QUEST’s Newest Addition: 3D Printing

3D Printer

          As 2013 drew to a close, retrospective articles about the past year began to pop up. Now I usually avoid reading these articles because they never quite cover everything that happened in the past year, but I took exception to one such article in the Washington Post. This article listed the top eight innovations of the past year and one particular innovation took steps to solve global food problems by using 3D printing to print hamburgers. The plan behind this was to input thin sheets of cells into a 3D printer, which would then lay down small layers of these sheets to form the burger. Though I’ve seen people eat some questionable things at the diner I was skeptical about this idea. I began to do some research and found out that NASA is also experimenting with printing food for astronauts in space and that a bio-printing company from San Diego is planning to 3D print a functional liver this year. I figured if 3D printing is doing this much in changing the way we produce food and maybe organs, then it definitely would change the QUEST program.

          This past year QUEST purchased a 3D printer for the QUEST offices in Van Munching. I talked to Dr. Bailey about this new addition to the QUEST family and how it would change the QUEST program. He responded by saying that, “[incorporating 3D printing into a] curriculum is similar to the chicken or the egg. Design the curriculum and then incorporate the tool or have the tool and design the curriculum around it.” It wasn’t the answer I was expecting; however, it forced me to look at the QUEST program as a process of learning, and the possible impact a 3D printer would have on that process.

          Seeking more information about 3D printing, I was introduced to Quest Cohort 1 alumni Steve Kutchi. Mr. Kutchi works for Thales Defense & Security as a Manager for the Mechanical Design Department. Thales does a lot of work with both subtractive and additive manufacturing (which is just another word for 3D printing) for prototyping and finishing part designs. One such printer is the OBJET350 CONNEX which can print over 100 different materials and offers 16-miron high resolution layers that precisely match the image on CAD drawings (Here’s a video of this printer. Check out the different materials used in the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eWOlP9-Ngc). I asked Mr. Kutchi about what 3D printing has done to change the way Thales approaches the process of prototyping and this was his answer:

“3D printing allows product designs to iterate much more quickly and get in front of business/marketing and customers for comment and evaluation earlier in the design process. This speeds and enhances concept development and leads to a better understanding and integration of the customer/marketing/business voice to the product. Since the parts/product can be touched and can made to be as realistic as needed there is little left to imagination so the feedback we get is more appropriate…This helps to facilitate our case understanding and expose potential design flaws while we are early in the design, where the costs to change the design are relatively low. This has helped us to put higher quality and more user friendly production products in the field much more quickly compared to a traditional development cycle.”

          In 190 last semester, one of the concepts that Dr. Bailey continued to emphasize was the voice of the customer and its impact on our innovations. Each team used various tools that included surveys, interviews, and focus groups to determine possible improvements they could make to their design; however, such tools can fail if the product is hard to visualize or comprehend. Looking at the positive impact 3D printing had on Thales’ design process, a 3D printer could enhance the effectiveness of tools like surveys, interviews, and focus groups. 3D printing provides a detailed, tangible product that will enable teams to receive more helpful feedback from their customers about the specific features of their product and then make iterations based off those recommendations. Though 3D printing can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours, depending on the size of the product, it still allows teams to make a quick turn-around on a design and develop a product of greater quality. With 3D printing becoming such a crucial component of the design cycle, it is an important tool for students in QUEST to understand.

Special Thanks to Mr. Steve Kutchi, and Dr. Joe Bailey

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