By Alec | 3Ders
A very interesting vending machine has been revealed in the 'T-Room' of the Cockrell School of Engineering, that is attached to the University of Texas. This Innovation Station doesn't supply students with sugar and snacks, but serves as a dispenser of 3D printed objects. Intended to inspire the campus's large number of engineering students to be more creative, the Innovation Station was built by Cockrell students as a free-to-use 3D printer for everyone registered as a student. This very cool addition to the University's campus has already been successfully used for dozens of printing jobs.
As associate professor of mechanical engineering dr. Carolyn Seepersad told local news KXAN that this machine is 'really lowering the barriers to 3-D printing to students. If they have a U.T. identification card they can print out a part. The other thing we're doing is by having this in a public space as a vending machine. We are hoping to build a community around the station.'
And it's very simple to use, even for students who have little understanding of 3D printing technology. University of Texas students can create their own CAD designs and simply upload these to the web portal attached to the printer, though can of course do the same with an existing design. A design of a Texas Longhorn insignia is currently the most popular item to be uploaded to the Innovation Station.
The order is then reviewed by an engineering student. If he or she approves the uploaded design, it is sent to the printer for production. The student who uploaded it will subsequently receive a text message to notify them of its completion. They can then retrieve their personal order from the dispenser as soon as it's finished.
Both the printer and the software were developed and constructed by the university's own engineering students, under the direction of professor Seepersad. The Innovation Station itself consists of a modified MakerBot Replicator 2x, that uses FDM extrusion and prints in PLA.
Unique about this particular station is the feature that allows 3D printed parts to be transported to a receptacle. Their design, which allows students to retrieve their parts without accessing the printer itself, is currently in the patent-pending process. The software, meanwhile, is capable of processing a number of designs at the same time and is manageable by administrators.
The team behind the Innovation Station is currently looking into possibilities for releasing both their software and hardware designs as open-source data, to allow students elsewhere to recreate this very interesting printer.
The Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas, is a top-ranked institute for academic engineering education, and are one of three college campuses across America who offer such a 3D printing service to their students. Through it, they hope to have created a powerful teaching tool for mechanical engineering students. Dr. Seepersad believes that 3D printing technology will play a far greater role in the field of mechanical engineering in the near future, and the Innovation Station is clearly an instrument that will allow her students to get properly familiar with this technology. We can only hope that similar initiatives will follow elsewhere.
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