ITS adds 3D printer to tech offerings

Posted January 15, 2014 at 9:58 am

ITS 3D printer 1-color.tif

PHOTO: ITS recently purchased the MakerBot 3D Printer. After testing it themselves, they are now selling these to customers, particularly in the education field. This brand retails for roughly $2,200. (Photos by Kim Brooks)
ITS 3D printer 3-color.tif

PHOTO: After building the parts for the Lego Darth Vader, the full-size figure stands much taller than a normal Lego character. The arms and legs are movable, much like any other Lego piece.

 

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

When you see this machine in action, it blows your mind! It reaffirms that technology is certainly advancing, right before your eyes. What will they come up with next?

Infrastructure Technology Solutions (ITS) recently purchased a 3D printer as a way to demonstrate to their clients the capabilities of this amazing machine. Unlike your typical home or office printer that uses ink on paper, the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D Printer uses a colored filament that’s heated to form the image. The printer layers the filament to create a solid object with a specific shape.

It’s hard to wrap your head around the possibilities with the MakerBot 3D Printer.

By using design software, you start by creating an image of an object. You export that image as a specific file type (.obj), which is read by the printer either via a direct cable connection or an SD card; the rest is magic.

On ITS’ website, “While CES (Consumer Electronics Show) has predicted 2014 as the year 3D printing is poised to explode, we are excited to be part of the MakerBot team…”

Just a few weeks ago ITS bought the consumer grade product to test themselves. Owners Joel and Leslie Althoff started by making the badge from Agents of Shield, then the Batman logo. Wanting to expand their range, they then explored the MakerBot image gallery and made an oversized Lego Darth Vader figure with moveable arms and legs.

“Aside from the superhero aspect, we wanted to focus on education,” Joel explained. “We see it as a key component of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and market to our current customer base.”

Already, ITS sold a 3D printer to the Center Point-Urbana Community School District, which they do IT work for. Joel said the school received a grant to purchase the technology.

“That was less than a week after we got one ourselves,” said Joel.

Relatively speaking, the MakerBot retails for about $2,200, a lot less than one might think for a 3D printer.

“We’re comfortable with MakerBot because of the access to designs and its focus on education,” Joel explained.

With Leslie in the education field herself, she said she could see an endless variety of uses for a 3D printer.

“It could be used with engineering programs and Project Lead The Way,” she said. PLTW provides middle and high schools with engaging, hands-on STEM courses. “We’re big believers in hands-on use to solve problems.”

Joel explained within the database of designs, there are ways for kids to explore MakerBot’s potential.

People all over the world are using this product to advance education and the medical industry. If you go to ITS’ website, there is a video of a school for the blind in Japan using a 3D printer to make animal figures. The machine used in this instance is voice-activated; the students just say “giraffe” and the 3D printer makes that particular animal. The children can then feel the shape and contour of their creation.

In the medical field, a 3D printer was used to make parts for a prosthetic robohand for a young boy who was born without a hand. As you watch the video, the boy is seen wearing the robohand while picking up a ball for the first time.

“There are enormous opportunities in the medical field,” Joel said.

The Althoffs see multiple uses for 3D printers within all grade levels and into college. “The logical next step is a place like Kirkwood, where they offer engineering courses,” said Joel.

A statement on ITS’ website sums it up well: “Many of our K-12 clients already offer pre-engineering, drafting and design classes that utilize software capable of producing 3D images; a logical next step in providing real-world learning opportunities for students is the ability to print these images and further test design and practicality.”

“The code system used with 3D printing systems is similar to that of the CAD and drafting programs already in place,” said Leslie. “New technologies like 3D printing allow schools to move into a student-centered teaching environment. Students can be tasked with a problem to solve, then produce a solution with the 3D printer and learning comes alive.”

This technology could also be utilized within the manufacturing and architecture workforce. Joel said one could create prototypes for a machine or product, or a model of a house.

There are several different types of filament used with MakerBots. The flexible- filament can be used to create something like a cellphone case. You can also purchase dissolvable and the standard filament.

For more information on the MakerBot 3D Printer from ITS, visit their website at www.iowadatacenters.com/news. Also, check out their Facebook page to see what they’ve created using the MakerBot.

Bla