How Ohio State is Training the Next Generation of 3D Printing Experts

student at Ohio State training to be a 3D Printing Experts

New 3D printing experiential laboratory broadens access, encourages collaboration

Not too long ago, the list of people with access to a 3D printer was a short one. But over the last decade, 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) has gone from a fun novelty to an important new frontier in the world of manufacturing. Across Ohio, companies are using 3D printers for everything from food and prosthetics to military operations and custom industrial work. With all of those possibilities, the next generation of Ohio talent and entrepreneurs need a way to learn the ins and outs of 3D printing before they ever leave school, and The Ohio State University has launched a new 3D printing experiential laboratory meant to do just that.

“We have 30 3D printers that student groups — from lab classes, groups or individual inventors — can come and get hands-on experience with 3D printing,” said Edward Herderick, director of additive manufacturing at the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence. “There are printers across campus in different spaces, and I have industrial printers in our lab, but we wanted to provide a hands-on learning space. The lab is in the Health Sciences Library as part of the EdTech Incubator space because there’s a really robust collaboration going on between the College of Medicine and the College of Engineering to apply these technologies in medicine at Ohio State, both at the James and the Wexner Medical Center.”

Students, grads, med students, beyond. Planned for more than a year, the space is geared toward a variety of uses. Undergrads, graduate students, med students, faculty and more can access the space, which was meant to be accessible to a broad range. As part of OSU’s exciting EdTech Incubator, the space is a continuation of that program’s aim of “fostering collaborative exploration, teaching, learning and research.” And it’s already exceeding expectations.

“The EdTech Incubator offers a variety of different service zones, and we knew we wanted a 3D printing component,” said Lynda Hartel, who oversees the incubator as director of the Health Sciences Library. “We already had experts in virtual and augmented reality and we wanted to take anatomy instruction to a different level, and we thought we could do that in the EdTech Incubator. I envisioned two or three printers in a room with opportunities for a little bit of printing. The next thing I knew, Ed said, ‘Let’s go beyond that. Let’s build something unlike anything available in Ohio. Let’s build a lab big enough to bring a group of students in and spend time really learning hands-on.’”

For Herderick, that hands-on learning experience will be invaluable for students. He doesn’t just see 3D printing as a neat piece of cutting-edge tech, he believes the technology will be crucial in a variety of areas in the future.

“The reason I think 3D printing is really exciting for students is because it’s really the leading technology in the digital manufacturing world,” he said. “It’s very intuitive, but it’s also very accessible. It has a special place for me, because I can put a bank of 3D printers in the Health Sciences Library. It’s not realistic to do that with a lathe or an advanced robotic welding system. We have those things, but they aren’t accessible. The accessibility of 3D printing makes it really special, and any student can do a little bit of tinkering or learning online design and can learn to use a printer.”

After launching amid the pandemic, the space is now headed toward the kinds of uses that Herderick imagined, which are often (by design) outside the realm of what you might expect. For instance, he recently scheduled a group of dentistry students in the space, an out-of-the-box use that’s “exactly what we developed this for.” Hartel also said they’re working on a partnership with Microsoft that would bring new technologies to the space. That kind of collaboration is an important part of the EdTech Incubator’s mission, and a mindset that Herderick and Hartel hope to expand to other areas of the university, blurring the lines between the classroom and the “real world.”

“We have a lot of students, a lot of faculty and a lot of people who are going to be leaving the university at some point and going out into the world,” Hartel said. “So we’re trying to engage with these companies now on opportunities that can help us all improve how we teach or learn. We hope to create students who are ready to go out and do fantastic clinical work armed with knowledge and expertise on how to use technologies like 3D printing. I expect there to be continued growth in this space.”

Many of those graduates — and their big ideas — will likely stay in Ohio, where decades of experience in manufacturing has laid the groundwork for innovation in the space. For Herderick, being a part of the next realm of that manufacturing tradition is a point of pride, especially amid the great work being done at universities, startups and other Ohio organizations.

“Across Ohio, there are a ton of advanced additive manufacturers, especially in the biomed space,” he said. “Just looking at universities, we have a huge program here and there are incredible programs at the University of Toledo, Youngstown State, Case Western, the University of Dayton, the University of Cincinnati and more. That incredible work is reflective of the broad base of manufacturers in Ohio. And the Ohio State stakeholders that are out there hiring our students want to see access to this kind of technology.”

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