From Nothing to Something: Engineering’s 3D Printer

From Nothing to Something: Engineering’s 3D Printer

Collin Schirf (’13) explains the 3D printer to guests.

A technological revolution is coming and North Point’s engineering department is already part of it. The big change goes by the name 3D printing. That may sound a bit boring – how exited can people get about printing out a computer file? However, 3D printing technology is already being welcomed as the face of a 21st century Industrial Revolution. These new printers use files from 3D modeling programs to produce life sized objects out of materials like plastic and metal. With 3D printers, people can make anything from toys to machine parts. It’s the closest that humans have ever been to “making something out of nothing.”

North Point’s acquisition of the 3D printer is the brainchild of the Mr. Pauole, one of two engineering teachers, and Mr. Wichowski, a Foundations of Technology and Architecture/Design, teacher. “It definitely helps seniors doing projects,” said Pauole. “They don’t have to outsource the prototypes.”  Collin Schirf (’13) and Luke Morrissey (’13) are already taking advantage of that opportunity for their senior projects. Schirf showed off a toy castle he made using the 3D printer to Governor Martin O’Malley during his visit to North Point last month.

“It brings about a brand new tool that’s becoming very popular,” commented Wichowski. “It exposes students to a wide variety of possibilities.” His students will use the technology to prototype and test out new ideas.

The printer works by melting plastic and building layers upon layers of that material until an object has been completed. “It’s an additive process,” said Pauole. “It starts from nothing and continues to add all the way through.” Pauole’s products include a model duck, a mechanical rack, and a Batman cookie cutter.

The time required to produce a 3D object varies with its size and intricacy. According to Wichowski, the process can take as few as ten minutes and as much as a few days.  Thus far, the longest an object has taken to build was around fifty hours.

For now, 3D printing technology is expensive and best left to people with experience in designing objects. However, just as cell phones have become thinner, faster, more advanced, and cheaper over the past ten years, 3D printers will evolve to become more widespread and consumer friendly. As Wichowski stated, “A lot of designing and engineering jobs are going toward this.” The possibilities are endless.