Free 3-D Printers a Hit at OSU

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Feb 27, 2015

Ohio State University is doubling its pleasure by allowing students and faculty to use state-of-the-art print technology for free.

OSU bought a pair of 3-D printers with a twofold plan: to allow its tech leaders to measure the demand for such printers among a wider pool of students and employees – not just the architecture, art and engineering students who use the printers daily for their classwork – and also to see what kinds of creativity its students, given no boundaries, would demonstrate.

Demand for the printers has been overwhelming. Halfway into the two-month pilot, 500-plus requests were received – more than the printers could accommodate during the entire eight-week program.

Projects have included everything from the frivolous (bottle openers and model cars) to the sublime (prosthetic, robotic hands). Other students have made car and bicycle parts. One hopes to create the body of a violin, and another plans to make parts for a flying drone.

OSU professors have also taken advantage of the program. One is printing tiny clips that can be attached to a cellphone and, coupled with a glass bead, turn the phone’s camera into a microscope that can magnify up to 1,000 times. Another professor printed microscopes for her class as a cheap alternative to costlier equipment.

The projects, depending on size, can take less than an hour or a few days to print. 3-D printers use a filament, rather than ink; they begin their work on a flat surface and build layers up on the foundation. The completed products usually have a rough texture similar to plastic.

Cost, however, remains a limitation. The MakerBot Replicators purchased by OSU cost about $2,900 apiece. After the pilot program ends, the university will decide whether to add more printers permanently.

The technology has gained popularity at other colleges, as well. Earlier this month, Xavier University in Cincinnati opened an “innovation center” that offers more than 30 3-D printers. Its goal is to encourage collaboration among faculty, students and area entrepreneurs.


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