MU Students Tinker with New Printing Technology

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COLUMBIA - After playing chess one night at Mort's, a few University of Missouri engineering students got the idea to replace the missing pieces with new counterparts. They concocted a new, blue pawn out of plastic by using 3D printing technology.

"You just have an idea, and with 3D printing technology, you can model it on a computer and print anything you like," said 3D Print Club Vice-President Derek Provance.

"The look on the lady's face at the desk when we returned the chess set was priceless. She couldn't believe that we could use technology to print an actual object," said 3D Print Club President Alex Madinger.

3D printing is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model on the computer. This type of printing is an additive process in which heated plastic is layered to form the model.

"It's almost like using a hot glue gun. Since it is an additive process, it's inherently more greener. It's a lot less waste in that you only lay down what you want," said Madinger.

"The College of Engineering is relatively ahead of the curve in 3D printing. We have one of the stellar labs in the country," said Engineering Laboratory Manager Mike Klote.

With Mizzou being one of the first universities to devote a lab and class to the new technology, a formation of a student club was inevitable.

"We started the club because there was a lot of interest among the students here at Mizzou and because of the lab and the resources that the College of Engineering has put into students learning about 3D printing," said Madinger.

Students also built three small home-made 3D printers.

"All of these parts you can just find in a hardware store," said Provance.

"It's almost like a LEGO set. You just follow the directions online. I think anybody can do it," said Madinger.

Within the next 10 years, engineers think that this technology will be in every household.

"3D printing is going the same route as laser printing. Everybody was lining outside the nearest Kinkos to pay $5 for their copy. Now the printers are a couple hundred dollars and everyone has one. Eventually I think everyone is going to have a 3D printer. You will be able to buy them in kit form or even already assembled," said Klote.