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The shape of things to come

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In his State of the Union address in Feb­ruary, Pres­i­dent Obama told the Amer­ican people that 3-​​D printing has the “poten­tial to rev­o­lu­tionize the way we make almost everything.”

By then, a North­eastern team of vision­aries and dig­ital tech­nol­o­gists had already started plan­ning to build a cutting-​​edge 3-​​D printing studio. The facility, they agreed, would be incor­po­rated into the Dig­ital Media Com­mons, an inno­v­a­tive media lab and dig­ital cre­ativity center located on the second floor of the Snell Library.

On Monday after­noon, the 3-​​D team cel­e­brated the studio’s soft launch by giving a score of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff a tour of the new lab, which houses a full suite of 3-​​D fab­ri­ca­tion and mod­eling tech­nolo­gies. 3-​​D printing, or “addi­tive man­u­fac­turing,” is the process wherein a dig­ital model is trans­formed into a three-​​dimensional solid object by depositing suc­ces­sive layers of melted plastic or other materials.

Northeastern’s 3-​​D Printing Studio is part of Snell Library’s two-​​year trans­for­ma­tion to address the need for greater access to edu­ca­tional tech­nology; addi­tional study spaces; and new, inno­v­a­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties for teaching and learning.

Monday’s tour kicked off 3-​​D Printing Week, a series of events aimed at famil­iar­izing the North­eastern com­mu­nity with the university’s new state-​​of-​​the-​​art printing tech­nology. On Wednesday and Thursday from 2–4 p.m., stu­dents and fac­ulty may visit the 3-​​D studio to learn how to scan, print, and develop their own projects or incor­po­rate 3-​​D tech­nology into their courses.

Starting next week, the printing studio will be open for con­sul­ta­tion hours from Monday through Friday. The devices will run 24/​7 and jobs will be prioritized—a next-​​day class­room assign­ment will trump printing an iPhone case for per­sonal use. The price to print will be based on a cost of the mate­rial, while the cre­ation of the studio itself was made pos­sible by the gen­erosity of library donors.

The studio’s designers view the lab as an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary space for cre­ating low-​​cost, high-​​quality intel­lec­tual prop­erty. “We’re looking for­ward to seeing stu­dents and fac­ulty take advan­tage of the studio in order to ful­fill their inspi­ra­tions,” said Will Wakeling, dean of uni­ver­sity libraries, who helped design the facility.

“Having a 3-​​D printing studio on campus gives stu­dents the oppor­tu­nity to play with tech­nology and find yet undis­cov­ered career paths,” added lab designer Janos Stone, a vis­iting pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design.

In addi­tion to Stone and Wakeling, the 3-​​D team com­prises Richard Ranky, 3-​​D ser­vices spe­cialist; Mark Sivak, assis­tant aca­d­emic spe­cialist in CAMD; and Patrick Yott, asso­ciate dean for dig­ital strate­gies and services.

Ranky is a 2012 grad­uate of Northeastern’s mechan­ical engi­neering doc­toral pro­gram and the co-​​founder of 3-​​SPARK, a uni­ver­sity spinoff spe­cial­izing in 3-​​D printing tech­nolo­gies for the edu­ca­tion and con­sumer mar­kets. He will serve as the studio’s full­time staff member, a role that will include teaching stu­dents and fac­ulty how to use its printing, scan­ning, and laser cut­ting equipment.

“We want to engage as many people as pos­sible from all aca­d­emic back­grounds,” Ranky explained, echoing the sen­ti­ments of his co-​​designers. All someone needs to get started, he said, is a “sketch on a napkin.”

Nick Behrens, a third-​​year mechan­ical engi­neering major, asked Ranky to turn his computer-​​aided design of a trans­dermal sup­ple­ment device into a 3-​​D pro­to­type. Behrens and a trio of team­mates had designed the device for Northeastern’s InnoWeekend, a 48-​​hour com­pe­ti­tion to create a new product or service.

“The quality of the 3-​​D printer was excel­lent and having access to a 3-​​D studio is a huge tech­no­log­ical advance­ment for the uni­ver­sity,” Behrens said. “It’s a great tool that will be sure to yield amazing results.”

This article was originally published by news@Northeastern.