Eric Wooldridge, licensed engineer and SCC associate professor of CAD/pre-engineering, said the IT department at the hospital was facing new regulations for prescription printing. The technology they had didn't quite fit right, causing the printers to jam. Tari Seefeldt, clinical applications director at LCRH, knew that SCC had 3D printing technology and thought it might be worth checking into before ordering new parts.
"She came to me on a Monday morning and we had a prototype printed up that afternoon," said Wooldridge. "The printers simply needed a small one-inch in diameter spacer to hold the paper roll in place and we were able to print them all in the lab."
Wooldridge said the piece of equipment saved the hospital money while also giving students real-world experience in problem-solving and printing.
The CAD department currently has three 3D printers and two more are on the way. The printers are fairly new to SCC, although Wooldridge said the technology has been around for a long time, just not in a user-friendly or cost-efficient manner.
"Roger Angevine (dean of applied technology at SCC) sent me a link about the technology in the summer of 2012 and we modified our Perkins Funding application to include printers," said Wooldridge. "The moment I saw it, I knew it was going to be a powerful technology."
Wooldridge said the technology has been around for about 15 to 20 years but previously has been very expensive, costing upwards of $10,000 plus materials.
"Now, the technology costs, on average, between $600 and $2,000 and is much more simple to use, uses common materials and is developed from open-source, competitive knowledge," said Wooldridge.
The technology also has gained more recognition through popular television shows such as Castle, Big Bang Theory, Elementary and Gray’s Anatomy, where the characters used a 3D printer to print an innovative solution to a transplant problem.
Emily Brannick, a current CAD student from Somerset, said she feels that knowing the technology will give her a leg up on competition as she looks for a job after she graduates in 2016.
"I hope to work for an architect or contractor as a designer," Brannick said. “Everything is switching to 3D technology and getting the chance to work with it on a daily basis here will help me be competitive."
Wooldridge said one of the biggest advantages for students at SCC is the ability to use it on an as-needed basis.
"If you had the old technology, it was so expensive to use that students rarely got to touch it," he said. "Now, we use it freely in the classroom."
Wooldridge currently uses mostly plastics to print with; however, the next step is printing with ceramics, metals and composite wood.
"People are printing everything from lights to jewelry, artwork, circuits and even some flexible material," he said.
Wooldridge said the real-world applications for 3D printing are endless. For example, farmers could use the technology to print a piece for a tractor that has been discontinued or is hard to find.
"This is a big industry," Wooldridge said, citing the fact that the European Space Agency is developing the technology to build bases on planets in a matter of days, and that NASA is developing a printer to print pizza for astronauts in space.
"The possibilities are endless with this technology if you know how to use it or simply have access to someone who can," Wooldridge said.
A short video of SCC’s 3D printer at work can be found on the college’s YouTube page at: http://www.youtube.com/user/somersetcc123.