3D printers for undergraduates this semester

04 March 2014

Professor Xu and Mick Ou (professional teaching fellow) commission and test the ten new 3D printers funded by the Faculty of Engineering.

Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering will have access to 3D printers this semester and their first design project is a transmission mechanism for an electric toothbrush. The designed toothbrush mechanism will then be prototyped using the 3D printing.

Ten new 3D printers have been installed and commissioned in the department ready for use.

“We have some 3D printing facilities at the University mainly for research purposes, but this is the first time undergraduates will get the opportunity to use them for a design project,” says Professor Xun Xu.

3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).

Because of the much shortened route from design to manufacturing, 3D printing is often used as a prototyping tool. In theory, additive manufacturing has no limit in terms of the geometric complexity of the part being made, hence the notion of “complexity for free”. Additive manufacturing is sometimes considered as a disruptive technology with positive and profound effects on energy use, waste, customisation, product availability, art, medicine, construction, the sciences, and of course manufacturing.

“It is essential that our Engineering students have a sound knowledge of it,” says Professor Xu, who was invited to attend the Parliamentary Speaker’s Science Forum last month where 3D printing technologies was discussed.

“With all the hoopla in the media, as an educator we are also obliged to take an objective view of 3D printing technology,” says Professor Xu. “The project, which started in week one of semester one, will let our students understand what unique capabilities 3D printing technology can offer, but more importantly when it is best to use 3D printing and when it is not.”