The Brooks Center, with the help of the CNRE Instructional Support Fund, has recently obtained a 3D printer for use in SBIO classes and labs! Our students now have another tool at their disposal for help with creating new, sustainable, packaging designs. The printer will have many different uses; adding another hands-on component for our students will enhance many educational opportunities. 3D printers have been around for a while now, but during the last year, they have become more and more common. They allow individuals and companies to ‘print’ out their own components that can be used for everything from fixing things around the house, to replacing hospital ventilator parts, to creative art projects.

A 3D printer works by extruding molten plastic thru a nozzle at the end of a multi-axis, robotic arm whose movement is controlled by computer software (otherwise known as computer aided manufacturing, or CAM). Users program the equipment to print multiple layers of 2D plastic, allowing each layer to dry then adding another layer on top of it, which results in a 3D object. Depending on the type of plastic resin used, rigid items such as sunglasses, or flexible items such as rubbery phone cases, can be created.

Three-dimensional printers have been adopted by every industry! Construction companies are working with huge versions to print out complete houses. The medical field is researching 3D printer’s ability to print out prosthetics and replacement organs, using a bio-gel instead of plastic. Classrooms print out fossils for students to investigate. Even the restaurant industry is getting in on the action; printing out fun-shaped food stuffs from pureed meat and veggies. And, of course, applicable to many of our industry partners, factories (and now our students) can print out packaging specifically designed to fit and protect individual products. In addition to packaging parts, SBIO will use the new 3D printer for the prototyping of molds and forms to be used in other production processes such as thermoforming.

The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials is proud to announce that with the purchase of this 3D printer, we’ve joined the future of creation and can now even-better train our students to be ready to work with the technologies they’ll be using once they’re working in any industry!