U of M Design Students Learn Benefits of 3-D Printing

Updated: 03/31/2013 3:52 PM KSTP.com By: Chris Egert

Type 3-D printing into Google and you will see 244 million different results.

The emerging technology is helping Minnesota companies quickly build custom prosthetics, but it could also be used to build cars, even guns.

At the University of Minnesota students are learning how to use the equipment, in what is quickly becoming the future of manufacturing.

Undergrad Research Assistant Sherry Sanden-Will demonstrated what it’s like to be 3-D scanned.

"I'm not nervous at all," Sanden-Will told us, but she’s much more comfortable talking about the potential benefits of the technology, rather than demonstrating how it works.

U of M graduate research assistant Chad Sowers got his colleague set up on a pedestal, closed the curtain, sat down at his computer, and after an 18 second laser-scan, he has a 3-D image of Sanden-Will.

Five hours later there's a tiny replica of her, made in one of the campus' handful of 3-D printers.

"Which is created by a hot filament being pushed through a nozzle, and built basically in very thin threads from the bottom up," explained Kevin Groenke, with the U’s Digital Fabrication Lab.

U of M students in several different disciplines are learning to use 3-D printing.

In the Apparel Design program, it could mean custom clothes, built based on your exact body model.

Dr. Karen LaBat is the director of the Human Dimensioning Lab.

"With the scanning technology we could scan this form, and then we can virtually drape or put the cloth on that body, test out things in minutes," LaBat said.

She says they've been helping NASA design space suits.

They're also working on clothing that is a better fit for osteoporosis sufferers who often can’t find things to wear, due to the curvature of their backs.

Breast cancer patients, and amputees, have also benefited from the work being done at the University of Minnesota’s Human Dimensioning Lab.