(This article was originally published in the winter 2013-14 issue of the Link magazine)
“There isn’t an area of society that will not be touched in some way by the concept of 3D printing,” says Dr. Lester Towell, professor of computer information systems and chair of the department of computer information systems at HPU.
3D printers, such as the one recently acquired by the university, create three-dimensional objects by printing successive layers of a variety of materials including plastic, metal, ceramic and glass. The technology stands poised to change the world in which we live – scientists have already successfully printed biological matter, which could one day render organ transplant lists obsolete.
In between teaching a full course load and other responsibilities that come with being a faculty member and department chair, Dr. Towell can be found at the printer. The unit – small enough to fit on the corner of his desk – prints a material called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic.
Dr. Towell happily demonstrates the machine to faculty, staff and students as well as to groups and organizations outside the university. An undergraduate class, 3D Engineering Printing, was created around the technology.
“My hope is that it reignites interest in the STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and math,” says Dr. Towell. “I believe 3D printing is a fun way to pique the students’ curiosity in these subjects.”
Dr. Towell’s office is littered with the brightly colored plastic objects produced by the printer. Though they could easily be mistaken for toys, the items are proof of the machine’s capabilities.
“This, for example,” he says, holding up a plastic ball bearing, “was manufactured as one unit. That’s something that can’t be done with any other manufacturing process. The 3D printer takes away the need for assembly in this instance.”
Dr. Towell believes that 3D printing will eventually have an impact on society similar to that of the Internet.
“Regardless of the field, 3D printing is going to play a huge role,” he says. “It’s going to happen, and HPU is out in front of the pack.”