepper says. "I want to become a mechanical engineer."

The incoming senior at Champion High School says he's had experience on another 3-D program, so it wasn't difficult to make the transition to SolidWorks.

"I'm on my high school robotics team, and I was the design captain," he reports. "So, I picked it up pretty quick."

Knepper uses the SolidWorks program to design his part, delineating the circumference, depth and facade of his coin. Once the design is finished, the data are converted into another file and sent electronically to the 3-D printer.

The printer has the capability of reading that data and essentially make the part from the program. In about 20 minutes, Knepper's prototype was in his hand, the plastic coin still warm from the printing process.

The objective is to teach these students techniques they would use as a design engineers. "They're designing their own parts. They're analyzing their own parts to see where the weak points are in the design,” Marie says, “and then they're printing them out."

The idea is to follow the design engineering process and identify problems and flaws on a component before the part is modeled or manufactured, she says.

"They put on their design engineering and manufacturing hats, because we are actually printing the prototype in the end," Marie says. "So, they're actually becoming engineers for the week."

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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