Innovations in 3D printing

Henley Doherty | Asst. Business Editor | The USD Vista |@ralphlaurhen

3D printing is a cutting-edge technology that is being used by an increasing number of businesses and engineering firms, and even here on University of San Diego’s campus at the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

In recent years, businesses have been using 3D printers for the creation of goods ranging from prosthetics to guitars, wheelchair ramps, and even food. There are now 3D printers that are large enough to construct buildings and houses.

According to the Huffington Post, an engineering firm in China was recently able to build 10 full-size houses in a single day, all with a 3D printer. The houses only cost about $5,000 each to construct and were made from recycled waste from past construction projects.

The company hopes to be able to use such giant printers to one day build skyscrapers.

As demonstrated by this construction project, buildings and houses can be built quickly and at very low cost to developers by using 3D printing technology. They can also allow for leftover and unused building materials to be recycled into new building projects, helping to eliminate construction waste.

Students in the USD engineering program have the unique opportunity to be able to try out 3D printing themselves. Senior Gezelle Keller is studying to become a mechanical engineer and has used a 3D printer in class.

“As a mechanical engineering student, we are required to take Manufacturing Processes lab,” Keller said. “In this lab we designed a pen holder in CAD and then 3D printed it! It took a few hours to print. I think it has contributed to my learning as an engineer student because I was able to work hands-on with the printer before I move on into my career.”

Based on her experiences using 3D printing at USD, Keller understands the value that these printers can bring to businesses and engineering firms.

“I think 3D printing allows firms to design things they were not able to do before,” Keller said. You can design anything and 3D print it. It allows firms to create products in a quicker way. They can also use the printer to mass manufacture products instead of hiring someone that has to manufacture each product by hand. It is more efficient.”

Senior and engineering student Khaled Alaskar has also been provided with the opportunity to use 3D printing technology at USD.

“I was developing a product during the summer that’s related to the athletic market,” Alaskar said. “I had a Prototype design in my computer in a CAD file format, and since I needed a physical prototype I used the school 3D printer. I just had to convert the file into a format that the printer software can read. After converting, the printer did the rest. It took about 18 hours to print the prototype which was about six inches long and four inches wide.”

Alaskar also explained how 3D printing will affect the job outlook for the field of engineering.

“3D printing is relatively new technology that is in the process of development,” said Alaskar. “I think we’re still far from 3D printing skyscrapers; however, in the future it will create new types of engineering jobs, from designing a building in the computer, to choosing the right recycling material for the building to withstand big loads.”

The advancements of 3D printing are continuing to open up the career possibilities for future graduates of the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, as well as of the architecture program at USD with the innovations that this technology is bringing to building design.

Current engineering students have a unique opportunity to prepare for their potential careers ahead with being able to use 3D printing on campus, and may even have a competitive advantage over other graduates with the opportunity to gain such hands-on experience.

This new and developing technology is shaping engineer career fields as it allows for firms to revolutionize the way that products and materials are manufactured.

3D printing may even completely reform the way that houses and buildings are constructed in the near future.