3D printing expands capabilities in Sewickley Academy, Quaker Valley classrooms

Bobby Cherry
| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

From iPhone cases to robotic prosthetics, 3D printer users are letting their imaginations run wild.

While the technology first started taking shape in the 1980s, 3D printing has become more popular over the last few years as prices of its equipment have dropped, users say.

From research firms to college campuses, the technology has made its way to area middle and high school classrooms, including those at Sewickley Academy and Quaker Valley.

“It's unbelievable,” Quaker Valley Middle School pre-engineering technology teacher Joe Prosdocimo said. “We used to make our drawings and imagine what they are. Now, the students can see what their work can become.”

Prosdocimo said seventh- and eighth-grade students have used the technology since last school year in technology education classes.

Students in Cristy McCloskey's Interactive Design and Development class successfully created their first 3D project — a working whistle — just a few weeks after the school received its 3D printer, she said.

“We've been trying to make some small things with the different design software and seeing what we can accomplish,” McCloskey said, adding that much of the past few weeks has been trial and error with projects.

Computer software is used to create sketches of objects, which then can be printed using special plastic loaded into the machine.

Print time depends on the scope of the project.

The whistle took about 50 minutes to print. Some items, so far, have taken up to two hours to print at Sewickley Academy, McCloskey said.

Senior Billy Sullivan said he considers the technology revolutionary.

“You can make something that is virtual and then have it become a tangible object,” he said.

Sullivan said he envisions the technology being a game-changer in everyday situations as it becomes available to more users.

“It's also interesting that you can make parts that you can buy,” he said.

“If you need a specific part, then you could just design it around your other components and print it.

“That's the big difference between just being able to buy something versus making something.

“If you think about how online shopping was a huge revolution, this is kind of the same thing because not only are you buying something and having it sent to you, you can buy something and actually print it or modify it so it works for your needs.”

Isreal Williams said he's hopeful to create a 3D Batman logo.

“I got really big into the ‘Dark Knight' series over the summer and I needed something to try to print to learn the concept of the software, so I decided to pick a bat logo,” he said.

Williams first created a 2D sketch, and hopes to print it soon.

“Mrs. McCloskey, what are the chances of us actually printing this?” he asked his teacher during an interview.

“I'll give it a 50 percent (chance),” she told him.

Junior Janelle Sands is in the process of creating a toy top.

She managed to get the bottom portion to print, but was having difficulty with a top piece.

Still, Sands said, she enjoys the technology.

“It's kind of cool to have your ideas come to life,” she said.

“It's 2D on the screen or on paper, but then it comes out (of the printer) and you can hold it and play with it and actually use it.”

Quaker Valley's Prosdocimo said he is fascinated by the ability to create replacement items.

“If you want to make gears or parts that are broken, you could draw it on the computer and replace it,” he said.

Sewickley Academy senior Danny McCormick said the technology could lessen the need for individually handcrafted items.

“If you're creating a model for a new invention, it's a lot easier to print out 100 models than handcraft 100 models to send,” he said.

McCloskey said more Sewickley Academy students will use the technology in an upcoming trimester at the school.

But McCloskey, like her students, is excited to see sketches become objects in her classroom.

“We printed a chalk holder that's in use,” she said. “That's amazing.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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