Photo Caption: OU's 3D printer produced this.
A 3D printer was busy printing more than a dozen chess pieces, a pair of scissors and a contact container at the same time, while around 75 people walked in a lab at Ohio University's Innovation Center Tuesday to get a close look at this $250,000 machine and what it's capable of.
The printer, a Stratasys Objet 350 Connex, has been located at the Innovation Center since this August. Its ability to simultaneously print from various materials saves considerable time and energy previously used to make separate elements and put them together for each object.
Several geared art works can be seen on the lab desk. Flexible and delicate as they look, they were all printed layer by layer (with each layer of 16 micron, which results in high resolution) at once, with soft support material filling all the space and gaps both between the object and the tray, and within the object itself.
After printing, support material was easily removed using a set of metal tools and, for difficult parts, a Powerblast high -pressure water cleaner.
"I sometimes also use 'bread ties,'" said Joseph Jollick, lab director of the Innovation Center. "You know, the things they use to tie the plastic bags of bread. I found them really handy."
Jollick explained that with the printer came one software program, whose interface looks pretty much like early software for regular printers, and two computers - one is by itself, and the other installed within the printer. "One computer is only for printing objects, the other for making sure the machine is working," he said.
The printer uses Photopolymer Resin as primary material, which, does not only provide opaque and clear appearances, but also ranges from vero white to tango black, from very hard to rubber-soft.
"Every kind of printer is very specific in materials. There are printers for metals using razor rather than UV lights," said Jollick. "In selecting the materials, we consider this from the big picture as to what would be beneficial to as many people as possible."
A whole set of chess pieces and a matching board, designed by an OU art student, attracted many visitors. This work took 12.5 hours to print - the pieces seven and a half hours, and the board five. The board, which is 12 inches long and 12 inches wide, fits the maximum size the printer can make, which is 12 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 8 inches high.
"For what we have been requested to make, it's mostly more than enough," said Jollick. "If something is bigger than that, you need to divide it into sections. They (Stratasys company) had an Eiffel Tower, which is composed by three pieces. I want to print something like that here, too, but that might be too expensive."
Print works displayed, including both finished objects and ones in different stages of progress, varied widely in shape (such as a Yoda head, a guitar bridge, an iPhone case and a set of wrenches, among others), size, material and cost, which ranged from $20 to more than $1,000.
One of the most popular and most expensive 3D objects was a skull of diplodocus with muscle and other tissues, even eyeballs. It was only slightly shorter than the chess board. The dinosaur head was printed for a program of Lawrence Witmer, professor of anatomy at Ohio University. In early October, Witmer also used the model to illustrate his research at the Science Cafe at Baker Center.
"This was quite complex. We had several trials and spent $1,500 on the material of this model," said Witmer. "We CT-ed the skull in the hospital, and the 3D printer brought this fossil from 150 million years ago back to the physical world."
Many of the visitors already had interests in 3D printers.
"This event is great. I've been paying attention to 3D printers for many years," said Matt Tragerl, who works in OU's IT department. "The time (of 3D printers) has come."
According to Jollick, one of the reasons for 3D printing's popularity is that after about 30 years since the technology was introduced, a lot of relevant patents are expiring. "I believe 3D printers have the potential to be as common as the 2D printers we have now," he said.
Jollick added that the open house is only the beginning. The Innovation Center is planning more programs to encourage people to use the printer.
"We are planning to have a design lab and software lessons so that students can design something by themselves and send them right to the printer," he said. "We are also thinking about competitions between colleges. The main goal has always been to get the printer available to everybody."