The next dimension

3D printers on campus offer students the opportunity to take a step towards the future

Tricolour 3D prototypes showcase the potential for student creativity using the technology.
Tricolour 3D prototypes showcase the potential for student creativity using the technology.

We live during exciting times. The entire globe is connected via an invisible online network, the Curiosity rover roams the surface of Mars and we have the technology to print a house in 20 hours.

While some may be content sitting back and watching these advancements unfold, students at Queen’s are pushing the envelope.

The 3D printing community at our university is nascent, but it’s quickly picking up steam.

Several options exist for Queen’s students looking to access the flashy new medium and print their own designs. Commercial 3D printers exist in both the ILC and McLaughlin Hall, and students around campus are looking to expand accessibility to printers through their own initiatives.

Tricolour 3D is a student-run business founded by Mitch Debora, Sci ’14, which opened in July 2013 as a “one stop shop for all 3D printing needs.”

Debora said he feels a lot of students can be intimidated by the prospect of the new technology, but assures them that it’s a simple process at its core.

The procedure is called “fuse deposition modeling” and involves layering molten plastic on top of itself to build up a physical object.

“[The process starts] off with a blank printing canvas — a bed, and you have a print head which is at around 200°C and it has plastic coming into it called filament,” he said. “It pulls in the filament and melts it, and it shoots it out onto the print bed to form any shape that you need.”

Debora said the size of a print is essentially up to the customer. While the print bed only has the capacity for parts with a dimension of 10 inches, there are methods in place to connect multiple parts via adhesives or snapping connection systems.

“As far as how small things can go, in terms of any practical application, we’ve pretty much got you covered,” he said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Debora said, “[it’s] infinite, you can make things as big as you want to.”

Debora is trying to break down the technical barrier surrounding 3D printing, helping students understand the potential of the new technology.

Tricolour 3D implements this ideology by offering students a full service experience — involving them in consultation, model design and the actual printing process.

“3D printing is not this thing that you see in the news only,” Debora said. “It’s close to home, it’s on campus and it’s accessible.”

He said that they’re striving to create the opportunity for students to access 3D printers.

But what’s the real advantage of 3D printing?

Essentially, it’s a cheap, quick and efficient way to showcase an idea or build a prototype. Debora said that 3D printing for him has acted as an enabler, allowing him to succeed in promptly conveying his ideas.

The benefits of 3D printing can be applied across a variety of fields.

Whether you’re an engineer, entrepreneur, artist or anything in between you too can reap the spoils of the new technology.

When looking to create an object, Debora said that he thinks that students often feel they have to compromise with their design. Constraints such as time, finance and complexity can all cut into what would otherwise be a brilliant idea.

For example, if you’re going to have to build your own prototype with wood or metal, it’s easy to get discouraged or limit yourself based on what you can build with your hands.

“When you start thinking in terms of 3D printing … you realize that complexity is free,” Debora said. “So don’t be discouraged by or limit yourself by complexity, because when you’re 3D printing, the printer doesn’t care about complexity. It’s going to come out whether or not it’s simple or complex.”

Tricolour 3D is equipped with a MakerGear printer, a high level model capable of print quality in the same league as expensive commercial alternatives.

However, Debora says the average Joe should be wary when venturing into the 3D printing world. Intense calibration and maintenance are required in order to create adequate prints.

Internet advertisements enticing buyers with offers of cheap 3D printers may seem attractive but the output quality of these printers doesn’t hold a candle to those printed by professionals who understand the nuances of the craft.

Still, Debora remains hopeful about the potential for industry expansion.

“I think it’s going to take another five to 10 years before we have printers where anyone can just buy it, plug it in, hit print and a great part will come out,” he said.

Tricolour 3D isn’t the only student enterprise looking to push 3D into the mainstream.

Robin Sim, Sci ’13, is the director and co-founder of SparQ Labs, which operates under the umbrella of the Queen’s Innovation Connector, and aims to provide a Makerspace for students.

A Makerspace is a global phenomenon that aims to foster hardware development, Sim explained. There are about 1,000 Makerspaces that exist across the globe.

“You go into a Makerspace and there’s an array of different tools that you can use from your basic drill presses to your hand tools to really advanced machinery that you wouldn’t be able to afford like CNC machines, 3D printers and 3D scanners. You name it,” he said.

The Makerspace philosophy is one that aims to provide a space to help foster creation and see innovation flourish.

“You may not know how to use a water jet or a 3D printer, but we can teach you,” Sim said. “We run workshops, we run learning sessions and it’s really snowballed.”

Anybody with a particular interest in construction and design are welcomed, regardless of their specialization or incentives.

“The main thing that we provide right now is the community and the workshop,” Sim said, adding that SparQ Labs has been seen a number of projects come to fruition lately, ranging from academic assignments to jewellery and furniture.

“People are building more do-it-yourself projects … because it’s cheaper and more customizable,” he said.

“A core part of the Makerspace is 3D printing.” Sim stresses the idea of 3D printing as a means to create a prototype — meaning that it may not be the correct avenue to produce a final, polished product.

“In an engineering sense [it isn’t] structurally sound. They’re layer by layer so you have all these cracks in your part, but they’re a great idea to show what your idea would look like,” he said.

In a sense, the inception of SparQ Labs embodies the concept that lies at their core — the idea that people can come together and build something great.

“Ultimately why we’re doing SparQ labs is because we realize that there is opportunity for enhanced practical learning at Queen’s and every student here should be given the tools that they need if they have a great idea,” he said. “They should be allowed to skyrocket that.”

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