Students at SUNY Buffalo State have access to cutting-edge technology that is changing the way the world is manufacturing goods, producing food, and even replicating body organs. Three-dimensional printers, six of which are housed on the first floor of the campus’s new Technology Building, sound like they belong on a Star Trek episode.
Interestingly, a similar contraption was featured in an episode of the futurist TV show that associate professor and Engineering Technology Department chair James Mayrose showed as part of an October 24 presentation on 3D printing to demonstrate how the future of such unbelievable technology has arrived.
“We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time,” Mayrose told the standing room-only audience in the Technology Building. Composed of chemistry and physics students, faculty, staff, and members of the community, the audience was eager to learn more about the printers used by medical researchers to replicate hearts and kidneys out of live cells and by NASA engineers to make replacement parts for space crafts out of metal. The ones on the Buffalo State campus allow students to make things from a computer-assisted design.
Mayrose explained that 3D printers work similarly to standard inkjet printers, but instead of printing ink droplets, they print layer upon layer of material in order to build an object in three dimensions. These devices are capable of printing in plastic, metal, glass, and other materials. And they allow for complex and intricate designs.
“You can print things that are very difficult to manufacture, things you wouldn’t be able to make or manufacture by hand,” Mayrose said. “If you can think it and design it, it can be printed.”
First introduced in the 1980s, this technology, which is also called additive manufacturing, is coming to the mainstream marketplace as 3D technology companies are springing up and printers are dropping in price. Forbes magazine predicted that the additive manufacturing industry will reach $5.2 billion by 2020.
The printers range from $1,000 portable devices that fit on a desk to mammoth ones that run into the millions. Buffalo State engineering technology students are using the new 3D printers to make a range of objects out of plastic, including bicycle parts, tools, as well as a remote-control helicopter.
“The 3D printing fuels limitless creativity when students get to see, hold, and test their ideas in real space,” Mayrose said. “Bringing it into the classroom exposes students to the same cutting-edge technologies they’ll encounter in their careers. It gives them a jump-start on tomorrow’s challenges.”
In the future, Mayrose is hoping to have the printers hooked into a campus network so that other departments can take advantage of them, too.
Photo: Eric Bomysoad, The Record