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New student organization explores up-and-coming technology

Plastic figures made in 3D printing machines sit on a wooden table.

Various pieces made using 3D printers include puzzles, chess pawns and business card holders. The blue gnome, pictured left, was scanned with a mobile phone app and later printed.

As a freshman studying mechanical engineering, Alex Madinger thought he would need to be a senior or graduate student before he could have the chance to work with 3D printers, machines capable of manufacturing three-dimensional objects from digital models, in the University of Missouri College of Engineering’s then-new rapid prototyping lab.

“My roommate mentioned it to me,” Madinger, now a senior, said. “I didn’t know underclassmen could use it. In my junior year, I walked in the lab and introduced myself to Mike Klote.”

Klote is the director of Engineering Technical Services and also serves as manager of the prototype lab.

One student sits at a laptop computer while two stand behind watching.

Derek Provance, sitting, Alex Madinger and Rachel Gangwere are three of the 3D Printing Club’s officers. The machine in the background was homemade.

Madinger explored 3D printing — even taking it upon himself to attend the 3D Printshow in London last fall — and discovered he shared this interest with his friend, Derek Provance, a senior in computer science.

Provance brought up the idea of starting a club centered on 3D printing last spring. He and Madinger worked on outlining the club’s structure, building its website, generating interest and incorporating the 3D Printing Club as an official, university-recognized student organization. More than 100 people attended the first meeting last November.

Provance said the club’s structure is based on a rank system. Those interested in joining may register on the club’s website. Once those users attend an introductory session and are able to create and upload a 3D model, they become active members. More involvement earns a person tech member status, which will allow them more opportunities for projects in the club as well as gaining them access to the 3D Printing Club’s lab

The club isn’t limited to engineering students, however. Rachel Gangwere is a junior in communications who also is serving as one of the club’s public relations officers. She said she became interested in 3D printing when she learned more about the technology’s capabilities.

“I met Alex and Derek last semester, and it was through them I heard about the club starting,” Gangwere said. “On my own, I went to the first meeting.”

Though perhaps not as familiar with the software as some of her engineering counterparts, Gangwere said she has developed the same basic understanding that club officer’s hope to teach all members — engineering or not — and has discovered ways she will use this experience in her future.

“Having the experience in 3D printing on my resume shows employers that I have the ability to learn different things,” she said. “The club can serve as a segue into a career for many members.”

Gangwere was the first member to achieve active member status by attending the club’s introductory session and successfully modeling a given object.

Provance said that though membership is accessible only to MU students, anyone interested in 3D printing may register on the club’s website and participate in forum discussions, network with other club members and create and share models.

“We’re hoping to be a beacon for this type of organization for other universities,” Madinger said.

Rapid prototyping and 3D printing.

MU’s rapid prototyping lab opened in 2009. It currently houses five industry-standard machines. The lab offers for-pay services to clients on and off campus and also serves as a classroom for students in a rapid prototyping class co-taught by Klote and Luis Occeña, department chair in industrial engineering.

Over the last 30 years, the use of 3D printing has grown exponentially. Industries have used the technology for rapid prototyping — a set of techniques used to create scale- or custom-sized parts for models — rapid manufacturing, mass manufacturing, and more.

The technology is revolutionary, particularly in its accessibility and flexibility. It can be used to easily replicate items, Madinger said, pulling a tiny, blue gnome out of his pocket.

“This was a garden gnome I found,” he said. “I scanned it with an app on my phone, and used that to create a model.”

The gnome was printed from a small-scale 3D printing machine called a replicating rapid prototype machine, or RepRap, that Madinger built in his home. Madinger and Provance built their machines in their spare time out of parts mostly purchased from hardware stores. Madinger said all together, the machines took “about four, good work days” to complete.

Club members also will have the chance to gain a better understanding of the rapid prototyping machines in the university’s lab. These are used to make intricate models ranging from new inventions to game pieces. Madinger’s business card holder was made in the lab.

The club also is working with other MU student teams and organizations to create pieces. Currently, the club members are drafting model designs for a trophy for Mizzou’s water polo club team. Later in the semester, they hope to design the 2013 Engineers’ Week 5K/10K trophy.



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