By Joe Saputo, Intern at the Digital Arts Experience

What image does the term 3D printing bring to your mind? Personally, I had no clue what this technology actually did when I first heard about it. Was it a machine that would print word documents out on giant slabs like the Ten Commandments; could it produce an image that would literally jump out at people like the Jaws 19 poster in Back to the Future II? While 3D printing courses at the DAE won’t cover how to make a holographic shark jump out at unsuspecting bystanders, they will help bring the machinations of your child’s imagination to life in the form of durable three dimensional objects in addition to giving them exposure to a technology that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the manufacturing, engineering and medical industries.

3D printer inside


In the short amount of time I’ve been at the DAE, I’ve seen students produce everything from Minecraft pickaxes, to bowls for holding goldfish, to a small bouncy ball that they could actually play with. This is all thanks to TinkerCad, an astonishingly accessible program that allows students to quickly create their own 3D models which can then be printed out using The DAE’s state of the art MakerBot Replicator II. Even more impressive than the objects it creates is TinkerCad’s ability to actually make children enjoy mathematics. 3D printing doesn’t just produce objects out of nothing. Students have to include the measurements of whatever item they want to create. In the case of the bouncing ball they had to go an extra step further and calculate the percentage of the object’s infill to ensure that it had that extra bounce to it.

Aside from gaining skills beneficial to classroom learning, the students in these classes have been acquiring experience with a program that has a wide variety of practical applications. In the medical industry, 3D printing is used to create fully working prosthetic appendages for amputees. Researchers are currently attempting to find a way to create 3D printed organs for performing transplants. Engineers use 3D printing to create customized items. Even NASA is currently conducting studies with the technology in order to cut down on costs for space travel.

As a second year college student, I find that a lot of people my age often find themselves at a crossroad between creativity and practicality. Learning how to create 3D printed objects is a good way of exploring both routes, as the technology can serve as both a form of self-expression and a means of providing a stable lifestyle.