Schaer Science: 3D Printing

Schaer Science: 3D Printing

In this week's Schaer Science, we step inside the Pitsco Education Facility to learn what's possible through printing objects in 3 dimensions and how it works.
PITTSBURG, KS.--- "Popular right now because it's new, kids are interested in it," said Ray Grissom, Pitsco Curriculum Specialist.

Pitsco Curriculum Specialist Ray Grissom says, while printing in 3 dimensions is new to the general public, the technology and concept has been around for several years.

"3D printing is not new. It's been around for quite a while. The advantage we have now is that the 3D printers are coming down in cost," said Grissom. 

3D printers, that were $5,000 to $10,000 are now only about $1,000. Grissom says the cheaper cost allows students to learn and use the growing technology. Pitsco has created a curriculum for students to use a 3D printer to create gears for small model cars.

"They get the science information about the gear ratios and the mechanical advantage of taking the small gear on a motor. It spins a lot, but it gives you more power with a big gear. Or they can put a big gear on the motor, put a small one on it and make it go real fast," he said. 

It all starts using a special software program.

"Once they get their parts designed, then they go through this software and it sends it to the printer. And it actually prints out the parts," said Grissom. 

Whether it's an engineer designing an intricate part, or a student making gears for a model car, knowledge of science and math is essential.

"You have to make sure your design's set up right in a drawing program. And then you have to know a lot about the material that you're using and its melting point," he said. 

Those working with 3D printers can also chose between quality versus speed - the better quality the object is, the longer it will take to make.

"The software tells them how long it will take to print, so they can make adjustments to the settings on that. And a lot of it depends on how many layers, how tall it is," he said. 

The material is often kept in a wire form for smaller printers, or liquid form for larger ones. Here, the plastic was heated to 260 degrees Celsius, and the plate it was laid on was heated to 100 degrees celsius.

"It moves back and forth across the plate. And the plate moves down as it builds, it actually heats the plastic and melts it and lays down a little layer. A thin layer of plastic," said Grissom. 

Layer by layer, an object is made. 

"There's some jewelry that's being made that you can't machine, because of the way it's intricate on the inside, the cuts are made inside. And you can do that with a 3D printer," he said.

Grissom and other members of Pitsco say these little objects are just the beginning of this rapidly growing industry.

"With the technology advancing the way it is, replacement parts are going to be available. People are going to be able to go to Amazon or some place, and download a design and get a replacement part made," he said. 

Pitsco staff say the future of 3D printing could be possible for any material that can be liquified. Another popular material is chocolate, and using 3D printers to make candy pieces.

For more information on Pitsco, click here.
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